It is sobering to think how many people not only don’t love the job they have, but actively hate their jobs. According to Gallup and others, more than half the workforce is not engaged, with the bottom 20% being actively disengaged. It is amazing that any work gets done at all by the remaining one-third.
According to Forbes magazine (Sept. 2011) the 10 happiest jobs are:
3. Physical Therapists
5. Special Education Teachers
9. Financial Services Sales Agents
10. Operating Engineers
Not a single banker, lawyer, manager, accountant, web developer or customer service rep in the lot. No chefs, retailers, salespeople, truckers, physicians, university administrators, or musicians.
With the exception of Operating Engineers, the list is replete with jobs that are involve intense social interaction and “helping others”. Even authors and artists, who typically toil alone, are involved in the “communicative arts” insofar as their success is measured by their ability to find a receptive audience for their work by connecting with an audience. Operating Engineers get to “play with big toys” and nothing would get built or manufactured without them. Firefighters, since 9/11, are treated like gods, while the clergy claim to represent God.
And yet, while the engagement survey business grows, the more disengaged we feel. It’s as if companies are willfully deaf and blind to what motivates us and makes us happy. It’s really not that complicated, as Daniel Pink says in, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, “The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”
So simple, yet so difficult to attain, it seems. I am naturally suspect of “10 best/worst jobs” because I don’t think “happiness” or “satisfaction” resides in a particular occupation or job class, but rather in us. The presumption that most of us are stuck in dead end jobs because we are not “living the dream” or “doing what we love and the money will come” is just wishful thinking. It assumes that the world is waiting to fulfill our whims (like the Fox television show, American Idol) and that our failure to take the risk of living our passion is a failure in ourselves.
So let’s dispel a couple of myths about job satisfaction:
Do not confuse passion with ability
It isn’t enough to love to do something; you actually have to demonstrate some skill and talent. The old actors’ adage, “love acting enough to do it for nothing, but be good enough that people will pay you for it”, is a message too often forgotten by young people, budding entrepreneurs, and inveterate dreamers. Also, we tend to remember the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell cites in his book, Outliers, but conveniently forget the talent, creativity and magic that needs to go along with it. As a society we have been lulled into a sense of complacent mediocrity, rewarding effort instead of result, where everyone gets a prize and no one goes home empty-handed. So in addition to effort, make sure you have talent.
Do not expect ability to get rewarded
This is the flip side of the preceding myth. How many talented writers, musicians, artists, geographers, teachers, volunteers and so on do we know who struggle to make a living, or whose skills are materially undervalued? More harm has come to those who followed their passion thinking the money will come, when in fact the reverse holds: focus on the money, and the passion will come. People who make lots of money
spend all their time thinking about it.
The reason most of us fail to realize our dreams is not that we lack the courage to try, but that we have the good sense to recognize that our talent falls short and that the reward is not worth the effort. We have responsibilities, families to take care of, and bills to pay. Is that not courage enough—to get up every day, work hard, overcome obstacles, crawl into bed and do it all over the next day? To be seen as a provider, a loving spouse, a good parent and a reliable friend?
The problem with job satisfaction is that it seems so elusive—we can all describe it when we see it but we don’t always know how we got there. So while we are looking for the “ideal job” here are some suggestions to help you love the job you’re with:
Give up on money and status as happiness markers
Once you stop defining yourself by job title, paycheck or office size, you are remarkably free to focus on other things—like finding those aspects of your work that are satisfying.
Joy is in the small details
It is the small kindnesses that linger, the patience we show others, the mentoring we do, the consideration of relationships, the way we conduct ourselves, the optimism, good cheer and energy we impart.
Get rid of the vampires at work
These are the actively disengaged, the alienated, the naysayers, etc. They suck you dry and are just a lot of useless noise. Avoid the water cooler, cafeteria, and gossip mill. Take walks or go to the gym at lunch. Don’t go for drinks after work. Eat an apple.
Make one real friend at work
You can move mountains with just ONE person with whom you can share the tears and laughter, stave off the loneliness and desperation that can so easily set in. One person is all you need to keep the barbarians away.