I've been seeing a lot of posts lately about people who are having difficulties in finding employment that pays well and provides a sense of satisfaction. I think if there was a magical answer to this, we would live in a much happier world.
I wanted to start a thread where people can share their experiences, particularly the members here who have found work that has been more than a job, but rather an extension of their values and beliefs and brought them happiness and fulfillment. It's my observation this be a limited number of people in this world, but how do some of us achieve the goal of happiness in our work lives while others toil away at work that feels mundane and does not utilize their energy, knowledge, or skills?
I'd really like to hear from people who have found satisfaction and meaning in their employment, and hear what information or suggestions they would want to pass on to those who are still searching for their place in the work force.
For myself, I left home at the age of nineteen, and I spent ten years working in a dead end government job before I took the drastic step of quitting to go back to school. I gave a summary of this in a recent thread, modified an pasted below:
MY PERSONAL JOURNEY
I had just left my family home and an abusive father. I grew up feeling stupid and unwanted by anyone. I was working as a mail clerk in the government and I was settled on the fact that this was going to be all I was capable of being in life: miserable, simple work, but it had good pay and benefits. The plan was just live this existence for the next forty years or so and then I could retire with a good pension. That was the plan. No goals, no sense of achievement, no satisfaction but I had no confidence in myself that I was capable of anything more.
A number of events transpired in my personal life: the loss of a partner to suicide, grappling with being gay, followed by alcoholism. I fell into a spiral of depression without any help. I worked at a miserable job all day and drank all night. After getting some support from some very kind people who became friends, I was able to overcome the alcoholism and cope with my losses and self esteem issues. A year later, I began volunteering at a local distress centre because I wanted to share my experiences and my empathy with others. I still had a miserable job during the day, but at the Distress Centre, I had so much life experience to share with people who were feeling suicidal, depressed, suffering from alcoholism, living with abusive parents, and dealing with self esteem. I was finding meaning and satisfaction in my volunteer work, and for awhile, it was enough
It still took several years of doing this before found my courage to go back to school for social work because I wanted to continue this work in a professional capacity, and I needed to have the diploma if I was going to get into the field. I loved counselling, and I wound up with a student placement for an agency that helped people with their housing problems. It actually sounded pretty boring until I realized what the work was all about: Helping people with low income who were being exploited by slum landlords, helping single parents with children living in apartments with no heat, immigrant families living in basements with no windows, being threatened with deportation if they complained. This was more than I bargained for, and another path opened up for me.. I discovered that helping people wasn't always done through counselling, sometimes they just needed someone to fight for them. I knew I had found my life's calling as an advocate, as a person who was passionate in defending the rights of marginalized, vulnerable populations, and representing tenants facing eviction. I no longer viewed this as my work, it had become my passion, my mission and my calling in life. The truth is I never found my calling in life; somehow it found me..
I've been doing this work now for more than twenty five years and I am as passionate about it now as I was when I first discovered it. I had a plan to go in one direction and wound up in a very different place, not one I would have chosen for myself. Looking back, I think I had a vision of what I had hoped to get out of life, but I stayed open to my intuition, often against the advice of others, and exploring new opportunities and new paths.
FINDING A PURPOSE
I believe we can find meaning in our work by adopting a positive attitude towards it. We don't always receive financial remuneration for services we provide to others, but they can be the most rewarding tasks of our lives. Sharing our skills with an agency by volunteering our time and skills or taking care of a sick relative can be some of the most rewarding experiences in helping others, and also looks great on a resume.
A friend of mine who works as a cleaner chastised me recently when I was discussing this with her, telling me she had no time or opportunity in her life to find a meaningful job because she was too busy working long shifts to raise her two young children. I responded that she already had valuable, meaningful work, which was securing an income to raise those kids in a positive, healthy environment.
All work provides a service to someone, regardless of its level of skill, and serves an important function. No matter what industry you're involved in, the important thing is to commit to excellence and to exceeding expeditions. Be good at what you do, and be good at promoting it. It will be noticed. A CEO may know how to run a business but lack leadership skills, while the person working in the mailroom can inspire others.
My niece worked in a KFC and she hated it. Like a lot of the employees there she was young when she was hired. After six months she was already promoted to manager, simply because she had seniority after six months since no one would stay for any length of time in what was considered to be a working hellhole. Rather than look for another miserable job, she continued working there and took a college course at night on business management. A year later she was offered a manager's position in one of the better restaurants located in her city. She loves the work and has the skills and talent for it, but it came about from taking something miserable and turning it to her advantage.
CHOOSING A PATH
I think the important thing in finding a meaningful job (as with everything else in life) is to make a decision, not to take a risk without a plan, but to weigh the options and then move forward without looking back. I was terrified in the last several weeks of working in the government before returning to school. I actually lost fifteen pounds due to the stress (and I was pretty skinny before that!). There's nothing wrong with feeling fear or being scared, it's normal when you make a big decision. You need to weigh it against the fear of being trapped in an existence where you're unhappy for the rest of your life.
Choosing the right path is difficult. Think of it as coming to a fork in the road, where each path has a number of unknowns. You decide to go left, then you decide to go right, then you decide to go left again. The important thing is to take the time to consider all the options and consequences to the best of your ability, and then stick with the decision, unless critical new information presents itself. These decisions demand that you come to know yourself, so they are based on the person you are, and not who you were or hoped you were. Don't second guess yourself because it can just be self abuse. Doubts and insecurities will arise but it is all part of the process of growing.
It took me ten years before I had the courage to start on my path, but none of us should undertake the journey before we are ready. For some of us it can take more time than others. There is no best career option, only the one that is right for you at any given time.
I think in evaluating an employment opportunity, you must also consider how it fits in with your goals and skills. The important questions to ask are the following:
What are my skills and talents?
What are my interests?
What are my values.?
What is the income?
Where is the location?
What education is required?
What will I need to sacrifice?
Who can help me get there?
Are there any resources available to help me reach my goals?
By prioritizing these questions, it can help narrow down the field and goals you should be pursuing.
The truth is, not many of us will become brain surgeons or great philanthropists. Most of us will do our work without great fanfare or recognition, however the work we do is no less important than that of the rich and famous. Someone who volunteers for charities, delivering food to isolated seniors, or someone who repairs cars, making sure every part fits perfectly and is top quality, all of these are critical services on whose skills others depend.
It's easy to devalue our own work if we provide a less than creative service like data entry or answering phones in a large company, but such work is often the central, most critical link in keeping the business running. We are all links in the chain, and every link is equal in importance. We are all on this journey together.