There’s disconcerting news in CareerJournal today. They list the top ten professions, using generally the same criteria that Salary.com used to come up with its list of the ten best professions. And the only professions that are (only sort of) on both lists are: “analyst” and “social worker/psychologist”.

Analyst is such a broad term that it is almost useless, but it is conveniently something that requires almost the complete opposite skills as social worker/psychologist. So at least most personality types have an opportunity here.

Maybe the only really actionable advice on this topic comes from what has become one of my favorite sources for career advice, New York Magazine. Here’s a quote from a funny and informed lecture on happiness by Ben Mathis-Lilley:

“Don’t go to law school. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than members of other professions, and it’s not just because their jobs are more stressful. For most people, job stress has little effect on happiness unless it is accompanied by a lack of control (lawyers, of course, have clients to listen to) or involves taking something away from somebody else (a common feature of the legal system).”

That advice is not just for lawyers, it’s for everyone. Even if you can’t be an analyst or psychologist, at least get a job where you have control over your work.

What is control? For some people, it’ll mean working for yourself. But you can have control working for other people, too.

I asked David Blanchflower, professor at Dartmouth College who is known for slicing data to create happiness equations, “What does having control over one’s work really mean?”

He said that control goes beyond just workload and pace. “People don’t like to feel there’s a risk of being fired. They like control over what they wear, they want access to the heat control.”

Surprisingly, in study after study, women report more job satisfaction than men do. So maybe the biggest factor in whether or not you feel like you have control over your work is not whether you’re in a “best profession” but whether or not you’re a woman.

8 replies
  1. Diana
    Diana says:

    Your last paragraph caught me…

    Could there be a possibility that women are simply more likely to “grin and bear it” (as we have been taught to do for so many millennia) than men? Women are pros at putting on a pleasant face, even when everything is going wrong.

    When I was in a job that I disliked, I tried very hard every day to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad. Some over-zealous work-ethic nagged at me if I even thought about quitting. I was eventually fired from that job, and my manager said it seemed like I wasn’t very happy. Go figure.

    Also, do you think that a number of the “top jobs” listed are jobs that would appeal to and satisfy a woman more so than a man? Or that the job-satisfaction attributes could vary between the sexes?

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    The research took me off guard, too. And I’m thinking of interviewing some of the people who have done the research (stay tuned for that…)

    The research I linked to focused on the fact that women are more proactive in getting their needs met. For example, women start more businesses than men because women can’t get control over their time in a typical corporate job.

  3. Frigid Brigid
    Frigid Brigid says:

    The comment about access to the thermostat is right on — little things like having control over the temperature in your workplace matter a whole lot.

  4. Ralph DeMattia
    Ralph DeMattia says:

    How about running a list of the most disliked professions in the US? Want to bet that Lawyers and Doctors will battle it out for the number 1 & 2 spots? THERE’S a surprise!!!

  5. sam
    sam says:

    journalists, doctors , lawyers, actors, blacksmiths, cobblers, municipal officers are most disliked professions.

  6. Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook
    Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I’m a lawyer. I’ve been one for just under one year, now, so I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I can definitely see how it would be an unsatisfying career for most people. It’s a career of winners and losers. Job satisfaction is hard to come by. The impact of the “prestige” on your life is minimal. Further, I don’t think it’s as much money as it used to be. On the other hand, having such specialized knowledge is useful in a market economy and in your every day life. People come to you for help and advice. There are so many types of lawyers (and so many lawyers in general), that stats comparing lawyers aren’t necessarily apples to apples comparisons. Not many big firm lawyers report happiness I’m sure, but I wonder about the difference in smaller firm and government attorneys. I know this post isn’t all about being a lawyer, but being somewhat self-centered, that’s what jumped out at me. Good post.

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