There are things you can do to increase your fulfillment at work, no matter what your job is.
Don’t Pursue Your Passion
“Do what you love” is problematic advice. Penelope Trunk thinks it’s bad advice, because you’re already doing the things you love to do – and you don’t need to get paid to keep on doing them. According to her, it’s better to pick a career that caters to your strengths and gives you the kind of life you want.
Cal Newport offers a similar perspective. Don’t follow your passion – cultivate it. The gist is this: hard work first, passion second. You develop passion for work that you are skilled at. The goal is to become “so good they can’t ignore you“, and the satisfaction you get from being the best will help you feel passionate about your career.
Pay attention to the things you’re already doing, and not just the things you think you’d like to pursue. I often convince myself that I’d love to become a professional accordion player – but am I practicing two hours a day? No. I’m reading and writing about librarianship, even when no one is making me. Especially when no one is making me.
Take a look at your life, and take notice of the things you do because you want to. Find out what kind of work is best for your personality type. Then find a way to do more of it, and become the best.
Craft Your Job
I received some advice from Andrew Brodsky, a PhD student who is studying the intersection of technology and work. For those that seek greater satisfaction from their job he recommends a “job crafting” exercise. “Job crafting” involves tailoring your job to fit your interests. To begin, list all of the activities you do at your current job and the overarching categories they fall into. Once you have dissected your job, figure out which activities you like the most and devise a way to do more of those things.
Librarianship is a career that can help you explore varied interests – it really is a profession for polymaths if you want it to be. Love human interaction? See if there’s a way you can get more face time with the students. Propose a new workshop. Market your reference skills. With enough creativity, you can find ways to do more of what you love within the job you already have.
Unlimited Choices and Synthesized Happiness
Barry Schwartz gave a TED Talk about the Paradox of Choice. From salad dressing to careers, choices are at once wonderful and agonizing. We get stuck because we’re fearful of making the wrong choice, or, we choose, and forever dwell on what we could have chosen. Even when we make the right choice, we often second-guess ourselves and consider what could have been. The grass often seems greener on the other side, and we look for more, or different choices to make us happy. Is this a realistic way to become satisfied? No. Realizing this is a key step towards job satisfaction.
Dan Gilbert gave a TED Talk about the Surprising Science of Happiness: the things we think will make us happy do not ultimately make a significant difference. His major example is that lottery winners and people who lose their legs return to the same levels of happiness that they were at prior to the event. His studies suggest that whether you have this job or that job, it will not matter – you can synthesize happiness in any situation.
Stop looking for the “perfect job” – it doesn’t exist. Look for one that has major criteria to satisfy you, and find ways to be happy within it. Create happiness.
Stop Making Your Life All About Your Career
“You’re not your job.” – Tyler Durden, from Fight Club
If all else fails, develop your life outside your career. Focus on relationships and health. Give back to the community. Sleep better. Have more sex. There are many ways to feel happy and satisfied in life, and your job is just one component. The connection between your career and happiness is overrated. Besides, if your career were all-encompassing I daresay that other areas of your life would suffer. Perhaps passion for work isn’t the answer, and a well-balanced life is.