How to find the most fulfilling careers

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Thanks to dating sites, we have a great way to gather data about the human condition without having to write grant proposals to the National Science Foundation. I first became aware of this bastion of data when OK Cupid announced that older women benefit from showing cleavage in their photos, but younger women don’t. I immediately started showing more cleavage at work because we know that people want to do business with people they want to date, and men think women who look datable are actually harder workers.

Now the site that specializes in matching married people looking to cheat,, has released its list of the most adulterous professions based on the 1.9 million people who are registered on the site. (via BoingBoing)

Here’s the list:

For Men:
1. Physicians
2. Police Officers
3. Lawyers
4. Real Estate Agents
5. Engineers

For Women:
1. Teachers
2. Stay-at-home Moms
3. Nurses
4. Administrative Assistants
5. Real Estate Agents

This list looks mostly right to me. It is a list of men who like power but do not have access to a lot of women. Physicians, for example, would lose their license hitting on a patient, so it’s nurses or drug company reps. (Not that physicians aren’t notorious for hitting on drug reps.) There are other types of men who love power and are notorious for cheating–politicians and traveling sales guys come to mind–but they have such widespread access to women that they don’t need the web site.

But the number five slot looks wrong to me. Engineers make the top 5 I think, only because it's a trendy, online resource. I actually think that with more data we’d find that engineers cheat less (reasoning: Engineers generally skew toward Asperger’s on the autism scale, which is why Microsoft is known for great insurance coverage for Autism spectrum disorders. Besides, people with Asperger’s have a hard time lying.)

As for the list of women, it is, with the exception of the number five slot, filled with jobs that are about nurturing and care taking. Which makes me think that a) the life of a nurturer is not as fulfilling for women as the world thinks, and b) masseuse would be on the list too if it weren’t that they probably fall under the category of people who cheat but do not need the site to have access to people to cheat with.

We can also use this list to reaffirm stuff we already know but choose to ignore:

1. Stay away from career paths with an end game of getting power or being famous. Because those careers are largely unfulfilling. The goal of having regular sex is fulfilling. But, according to David Blanchflower, economist at Dartmouth, power and fame do not give you more regular sex, they give you more choices, and we know from Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, that more choices does not make us happy. Even for sex partners.

2. Taking care of people all day is unfulfilling. Few people can cope with being the caretaker all the time. We already knew, from a study by Pew, that most mothers would like part-time work rather than being at home with kids all day or having work outside the home all day. Now we also know that women do not feel fulfilled being the caretaker all day at work.

3. Work is most fulfilling when it is meaningful and engaging. Caretaking is meaningful, but not always challenging enough to be engaging. The fight for power is usually challenging and engaging but seldom is it inherently meaningful. So when you choose a career, try to get both.

And, beware, because not being honest about fulfillment is dangerous: if you end up lying to yourself about your career, you could end up on, lying to yourself about your marriage as well.

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  1. Eduard @ People Skills Decoded
    Eduard @ People Skills Decoded says:


    This article is inspiring, as I think a lot of people fall in the trap where they pick a certain career for power, fame or in which they take care of people all day. They may seems like the right option, but they’re not.

  2. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    There’s another reason to avoid careers whose “endgame is getting power or being famous” – it engenders the kind of bad behavior this post is about. There just seems to be something about having large numbers of people admire you that plants the silly idea in your head that you can do whatever you want and those large numbers of people will still admire you.

    As a physician I despair over being in the number one profession that wants to cheat (at least, on I so want to believe the world is full of mostly good people who do mostly good things. Maybe we just tend to study and highlight the bad.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    In all honesty, I read your blog because it makes me think about things I wouldn’t normally dwell on and analyse things differently. For me, that basically means that I read each post twice: once to understand your point, and the second time to completely disagree with you. :)

    With this post I actually agree with everything you’ve said, with one caveat: how accurate are these professions? I mean, who’s to say that the people on this site aren’t lying about their professions in addition to cheating on their spouses? If they are lying to the site, then the statistics don’t actually show the top professions for cheating spouses, but rather the professions most commonly believed to be most desirable to the opposite sex.

    And that’s a whole other topic.

    • SameSally
      SameSally says:

      My thought exactly while reading this. I think that the male professions are a list of jobs that men think women like/desire.

      I mean…who wants to go out for hamburger if you have steak at home? Even if the steak isn’t that good, it still kicks the shit out of McDonalds.

  4. Joanie Wilcett
    Joanie Wilcett says:

    There is so much that you can read into that list. I wondered first of all if physicians and police officers are there as a reaction to seeing the other side of life that we only get to experience now and again. Leaving them with some urge to urgently procreate because life can be so temporary?

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    As always, this was provocative, replete with links that take me places I’d otherwise not go and amusing but where’s the how to?

  6. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    With in-depth, hard-to-find, cerebral, sophisticated information like this post, why go any place else but Brazen Careerist and TV Guide? I’m set for life, P!

    Except, thinking about it, I’m feeling something inside me bubble up. Maybe I shouldn’t leave the house for a while, cuz…well, Mother always wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer and I barely escaped that. But what happens if I fall into a weak moment and you know, start “caring” for someone? Damn it! I KNOW what will happen. I’ll connect with my Inner Doc! Or worse, next time I win an argument, I’ll feel lawyerly! Cuz I DO, when I win, which is ALL the time! And now I’m really feakin’ out cuz I just remembered — my wife is a POWER-NURSE! And yeah, we’ve been married 35 years, but I secretly hate my job. All I wanna be, is an engineer, working for the Police Department! Oh God, now it’s out, P! Why did I read this blog?!!!

  7. Therese
    Therese says:

    Yeah, people really need to start realizing that women will not be fulfilled by being stay at home mothers alone. No one would be fulfilled in that role. You have to do SOMETHING else. Even if you start a blog, a part-time business, a sewing circle or take an art class. It doesn’t have to be something that earns you a lot of money, but you have to have something interesting that breaks up your day or week. You have to have some sort of identity that is independent of your family.

    I used to work as a nanny full time during summers in college and it was the worst job that I ever had. But I came away from the experience with some important lessons. It clued me into the realities of what a mother’s (full time or otherwise) life is really like. This eventually made me realize that I never want children. Also, it made me realize how important it is for women and men to do a gut check and investigate more closely the realities of parenthood before they get into it. And I could tell immediately the women who were happy and the women who were miserable. Without exception, the happiest mothers were the ones that had something else going on in their life. Something just for them. And those families were by far the healthiest and most functional. Knowing what I know after having met and worked for many mothers, it is no surprise that stay at home moms cheat more frequently. It’s a useful way to break up the day. Just something different. Or maybe a lover makes one feel appreciated for a change since much of the work of a housewife goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

    Conversely, I could also spot the workaholic dads. The first clue was that after working for that family for a few weeks I still had not met the father. But after meeting them, you can tell the men who never seemed to want to be home–they would do everything they could to avoid engaging with the family. Those who use work as an escape from their home life. You could also tell the dads with really unfulfilling jobs—they would slump their shoulders on the way out the door as if to say that they would rather have a root canal than spend one more day at this dumb job. Since the families were wealthier, the husbands usually had finance jobs, or were lawyers or doctors. Much of their identity was wrapped up in the prestige of those jobs and the fact that they were rolling in cash and could afford a limited edition BMW and a sweet pad in Newport Beach or Coto de Caza. I saw many dads check their collars when they came in at night, when they thought no one was watching, or smell their shirts to make sure no perfume could be detected. I even saw one dad putting his wedding ring back on while getting out of his car in the driveway…These are the same guys that would hit on me in college in NYC at bars; you know the guys whose wives don’t “understand” them. And these are the same guys that are on

    A lack of fulfillment both at home and work can make or break a family. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.

    • avant garde designer
      avant garde designer says:

      Just curious how many families you worked for. Summers between college equals about 4-5 summers, normally, yes?

      • Therese
        Therese says:

        I also worked part-time for families on the upper west side of NYC, during the school year in college. I estimate I worked for a total of 25-30 families over that period of time. Some were gigs that lasted the whole summer, but 3 days a week and then I worked for another family the remaining days. I worked for an agency that worked corporate events and got nannies for people at the last minute, as well as provided nannies for permanent positions. I worked for some families off and on throughout the entire period of time (4 years), depending on what my schedule was…

    • Belinda Gomez
      Belinda Gomez says:

      Moms have free time during the day. Opportunity is probably more of a deciding factor than lack of fulfillment.

  8. Anna
    Anna says:

    Are those lists from 1970 or 2010?
    I’m surprised to see so many jobs that need strong maternal instincts for the list for women.

  9. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    But aren’t these just very common professions for men and women, respectively? Of course you will see nurses, teachers and SAHMs on the list for women because that is what so very many women do. I’d be interested to see some number crunching on this to really buy into it. The SAHM argument I see (in that its not fulfilling) but nurses and teachers? Who will do these jobs if all the women quit?

  10. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I wanted to comment that this is a great example of you following your own advice – both because I think you’ve applied what you discuss here to your own career choice (fulfilling? I think you find it so; engaging? definitely.) And because one of the piece of advice you gave in your blogging video chat was to connect random bits back to your subject matter. Who else would have thought to look at a dating site, especially one about cheating on your spouse, as informative for choosing a career?

    Note: i hope the engineer bit is wrong, because I’m dating one – and have been for about 6 years.

  11. MemeGRL
    MemeGRL says:

    Thanks for the funniest (in a funny-because-it’s-so-true kind of way), most insightful post I read all week. I love your takes on the data.

  12. JenG
    JenG says:

    The most important line in the post is “not being honest about fulfillment is dangerous.” This is true whether you cheat on your spouse or not. It’s also true if you love your job but hate your marriage. Fooling yourself puts off the inevitable and reaps disaster.

    That said, this was an enjoyable read, even if the stats set off my skeptic alarm. Have to agree with Nicole that these are relatively common professions by gender. But hey, it was entertaining anyway and I’m not expecting a PhD thesis with every post! :)


  13. Casey Accord
    Casey Accord says:

    An interesting sidenote, Penelope, is that women in “caretaker” roles also tend to be overweight. Of course, this is a wild generalization but, as a former nutrition consultant, the VAST majority of my obese clients were caretakers. It makes sense. They spend all their time and energy looking after others so they have nothing left for themselves. In a way, I saw women “fulfilling” themselves physically with food because they were missing something in their careers and their lives.

  14. mandy707089
    mandy707089 says:

    My best position is my prersent. I live and teach oral English in China. Have been over here for almost 20 years. It is tough at times but my students really try very hard and do speak well. nice post

  15. David
    David says:

    People who crunch numbers often know what they want to get, there are variables in all data, much more information is needed; and simply put, people who want to cheat, or who often find themselves in ambiguous situations don't need to go on a website.
    The idea of a website to specifically be able to cheat seems stupid to me. What keeps someone from being found out? The only safeguard is being a member?
    Actors, athletes, military – ? Almost as soon as I went into the army, I started getting hit on by GI's wives, as soon as their husbands went into the field, let alone on an overseas deployment. That's one reason they are allowing women in the military and spouses to serve together. Dear John/Dear Jane letters are probably done by texting now.

  16. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    Really well-written and insightful post. Great reading.

    I also find it interesting that there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between cheating and the barriers to entry for each profession. On the list are both high barriers (physicians, lawyers) and low (real estate agents, admin asst). I remember reading in another post of yours that divorce rate goes down with more education, therefore I’d have expected that professions with large educational requirements would result in less instances of cheating. But apparently not.

    Which raises another question: how strongly do divorce rates correlate to cheating? The intersection of the list above and a divorce-rate-by-profession lists would be interesting to understand.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a great point, Brian. The fact that the divorce rate is so low among the very educated is that the women will not leave the men, because the women see staying as a way to protect the children from the penalties they will have in life as a result of divorce. Kids who do not have divorced parents do better. (Simple example, almost all the kids at Harvard undergrad come from parents who did not divorce.) So it’s not that the data says there is less cheating among the very educated. It’s that there’s less divorce among the very educated, and this is a result of wanting to protect the children from the inevitable harms of divorce.


      • Sarahnova
        Sarahnova says:

        Divorce is lower in higher-educated couples because “the women won’t leave the men”? Seriously? What if the men leave the women? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this for a second. While there are probably some pure economic factors (both halves maybe have more to lose financially by splitting up) it’s probably also to do with the fact that the more educated are also more likely to have higher IQs and greater emotional stability, which is one of the ways they got their good educations and good jobs. They also marry later in life, probably taking a more considered and stable decision.

        There are almost certainly tons of contributing factors, but “the women won’t leave the men” so their kids can go to Harvard? WTF?

        Penelope, your faith in any old stats that can be dug up is a touch disturbing (the rapists-attack-ponytailed-joggers thing comes to mind). Seriously, you need to get some training in the sciences and statistics so you can evaluate the quality of this stuff. These stats are probably skewed massively by actual numbers of men and women doing these jobs in the population, as people have noted, and are presumably based on self report IN A POPULATION WHERE PEOPLE ARE ONLINE HOPING TO SECRETLY CHEAT. A very high proportion of these people are probably telling serious porkies (less chance of someone rumbling you and ratting you out to your spouse).

  17. Kat Wilder
    Kat Wilder says:

    Another way to read these stats is to see that women who have power – politicians, CEOs, etc. – may not be interested in sex, whereas the men who have the power use it for sex. I think when women finally get the power, they’re too exhausted for a good romp!

    I am sad to see that women who stay home with their kids don’t feel fulfilled (and, as a one-time SAHM, I get it; it’s tough!) But, if society viewed that as an important job, I think the women themselves might feel differently about it.

    As for teachers, Van Halen’s song “Hot For Teacher” wasn’t off the mark, evidently …

  18. diana
    diana says:

    I have to agree with everything you said in the post, Penelope, in particular how positions of power and cheating are related. An increase in power definitely leads to an increase in temptations to cheat. I used to think that the more powerful we became, the more temptations there were, or the more opportunities pesented to us. But I think you’re right that it is more about how fulfilled we feel and the search for something to fill that void. Or maybe it’s just plain arrogance and the more powerful we feel, the more entitled we feel and the more we think we can get away with it so why not?

  19. sadya
    sadya says:

    u know u’d think Golfers would be on the list too along with athletes and Senators , surprisingly they are not..

  20. Jeff Jenkins
    Jeff Jenkins says:

    The OKCupid article says that older women benefit more than young women, but young women still got a 24% boost. That’s hardly “don’t”.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Good point, Jeff. Thanks. You are helping countless women get more responses on OkCupid :) Also, I am happy that people click through and read the research themselves. I always wonder about the links — who clicks and who doesn’t.


      • M. Goerig
        M. Goerig says:

        I thought you could tell who clicked on each link. I could have sworn you said something about that once.
        So, about all these stats, I am wondering how many of these cheating spouses are cheating on each other. And if so, who cheated first? For example, a successful lawyer or physician can afford to have a wife who stays at home and takes care of the kids, so is she cheating on him, because she knows he is cheating on her? Or did the cheating nurse meet her cheating physician on the job, and maintaining their professional relationship is more important than maintaining their marital one?
        That is: if these cheating women are married to these cheating men, then does it have anything to do with nurturing/lack of fulfillment in the women’s jobs that they are cheating? Or is it simply because they are married to cheaters and like you said, too educated to go through a divorce, thereby taking the get-even route?

  21. babyhush028
    babyhush028 says:

    I search each and every day for a new career. I look through the classified and I look on the net. My dream job (being a college professor) is not attainable until I finish my Master's and Ph.D. So until then I would like a Research Position – .finding it is harder than I thought – .

  22. SOG
    SOG says:

    Engineers were #5 on the list. Are you kidding!? Engineers are not in it for power.
    I am an engineer and currently work in a small company. I have worked in large companies, small companies, start up companies, and everything in between. The engineers I know and have known would have to go to a site like that becuase they are so socially inept they couldn’t do this on their own and it is the only way to meet a person to have an affair with. Also, being technically oriented, a site like that is ideal for the geeks of the world.

    • .W.
      .W. says:

      I’m an engineer too. Most of my peers happen to be pompous control freaks with really big egos. But I’ve only ever worked in big corporations, so that’s my two cents.

  23. Jake
    Jake says:

    All of these jobs have the hours and work schedule that allow for cheating.

    If you are working a 8 to 5 job with limited OT; it will take more much effort to sneak in an affair. Slipping in a few hours here and there would not be as hard with long hours, irregular hours or job that has availability during the day.

    I can see the engineers on the list. Engineers with any amount of social skills find themselves in sales, sales support, consulting or management roles. They have the income. They will work longer hours. Often they will travel on a regular basis.

  24. garsky
    garsky says:

    Not trying to be a dick, but honestly my first thought was the list is missing one obvious occupation: farmer.

  25. laure
    laure says:

    When I look at this list, although I do understand the thinking behind the power and nurturing, to me it looks more like a list of professions with unusual hours and access to time alone/excuses to be inaccessible or away. And in my opinion, people with opportunity tend to seize it. A physician or a police officer for example, is on call all the time. Real estate agents of both genders visit other people’s home for a living. Teachers finish their workday well before most 9-5'ers. And stay-at-home Mom’s spend their days home alone with their children (and often the children are at school or activities, so they have time to spare).

  26. JillPR
    JillPR says:

    Another way to look at it is that all those jobs are really high stress and have high burnout rates. Maybe having a high-stress job correlates to cheating.

    If so why aren’t lawyers etc on the women’s list? Well, one, there are less of them (bad for statistics). But maybe the women with high-powered jobs generally have the personalities and resources they need to deal with it. We’ve heard a lot that there are less women in high-power positions because of the strain on family time. So women lawyers etc either have ways of dealing with it – or become frustrated stay at home moms who cheat.

  27. Sean
    Sean says:

    I was wondering if this has something to do with temptation or opportunity? Like physicians are more exposed to temptation and that they can also find a chance or an opportunity to cheat? Sorry I always had this impression about them being cheaters (no offense meant to physicians).

  28. George Lee
    George Lee says:

    It’s hard to believe that teachers, stay at home moms, and nurses fill the top 3 slots for cheaters on I couldn’t think of three more nurturing careers – careers that require giving of your time and energy not for selfish or financial reasons but because it feels good to make others happy. My guess is that a large percentage of these cheaters are lying on the Occupation field when they fill out the online registration form.

  29. Marcelo
    Marcelo says:

    Good post! It gives you some food for thought. Point number three hit me the hardest. My work is usually challenging and meaningful (I’m an editor of a publishing company in Brazil), but in the past few months I’ve been missing the state of “flow” that I felt almost everyday.
    Maybe the challenges are not meaningful to me anymore or maybe it’s time to find new challenges…

  30. froggyprager
    froggyprager says:

    While I like your interesting thoughts on why these jobs are on the list, I would take this with a grain of salt. The only reason that AshleyMadison would put out this list is to publicize their website. It is not verified and has no context. Is this a required field, can you leave it blank? Is there any reason to think these folks are telling the truth? Maybe these folks are mostly telling the truth (even if you are cheating, I would not be thrilled to hook up with someone who says they are a doctor on the site but turns out to be not) but maybe the professors and public officials are lying. How are the job categories broken down? If all engineers are lumped together but manages are broken down somehow that may affect the numbers. Also, the more important statistic would be what percentage of people in a certain occupation cheat on there spouse. If 15% of doctors cheat but only 2% of teachers cheat that says something. As others have said, the women's jobs especially seem like a list of the most common jobs rather than a list of the jobs where women most often cheat. You are an attractive powerful woman, you should ask AM for more data you can comment on.

  31. vjl
    vjl says:

    By “masseuse” I assume you’re referring to those who work in the thinly-veiled cover for prostitution known as “massage parlors.” Prostitution is a matter for local law enforcement, not the state’s health professional licensing organization, and you may be correct in your assumptions.

    However, I wish to point out that “massage therapist” or “massage practitioner” in many states is a recognized, licensed health care profession regulated by the state in the same manner as physicians and registered nurses. In my state, a licensed massage practitioner can indeed lose his or her license to practice if he or she starts hitting on clients or becomes sexually involved with them, just as would happen with physicians and registered nurses.

  32. Richard Stiller
    Richard Stiller says:

    There are no rules around which careers are the most fulfilling. This is Penelope’s blog so she gets to say what she thinks. I do the same on my blog. But having worked for 16-17 companies in my so called career and adding in another 20 that I have consulted at, happiness in any career is situational based on bosses (or being your own boss), the team you surround your with and whether you are passionate about your work. And all of that changes week to week and month to month.

    My parcel delivery guy told me that he loved being in a truck all day delivering packages. He has done this for 28 years. Then the company went on a cost saving jag and everything he now does is being watched. Supervisors are often assigned to drive around with him. He feels the weight of management. Now he is hanging in their for an early retirement.

    The only thing certain is change.

  33. Joe
    Joe says:

    The bit at the end about “lying to yourself about your marriage” is bizarre. Isn’t this rather a list of people who are *not* lying to themselves about their marriage?

    Regarding the careers, I noticed that teachers and nurses were overrepresented at speed dating events. I thought this was because those careers are unusually accessible and stable: get the right degree, be willing to move, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a job which will quickly become secure. So these are women in their mid-twenties who have life much more “figured out” than typical, in the sense that they know what they’ll (by default) be doing for the next 30+ years, but have limited social horizons. The same people showing up on this list, unless it’s just a reflection that these jobs are among the most popular for women, period, suggests that even married nurses and teachers may feel like life has boxed them in too fast; that they need to keep seeking novelty and excitement outside of their bubble.

  34. Stanley Lee
    Stanley Lee says:

    You seem pretty biased against the profession of engineering, but I do see your point as an upcoming college graduate enrolled in engineering who doesn’t enjoy the profession (b/c of the demands of completing the workload at the expense of social life, health, and other fun things in life). I don’t think engineers are really that autistic either in terms of social level; they just got them robbed away. I personally don’t see how satisfying engineering profession is either from the stress vs. reward level, socialization factors, and the tendency of making a difference in the world while being bogged down with technical details ( shows a continuing trend of why women are entering the profession in contrastingly lower numbers than male counterparts). Just my two cents.

  35. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    The men’s professions all appear as ‘the ticket.’ And they’re very, very difficult. Is cheating a way to relieve the feeling that the gold ring is actually brass? I’ve met a lot – and I mean a LOT – of unhappy attorneys.

  36. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Careers are never fulfilling when you strive hard for power and fame. It’s one thing to have a goal but stepping on somebody else’s toes is another thing. You always want to live up to it which could be draining.

  37. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I’d like to see the title of this post changed to ‘Don’t Marry a Real Estate Agent.” ;-).

  38. Clint Maher
    Clint Maher says:

    For my entire 20’s and late teens I was in a career that I just sort of fell in to and it was so unfulfiling. The reason I stayed so long was because the salary was very high. 2 years ago I quit to go and work for myself. Took a massive pay cut although now have an awesome quality of life.

  39. Cmcm
    Cmcm says:

    There’s an old saying…”If you love going to work every day and you love your work…’re not working.” or something like that :)

  40. Erica
    Erica says:

    I read your blog as often as 3 times a week. It would benefit me such as finding a career as I just graduate from college.

    What I really think about finding a most fulfilling career is to have a sense of achievement of every effort you put in.

    If you really love your job, you are not going to work because of work, money, etc. You are going there to fulfill your dreams and achieve that sense of achievement.

  41. Karen Wilson
    Karen Wilson says:

    According to me you should make a list of the 10 most important things in your life. They could include things like animals, exercise, creativity, money, fast cars and wine. Make another list of your hobbies. Writing, art and poetry may be some options; Broadway shows, fine dining and fine art may be others. Compare the lists and merge the two, thinking of jobs that would overlap some of your important things with some of your passions. Research companies that would offer opportunities you seek. If you care about animals and writing, for instance, see if the local zoo needs a public relations person. If your passions are making money and art, don’t go into non-profit museum work but hook up instead with a big gallery or auction house.

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