Whether you’re just starting out in the workforce or changing careers, it is important to understand how to finding purpose career or the job you perform contributes to your sense of fulfillment in life. This article prompts you to examine various job settings and functions, comparing each against your own preferences, values, and expectations, in order to determine the best job fit for you.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2014, the average American will retire at age 62. As recently as 2010 average retirement age was 59, meaning Americans are spending an increasing amount of time in the workforce, and that change is occurring rapidly. This increase in work years may have a variety of causes. Some are financial; employees may find that at age 60 they have not saved an adequate amount for retirement. This is compounded by the fact that the average life expectancy is 78.74 years, and it has been continuously rising since 1970. People are living longer, which means they need more money in savings when they stop working. Furthermore, some studies have found that people have a more positive view of work now than they did in the past, and they find work is an important part of how they view themselves. If work is seen not only as a means to put bread on the table, but as an essential and determinate part of who one is, then there is less motivation to stop working as soon as financially possible.
The average person spends 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. That’s a significant percentage of your waking life (35 percent according to calculations performed by sociologist Karl Thompson). Unfortunately, many workers report feeling unsatisfied with their jobs, and many report finding their jobs to be a significant or the most significant source of stress in their lives. Knowing work will form such an important and constitutive part of life, it is worth taking the time to determine what kind of work you will find most rewarding – what kind of work you will enjoy (at least most of the time).
This article is designed to help you think critically and creatively about finding and building a career that you find purposeful, engaging, and rewarding. You’ll begin by thinking about careers that correspond with your interests and priorities. Next, you’ll think about your long and short-term goals, as well as the intermediate steps, and how to deal with detours along the way. In the second half of the article, you’ll learn about different types of workplaces and workplace relationships. Finally, the article will conclude with a discussion of work-life balance and the necessity of continually checking in with yourself to make sure you are engaged with work in a way you find purposeful and fulfilling.
Before you can go about finding a career that gives you purpose, you need to determine what you care about and what you enjoy.
What are your interests?
What do you enjoy doing the most?
What makes you feel most fulfilled?
Once you can answer these types of questions, you can begin to consider career options that correspond to your interests and passions.
The following tips can help you begin to develop answers to questions like those listed above:
- Reflect on what you enjoyed doing and learning about as a child. Childhood interests are not motivated by pragmatic considerations, so they tend to express raw passion and curiosity.
- Think back on what courses you took in college when you had the space in your schedule for electives. What courses and subjects were you drawn to? What drew you to those courses? Pure interest? Pragmatic considerations?
- Consider what you would do if financial considerations and other barriers weren’t a problem. What is your “dream job” the job you would do if you could do anything?
- Think about how you prefer to spend your free time? Do you seek new experiences? Do you prefer to spend that time socializing with others? Do you enjoy being alone?
Once you have identified your interests, you can start to look for careers that correspond to what you care about most. Career aptitude tests and personality exams can help to make this connection. You’ll take a version of the Meyer-Briggs personality test on page 1-5, where you’ll also find links to other personality and career aptitude assessments.
Once you have identified a career you think you are interested in pursuing, it is a good idea to try to gain some preliminary experience in the field as an intern or entry-level employee. Not only does this provide valuable job experience, it will also give you an insider’s perspective on what the day-to-day life is like in your job of interest. You may find that the reality of the work is very different from your perception as an outsider.
Take a moment to reflect on your own personal interests. These responses will help you start to think about your interests, passions, and goals.
Were there any topics or activities you loved as a child?
What college or high school courses did you enjoy the most?
Do you feel happiest and most productive when you work with others or when you are able to work alone?
What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?
Describe one occasion when you felt really excited by an assignment in school or at work.
What Are Your Priorities?
In the following slideshow, you’ll be prompted to think about the roles money, purpose, and distinction play for you, and to consider how you prioritize each. Some careers will be more effective at producing financial security than others, but that security may come at the cost of doing interesting work. Taking the time to determine what matters most to you is well worth the effort.
Work is done in exchange for money. Few people would say money is not at all important to them, but how important and how much is needed to feel comfortable varies from person to person. You may be able to imagine yourself finding fulfillment in a number of careers, but some of those professional choices may come with larger paychecks than others. To begin thinking about how much money means to you, ask yourself whether you’d be willing to do work that you didn’t find particularly interesting or exciting if the pay was very good.
If you would not be willing to do work you did not find exciting or interesting for better pay, then you may prioritize purpose over compensation. Ultimately, it is important to find purpose in your work. If you find what you’re doing to be meaningful, then you’re more likely to enjoy your work and not to see it as a chore (at least most of the time). You may also be more motivated to acquire new skills, and you may feel a deeper sense of accomplishment when you reach professional goals. However, there are some dangers of prioritizing purpose over other considerations. It may be the case that you find your work to be significant and meaningful, but that you do not receive widespread recognition for it. Another danger of prioritizing purpose over other considerations is that work driven by purpose may be consuming – it may be difficult to balance your drive to do purposeful work with your other personal priorities.
Personal Time and Commitments
As we’ll discuss later in the module, feeling fulfilled at work requires some amount of work-life balance. But the importance of personal (non-professional) commitments and objectives varies from person to person. Some people prefer to focus their time and energy at work, while others find the most enjoyment by investing in their personal lives. To achieve purpose in your career, you have to think about your priorities in other domains of your life. How important is family to you? Do you see work as a means to an end, or is it something you enjoy in and of itself? If money were not an option, how much time would you spend at work and how much time would you spend at home? Reflecting on these questions can help you determine what work-life balance looks like for you.
Personality and Career Aptitude Tests
Now that you’ve reflected on your passions and interests, it is time to start looking for possible careers that correspond to those interests. It may not be immediately obvious to you how to turn your answers to the kinds of questions raised on the previous pages into career goals. Personality tests, like the Meyer-Briggs examination, and career aptitude tests can help you learn more about yourself while also narrowing the list of career options that align well with your unique personality. Not only can these tests introduce new career options you may not have previously considered, but they can also provide insight into the kind of workplace and work structure to which you may best respond.
Below you’ll find a sample Meyer-Briggs personality exam. This is a very basic version of the test, and it is designed to provide you with an idea of how you may perform on a more rigorous, sophisticated version of the test. After you answer the four questions presented below, you will have the opportunity to read a short blurb on each of the 16 personality types the Meyer-Briggs test identifies.
Sample Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator
For each of the following questions, decide which personality type describes you best. This test will provide you with an unofficial approximation of your personality type. For a more thorough evaluation, use the Internet to search for free Myers-Briggs personality type indicators.
Question 1: What is the direction and focus of your energy?
|Extroversion (E) |
– Extroverts tend to enjoy spending time with others and prefer socialization to time alone. They may also be quite talkative, collaborative, and expressive of their thoughts and emotions.
– Extroverts choose to direct their energy out into the external world.
– Extroverts tend to act or speak first, and then think later.
|Introversion (I) |
– Introverts tend to be private and greatly enjoy time alone. They also may be less talkative, internalize their emotions, and prefer to work independently.
– Introverts choose to direct their energy inward.
– Introverts tend to think first, and then act or speak later.
|Choose which best fits:||Extroversion (E)||Introversion (I)|
Question 2: How do you gather information?
|Sensing (S) |
– Sensors prefer concrete facts and examples. They are attracted to projects that have practical applications.
– Sensors focus on the world they experience with their senses and are concerned with verifiable experiences.
|Intuiting (N) |
– Intuitors are interested in abstract ideas and prefer focusing on the “big picture.”
– Intuitors are intrigued by patterns and are interested in possibilities.
|Choose which best fits:||Sensing (S)||Intuition (N)|
Question 3: How do you make decisions?
|Thinking (T) |
– Thinkers are most persuaded by facts and choose to make decisions using reason and logic.
– Thinkers often find it easy to remain objective.
|Feeling (F) |
– Feelers are most persuaded by emotion and choose to make decisions based on their intuitions and their relationships with others.
– Feelers tend to be sensitive and may have an aversion to conflict.
|Choose which best fits:||Thinking (T)||Feeling (F)|
Question 4: How do you respond to the world? How do you respond to issues?
|Judging (J) |
– Judgers are fond of deadlines and enjoy working towards clearly identified solutions.
– Judgers prefer routines and planning in advance.
|Perceiving (P) |
– Perceivers enjoy flexibility and prefer to keep their options open.
– Perceivers like to be spontaneous and may work best under pressure.
|Choose which best fits:||Judging (J)||Perceiving (P)|
Your Personality Type Letters
ENFP – Champion
ENFPs are idealistic, open-minded, and creative. They are often multi-talented and find some level of success at whatever endeavors strike their interest. They have good social schools and are excited by new ideas. ENFPs may show little interest in small details.
INFP – Healer
INFPs are quiet and idealistic, often showing an interest in being of service to others. They may be quite laid back most of the time, though they react strongly to forces that threaten to disrupt their value system. INFPs are loyal and insightful, often able to see possibilities or options others are not aware of.
INTP – Architect
INTPs are logical and creative thinkers. They tend to show an affinity towards abstract theories and ideas. INTPs may sometimes seem difficult to get to know, and they rarely show an inclination to take on roles of leadership.
ENTP – Inventor
ENTPs are creative, outgoing, and resourceful people. They tend to be talented at a range of activities and enjoy voicing their opinions. They may get excited about new projects but find it difficult to engage in the more routine parts of life. ENTPs are good problem solvers.
ENFJ – Teacher
ENFJs are often popular and have very good people skills. They usually dislike spending time alone, and they prefer to direct their energy outwards towards others. ENFJs may be very good at managing people and leading groups.
INFJ – Counselor
INFJs usually do not have a difficult time following through with projects until they reach completion. They are very aware of the feelings of others, and though they can be forceful personalities, they are also very sensitive. INFJ usually have a well-developed system of values.
INTJ – Mastermind
INTJs are independent and analytical. They tend to value knowledge and structure and think in terms of the “bigger picture.” These personalities may hold themselves to high performance standards, and they may expect the same kind of performances from those around them.
ENTJ – General
ENTJs are generally assertive and outspoken. They are natural leaders that have an outstanding ability to manage difficult organizational problems. ENTJs are often talented at public speaking and have little patience for disorganization or incompetence.
ESFJ – Provider
ESFJs are usually popular and concerned with the well-being of others. They may tend to prioritize the needs of others over their own. ESFJs often have a strong sense of responsibility and duty to those around them, and they tend to need positive reinforcement.
ISFJ – Protector
ISFJs are quiet, kind, nurturing people. They are very dependable and often prioritize the needs of others over their own. ISFJs value security and tradition and tend to spend time observing others, making them very perceptive.
ISTJ – Inspector
ISTJs are serious and quiet. They tend to be very responsible and reliable. Often, they show an inclination towards tradition and established rituals. Well-organized and hard working, ISTJs are good at getting things done.
ESTJ – Supervisor
ESTJs are practical and organized. They may not show any interest in theories or abstractions that they cannot see some practical, concrete application for. ESTJs enjoy being in leadership positions, and often show an exceptional ability to organize or manage events and projects.
ESFP – Performer
ESFPs are outgoing and enjoy having a good time. They tend to seek new experiences and social situations. They often show distaste for theories or objective analyses. Instead, ESFPs value common sense and practical skills.
ISFP – Composer
ISFP are serious, quiet, and sensitive people. They tend to have an aversion to conflict. ISFPs often have a developed aesthetic appreciation for beauty, and they are usually very creative. These personalities are also flexible and do not place strict demands or requirements on those around them.
ISTP – Operator
ISTPs are quiet and reserved. They tend to be very loyal, though they are not overly obsessed with rules or tradition. Because of their refined analytic skills, ISTPs are often skilled with mechanical instruments.
ESTP – Promoter
ESTPs are friendly and flexible. They like to see immediate results to their actions, and they may be impatient. They tend to be risk takers who are uninterested in overly restrictive rules or procedures.
Links to Other Sources:
16 Personalities provides a thorough Meyer-Briggs analysis. After completing the assessment, you’ll get a detailed (though lengthy) evaluation, and you’ll have the opportunity to read about the theory behind the Meyer-Briggs exam if you are interested. You do not need to create an account in order to take the test and review your personality type information.
- O*NET Interest Profiler
My Next Move is a free assessment sponsored by the United States Department of Labor. The program creates a profile based on your interests, which are determined by your responses to 60 questions. It then suggests various careers that match that profile.
- Truity: The Big Five Personality Test
This free test allows you to learn more about your personality along 5 dimensions: Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism.
You will have to create an account to use the Pymetrics program, but it is free to do so. The program analyzes your cognitive strengths through a series of games, matching you with careers and companies that may be a good fit for the way you think.
Goals are things you want to achieve, and having clear and achievable goals is an important part of purposeful work. You already have goals in life, but in what follows you’ll learn to think more carefully and constructively about your goals. The first step toward realizing your goals is to think about them – clearly and critically.
When setting goals, it is important to establish both long- and short-term objectives. Your long-term objectives are your underlying motivations. Realizing those goals is what will drive you to continue working even when it is difficult or when you don’t see the immediate value in your work. However, long-term goals are difficult to reach and far down the road. Thus, it is important to have more straightforwardly realizable, short-term goals. Many of your short-term goals will ultimately serve your long-term interests – they may be stepping stones toward reaching your long-term objectives – but they should be more easily accomplishable and take less time and effort. These short-term goals will not only keep you on track but also provide a much-needed morale boost that is ultimately necessary for staying motivated and focused on the big picture.
A good way to distinguish short-term goals from long-term goals is to consider the amount of time it will take to accomplish them. As a rule of thumb, short-term goals are those that can be accomplished in less than a year, while long-term goals take a year or more. You may have long-term goals that will take many years to reach.
- go to the doctor
- get a driver’s license
- buy a house
- learn a new language
Short-term Work Goals
- take a class
- submit 10 resumes
Long-term Work Goals
- earn a degree
- become a manager
It is important that your goals be appropriately specific. For example, goals as vague as “be happy,” “feel fulfilled,” or “make a difference,” are problematic. It is likely that you do want to accomplish these things in life and work – and that’s great! But it is hard to determine when you may have accomplished goals as abstract as these, and you may not have any idea how to begin to pursue them. On the other hand, goals like “get a promotion,” “earn a certificate,” and “save $5,000 in my 401k this year,” are more specific. It is easier to determine when such specific goals have been accomplished, and it is easier to imagine how you would go about pursuing them.
When you begin thinking about and deciding on your goals, it can be helpful to use the following rules to develop objectives that are as efficient and effective as possible. The SMART rules ensure your goals are clear, specific, and realizable enough to guide and motivate you effectively.
|S||Your goals should be specific. You should be able to say how you will know when your goal has been accomplished and how you might go about reaching it.|
|M||Your goal should be measurable. If your goal is measurable, then you’ll have a sense of how close you are to reaching it, and it will be obvious when you have met it.|
|A||Your goals should be attainable. Setting unrealistic goals is demoralizing and ultimately wastes your time.|
|R||Your goal should be relevant to what you want in life — whether it is related to your personal life, career, finances, or some other domain.|
|T||Your goal should be time-bound. When you are thinking about your goals, you should set realistic time constraints for yourself. This will help motivate you to pursue those goals in a timely manner. If you give yourself time-constraints, it will also be clearer to you when you’ve deviated from your plans or when you fall behind schedule.|
Once you have set your goals, you have to start planning your intermediate steps. Intermediate steps are things you have to do in order to reach those goals. The intermediate steps for you long-term goals may themselves be short-term goals. When planning the intermediate steps you’ll need to take to reach a goal, it can be helpful to work backwards, thinking about what you’ll need to do just before reaching the goal, and just before that, and so on until you can determine what it is you should do right away to start toward that goal.
Let’s take a look at how someone might set goals to reach a long-term objective — becoming a real estate agent and eventually running a brokerage. She knows she eventually wants to found her own brokerage, so that becomes her longest-term goal. But there are a lot of steps that she’ll need to take before she gets there! Those steps become intermediate, short-term goals that she’ll aim to meet along the way:
- One-week goal: Book the meeting with a local real estate agent to discuss career prospects and necessary steps.
- One-month goal: Enroll in a real estate licensing course.
- Six-month goal: Look for jobs working in real estate as an assistant to gain experience.
- One-year goal: Complete licensing required by the state.
- Two-year goal: Work as a real estate agent at an established brokerage.
- Five-year goal: Found a real estate brokerage.
When you start thinking about your goals, long- and short-term, you’ll realize you have many – we all do! Sometimes those goals will complement one another, meaning one goal will help you get closer to reaching another. But you will likely have to make choices about how to prioritize your goals since it isn’t realistic to pursue them all simultaneously. Prioritizing requires that you think about what matters most to you. Goals that relate to what is most important to you should take precedence over other goals. Of course, it is important to remain flexible, since life is often unpredictable. But we’ll discuss the importance of flexibility in greater detail later in the module.
Recommended for you Steps in Personal Branding
Now that you’ve learned about the importance of short-term and long-term goals, it’s time to start thinking about your own objectives and the steps you’ll need to take to reach them. Answer the following questions to initiate a goal analysis.
Identify one long-term work-related goal that will take you longer than a year to accomplish.
Evaluate your goal using the SMART criteria. If your goal is not specific enough, re-examine and redefine it. In the space below, state how you will measure progress toward your goal, how the goal is relevant to your priorities, and how long you expect it to take to reach your goal.
Good goals must be attainable. Thinking backwards from you goal, outline the steps you’ll need to take to reach it. Make sure the steps you list are also specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Indicate how long you anticipate it will take you to reach each of these intermediate steps, or short-term goals.
Finding the Right Workplace
To have fulfilling and purposeful career, it is important to realize that not every job is right for every candidate. Some jobs require candidates who possess particular skills and traits, so sometimes a potential employee just won’t be a good fit for a job. However, this requirement of fit goes both ways. As a worker, it is important to reflect on what kinds of workplaces and workspaces are most effective for you.
Some employees benefit from having a great deal of oversight, while others thrive on independence and flexibility. Some employees need quiet or private spaces to work most efficiently, while others prefer open spaces filled with lively and communal interactions. Some employees prefer maintaining formal relationships with those they work with, while others perform best when they feel close and comfortable with their coworkers. Understanding your own preferences is an important step in finding and thriving at the right job.
In fact, studies have shown that the number one reason employees leave their jobs is not dissatisfaction with pay, but a feeling of incompatibility with the workplace environment and culture. In a survey conducted by BambooHR in 2014, participants identified the following five problems as deal breakers, or reasons why they would leave a job:
Feeling as if they aren’t trusted by their bosses.
Being expected to work during personal time.
Conflict with difficult coworkers.
Being blamed for mistakes that aren’t their fault.
To determine whether a workplace is a good fit for your needs, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where is the company going?
- How do leaders interact with their advisees?
- Are suggestions, criticisms, and ideas presented by employees taken into consideration by those in charge?
- How does the workspace feel?
- Quiet? Serious? Energetic? Unorganized? Tense? Communal?
- Does the workspace seem compatible with your work needs?
- How is the workspace laid out?
- Does everyone have a personal space? Does everyone have an office?
- Does the workspace seem compatible with your work needs?
- Do employees seem overworked? Underworked? Is work-life balance encouraged?
Below, we’ll review some of the different types of workspaces you are likely to encounter when searching for the right job.
Working From Home
Some employees benefit greatly from having the option to telecommute — to work from home full-time or during part of the workweek. Working from home cuts down on commuting time, allows for more flexibility in how time is spent, and can make it easier to balance work and family life. However, there are downsides to working in the same space where you live. Some people find it difficult to separate their commitments when their workspace overlaps with their living space. Telecommuting can also be a difficult arrangement for people who find inspiration and energy from working and collaborating with others, since there may be an increased sense of isolation when working from home.
Open Office Spaces
Offices that prioritize coworking tend to have more open spaces filled with large tables and communal areas. Employers who create coworking spaces are usually hoping to foster a lot of collaboration and innovation among employees. But these workspaces aren’t ideal for individuals who enjoy having a private space and time to work quietly and reflectively.
Traditional Office Spaces
Traditional office spaces are divided into offices and other personal spaces like cubicles. These workplaces tend to work well for individuals who want or need the structure of a formal work environment, and who enjoy privacy and work effectively on their own. Because you are in an office space, colleagues and managers are nearby and accessible when needed, but the personal space provides some separation when desired. However, some people find these traditional spaces uninspiring, especially if they are most productive in social, highly collaborative environments.
Gallup polls suggest that people who feel close to their coworkers find their jobs more enjoyable and rewarding. There are a number of reasons why close and healthy workplace relations may improve your overall experience at work. Feeling close to the people you work with may make you feel more comfortable to introduce creative and innovative ideas. A comfortable work environment also makes it more likely that you’ll get honest feedback and support on projects you’re excited about. Finally, as social creatures, we tend to find more pleasure and fulfillment in activities we share with others. If you are close to the people you work with, then you can celebrate milestones together and work through complications as a team.
Let’s think about some of the people you may need to build strong relationships with, including coworkers, bosses, and employees:
Avoid competing with one another and instead, aim to support your coworkers.
Having a good relationship with your boss can greatly reduce workplace stress and lead to greater opportunities. To cultivate a strong relationship with your boss, try to empathize with her. Learn how she prefers to communicate (would she rather schedule a meeting or receive an email that gets right to the point?) and respect those preferences. Ask for feedback, advice, and help when you need it, but also try to demonstrate your ability to work independently and to solve problems on your own.
Show employees that you trust them by giving them responsibilities and encouraging them to cultivate new skills and talents. Many employees express concern that their employers see them as expendable, but showing your employees that you trust them enough to invest in them can help to create a sense of safety and security.
All good relationships involve trust, mutual respect, open communication, and compassion. Here are some tips that may help you develop stronger and healthier relationships at work:
Listening is harder than you might think. Often when we are “listening,” we are really waiting for an opportunity to talk. Active listening requires concentration — it requires that you make an effort to hear and understand what your conversational partner is saying. There are a number of ways you can try to improve your active listening skills. First, it can be helpful to briefly reiterate what you take your partner to have said once they are done speaking. This ensures you heard and did not misunderstand what was said. It can also be helpful to mirror the physicality of the person you are speaking with. By mirroring body language, you are better able to empathize with whatever emotions your partner might be experiencing. It also requires that you remain focused on what is being said and how it is being conveyed.
Say hello and goodbye, respect the ways other people work, and clean up after yourself in common areas. You should also be careful to respect other people’s time. Remember, everyone has work that needs to be done. Don’t hold meetings or send excessive emails that are unnecessary and unproductive, monitor your volume, and avoid interrupting your coworkers when they are in the middle of something.
Becoming the office gossip can have serious consequences for your reputation and your relationships at work. Gossip indicates to others that you are untrustworthy and judgmental, which may cause your coworkers, advisors, and employees to avoid confiding in you and including you in projects. You should also be careful not to vent too openly or negatively on social media.
Of course, you may not always like everyone at work, and you may not have the option to avoid some people you don’t get along with. In fact, some studies have found that as many as 80 percent of workers feel some stress as a result of a difficult or unpleasant relationship at work. If you’re not feeling friendly with a boss or coworker, there are a few things you can do to try to make the best of the situation:
- Remain professional. Again, you should avoid gossiping about the person, and you should try to keep your feelings private.
- Try to get to know the person. You may find that your relationship improves once you make the effort to ask questions about the person’s life inside and outside the office.
- Focus on something you admire about the person. Even if you generally dislike someone, it’s likely that you can find one personality trait or work contribution you admire. By focusing on the positive, you may realize that your first impression isn’t your last.
- Be kind. Even if you don’t like someone you work with, you should still be kind and empathetic. Try to make small gestures of kindness, like saying hello and goodbye or offering to get the person coffee if you are going on a coffee run. There’s no need to make grand gestures of kindness; even small ones may be enough to turn things around.
- Communicate clearly and positively. If you find it necessary to make the problems you are experiencing known to your troublesome coworker, be sure to do so in a clear and non-accusatory way. For example, if you find that your coworker is not including you in important meetings or emails, try phrasing your worry in a way that focuses on your needs. Don’t say, “You always leave me out. What gives?” Instead, try saying something like “When you exclude me from emails and meetings, I feel like I miss information and decisions that affect my work.” It can also be helpful to make suggestions and to clearly identify what you need. For example, if your coworker often cuts you off when you are talking, you may ask that she wait until you have finished your thought before contributing.
Part of finding fulfillment at work is ensuring that you maintain a healthy work-life balance. It is important to have goals that relate to your professional life, and a purposeful career often requires a lot of time and commitment. However, we all have goals and desires that are personal and are not at all work related. Thus, it is important to keep non-work related priorities in mind and to limit the amount of time you spend working so that you can achieve those personal goals.
Your life is made up of various distinct, though sometimes overlapping, spheres. You have a social life, a family life, a work life, and perhaps a religious life or other commitments to beliefs or values that don’t fit neatly into the categories already listed. Feeling personally fulfilled and finding happiness requires balancing commitments, goals, and desires in each of these areas. Many people struggle to feel as if they are giving their all in all of these areas at once, and when work is particularly demanding this can be especially hard.
Failing to find a balance between work and other aspects of your life can have significant health effects. Employees who regularly overwork, meaning they clock more than 55 hours each week, are at an increased risk of stroke and heart disease compared to those who work a more moderate 35-40 hour workweek.
In the following TED talk, Nigel Marsh, who has forged a successful career as an entrepreneur, author, and branding and marketing agent, discusses work-life balance. He focuses on how real balance requires small changes to our day-to-day lives.
Here are some tips for bringing balance to your professional and personal life:
In today’s hyper-connected world, finding a balance between work and the rest of your life may be harder than ever. Smartphones make it difficult to ever completely clock-out since work-related emails and messages might find their way to you after hours. If possible, try to avoid using any work-connected technology during your off-hours. Of course, not everyone has the option to ignore their emails and turn off their smartphones after leaving the office. If you find yourself unable to completely disconnect, set boundaries regarding how available you will be outside of office hours. You may consider setting a time after which you won’t respond to messages or inquiries, or you may decide that only urgent matters will be dealt with during evenings or weekends. Either way, your non-work life will benefit from the limits you’ve set and your decision to prioritize your personal life and commitments.
When things are busy at the office, or when you have a career that requires that you are on call or available at all times, it can be easy to neglect yourself and your need for quiet, uncommitted time. You may find that at the end of the day you’ve been so busy that you’ve forgotten to take care of someone who is more important than any client or supervisor — yourself! By scheduling downtime, you eliminate the possibility that you just won’t ever get around to it. You can spend this downtime relaxing, being with friends and family, or engaging in a fun activity. Just be sure you are doing something that you enjoy that does not feel like work!
Use your vacation time
As many as 41 percent of Americans do not use all of the vacation time provided by their employers. Reasons employees give for not using this time include fears that they’ll come back to mountains of work, the belief that no one else can do their jobs, and concerns that they will be seen as replaceable or lazy for taking time away from the office. In reality, vacations have a number of benefits. According to a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association and carried out by Oxford economics, employees are more productive, have higher morale, and are healthier when they take time away from the office. Vacation time also leads to greater retention rates, meaning employees feel more satisfied at their jobs when they feel comfortable taking time off.
Take care of your health
Eat balanced meals, make time for physical activity, and regularly clock at least 7 hours of sleep. Neglecting your health for the sake of work increases your risk of developing health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure and places you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Focus on the big picture
One of the reasons people who are overworked experience increased health risks is due to their high rate of perceived stress. When you are mired in the details of an assignment or a looming deadline, your perceived stress level is likely to go through the roof. By focusing on your long-term goals, both professional and personal, you can keep smaller issues in perspective.
You’re at the start of a journey, identifying your goals and mapping pathways to reach them. But you won’t stop thinking about where you want to be and whether the work you are doing is fulfilling once you’ve started on your way.
In fact, this sort of exercise, this reflective evaluation of your priorities, goals, and whether the people and places you surround yourself with are moving you closer to them, will continue for the rest of your professional life.
Changing Goals and Priorities
You’ve already started thinking about your goals, both long-term and short-term, and how you might go about reaching them. But it’s possible that what you want will change somewhere along the way – especially if you have goals that might take decades to reach! If what you want changes, you should feel comfortable changing or even abandoning goals that no longer apply to what you want in life. It is important to see that not all goals must be met and that if a goal no longer serves your interests, giving it up isn’t a failure. If you feel uncomfortable giving up a goal, it can be helpful to set a new, more relevant one, to pursue in its place.
At the start of the course, we talked about how different people have different priorities, and those priorities inform what it means to find satisfying, meaningful work. But like goals, priorities aren’t necessarily static – they may change over time. At the start of your career, you may be most concerned with purpose. But you may find that over time money becomes more important to you, or you may start a family and come to prioritize personal commitments over work. If your priorities change, your goals may change too, and you may have to rethink what you want out of your work-life.
How Do You Tell a Bad Day From a Bad Job?
Everyone has bad days. It’s unrealistic to expect to find a job that you love every single day. Sometimes you’ll have to do things you don’t enjoy.
Sometimes you may have to deal with uncooperative coworkers or clients. Sometimes you may not see eye to eye with your boss. Sometimes you may have to work a late night or make comprises between your personal and work life that aren’t ideal.
Bad days don’t necessarily mean you should consider leaving a job or a career. But as important as it is to accept that even people who love what they do and find meaning at work have bad days, you should be able to recognize when there are deep, entrenched problems that aren’t going to go away.
The following list reviews various signs that you aren’t just having a bad day or week, but that you might need to start thinking about making significant changes in your work-life. Click on each element below to learn more. To collapse a topic, click a second time.
You live for the weekends
Most people enjoy spending time away from work – in fact, looking forward to your off-hours and non-work activities is a great indication that you have a healthy work-life balance! So, looking forward to the personal time you get to spend with loved ones and on yourself on Saturdays and Sundays is perfectly normal, and it isn’t necessarily an indication that your work-life is unsatisfying. But if you find that you are regularly just trying to get through the week, suffering through Monday through Friday for a few moments of happiness during the weekend, that’s a serious indication that you should reconsider how you are spending most of your time. As we discovered at the start of the course, the average adult spends 35 percent of his or her waking life at work – too much time to spend doing something you are simply trying to endure.
You dread going to work
If imagining how it feels to walk into work on Monday morning makes you feel anxious every week, then it is probably time to start thinking seriously about making changes in your work-life.
Your health and/or personal life is suffering
As we discussed in the section on work-life balance, failing to prioritize your personal life can have serious effects on your health, placing you at a higher risk for heart complications, stroke, and illnesses like diabetes. If your job makes it impossible to achieve a healthy work-life balance, that’s a reason to reflect seriously about alternative workplaces or career options that might provide more flexibility. Studies have shown that many people who quit their jobs do so because they are expected to regularly overwork or perceive a stigma around working moderate hours or taking vacation days they are technically entitled to.
There’s no end in sight
Is the part of your work that is causing you stress or dissatisfaction temporary? For example, if you are working overtime on a project that has a clear endpoint, and there aren’t similar projects in the pipeline, you may be able to find comfort in the fact that the complications you are dealing with are short-term. If that’s the case, you may be able to find short-term solutions to those problems, or you may find it worthwhile to just wait them out.
However, if the problems you are dealing with are repetitive, unwavering, or an integral part of the kind of work you are doing, that’s a more serious indication that you should think critically about whether the work you are doing is the work you want to be doing.
Can you identify concrete, specific steps that might improve your situation at your current workplace? Can you talk to your supervisor about changing your schedule, responsibilities, or assignments in ways you have good reason to believe would make your work more enjoyable? If you think there is room for advancement and improvement at your current job, you should consider staying where you are and working to clearly and positively communicate your needs to those in charge.
However, you may find that real change isn’t possible at your current workplace, especially if the problems you are experiencing are built into the workplace environment. In that case, it may be in your best interest to leave. Most people find the idea of quitting a job very stressful. The following tips can help make the nerve-racking process of leaving a job less difficult (although there may be circumstances, particularly those where leaving your job immediately is in your best interest when these tips do not apply):
- It is typically a good idea to begin looking for a new job before taking any drastic steps.
- Give your employer plenty of notice before leaving. You shouldn’t burn bridges unnecessarily, so try to leave your old position on the best terms possible. This is especially important if you are overseeing or playing an important part in large projects, since you may need to play a part in determining how those will go on without you.
- Prepare responses to the kinds of questions you may be asked when you inform your employer you are leaving so that you aren’t caught off guard. Decide ahead of time how you will respond if asked why you are leaving, where you are going, or if there is anything that might make you stay.
- Inform your boss in person, and ask how he or she would prefer the news be announced to your coworkers.
- Keep in touch with people you formed positive relationships with. You may need a future letter or recommendation, or new opportunities may come out of those associations.
Personal Branding Terms
Here are some key terms and their definitions that have been discussed in this module.
|open office space||Offices filled with communal spaces that prioritize collaboration.|
|SMART goals||An approach to thinking about goals that stresses the importance that they be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.|
|career aptitude tests||Assessments that generate personality profiles and then match those profiles with career options that are aligned.|
|traditional office space||Office spaces divided into cubicles and personal offices. These offices prioritize personal space.|
|work-life balance||An aim of balancing time, commitments, and priorities between work and personal life. This balance will be unique for each individual.|
|telecommuting||Working from home full-time or part-time.|
|active listening||A conversational technique that requires that you make an effort to hear and understand what your conversational partner is saying. Involves mirroring and reiterating what the listener takes himself to have understood the speaker to be saying.|
|priorities||Things you care about most and that will determine when you find your work fulfilling.|
|goals||Things you want to achieve.|
|long-term goals||Goals that take longer than a year to accomplish.|
|short-term goals||Goals that take less than a year to accomplish. These may be intermediate steps towards ultimate goals.|
Employees who regularly __ are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
a) overwork. Correct Answer
b) work a moderate amount
Feedback: The answer is A. Employees who regularly overwork, meaning they clock more than 55 hours each week, are at an increased risk of stroke and heart disease compared to those who work a more moderate 35-40 hour workweek.
Good goals should be __.
d) all of the above. Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is D. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
In which of the following circumstances might it be okay to gossip about someone you work with?
a) Gossip is always appropriate. It helps people feel close to you.
b) It is only okay to gossip about coworkers who don’t like you.
c) It is never appropriate to gossip. It indicates to others that you are untrustworthy and judgmental. Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is C. Becoming the office gossip can have serious consequences for your reputation and your relationships at work.
Personality tests can help you to _.
a) determine how much money you need to make
b) identify career options that align well with your interests. Correct Answer Checked
c) identify intermediate goals
d) decide when you should leave a job
Feedback: The answer is B. Personality tests, like the Meyer-Briggs examination, and career aptitude tests can help you learn more about yourself while also narrowing the list of career options that align well with your unique personality.
Saying hello and goodbye to your coworkers is a way to __.
a) listen actively
b) show respect. Correct Answer
c) avoid gossip
Feedback: The answer is B. Showing respect to your coworkers can help you develop stronger and healthier relationships at work.
Which of the following is an advantage of open office spaces?
a) They cut down on commuting time.
b) They provide privacy and personal space.
c) They foster collaboration among employees. Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is C. Employers who offer open office spaces are often hoping employees will interact and collaborate frequently.
Which of the following statements is true?
a) The percentage of Americans who do not use their vacation time is not significant.
b) As many as 41 percent of Americans do not use all of the vacation time provided by their employers. Correct Answer
c) Taking vacation time has no measurable benefits.
Feedback: The answer is B. Many Americans do not use the vacation time they are entitled to, despite the fact that vacations have a number of benefits.
Which of the following statements is true?
a) If what you don’t like about your job is an integral part of your work, that’s an indication you should consider changing careers. Correct Answer
b) If you are at the right job, you’ll never have a bad day.
c) If you enjoy spending time away from work on the weekends, then you should look for a new job.
Feedback: The answer is A. If the problems you are dealing with are repetitive, unwavering, or an integral part of the kind of work you are doing, that’s a more serious indication that you should think critically about whether the work you are doing is the work you want to be doing.
______ tend to enjoy spending times with others and prefer socialization and collaboration to time alone.
a) extroverts Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is A. Extroverts tend to enjoy spending time with others and prefer socialization to time alone. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to be private and greatly enjoy time alone.
________ are divided into offices and other personal spaces like cubicles.
a) traditional office spaces. Correct Answer
b) open office spaces
c) telecommuting spaces
Feedback: The answer is A. Traditional office spaces tend to work well for individuals who want or need the structure of a formal work environment, and who enjoy privacy and work effectively on their own.
Finding meaningful work…
a) almost always correlates to a better job trajectory
b) means that one is less likely to see work as a chore. Correct Answer
c) almost always means that one will have to sacrifice a good salary
d) none of the above
Feedback: The answer is B. Finding meaningful work means that one is less likely to see work as a chore. However, meaningful work varies from person to person. It is still possible to find a fulfilling job that pays well and offers a good career trajectory.
According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, which characteristic of personality sits opposite of Judging as a way to respond to issues?
a) feeling (F)
b) intuiting (N)
c) thinking (T)
d) perceiving (P). Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is D. Perceiving (P) and Judging (J) are characteristics of personality that surround responding to issues in the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. Perceiving involves spontaneity, and judging involves planning, to summarize.
Which statement is true of short-term goals?
a) Short-term goals should take as much effort as long-term goals, but be completable in a shorter amount of time.
b) Short-term goals should be independent from the more complicated long-term goals.
c) Short-term goals should be completable in less than a year. Correct Answer
d) Short-term goals should not be time-bound because they take less time than long-term goals.
Feedback: The answer is C. Generally, short-term goals should be completable in less than a year.
Which is NOT a top reason that employees would leave a job, according to a 2014 survey?
a) conflict with difficult coworkers
b) being expected to work during personal time
c) rigid cultural expectations, including dress, attendance, and language. Correct Answer
d) being blamed for mistakes that weren’t their fault
Feedback: The answer is C. Employees in a 2014 survey did NOT cite “rigid cultural expectations, including dress, attendance, and language” as a deal-breaker, or a reason to leave their job. In fact, some people prefer more structured environments while others prefer fewer rules; it’s all a matter of personal preference.
How can you show employees that you trust them?
a) increase their workload
b) increase responsibilities given. Correct Answer
c) decrease communication with them
d) none of the above
Feedback: The answer is B. Show employees that you trust them by giving them responsibilities and encouraging them to cultivate new skills and talents. This is very different than just increasing their workload or decreasing communication. In some situations, this may be appropriate; however, specifically giving an employee responsibility (in some form) shows that you trust their judgment and value their input.
If you have the type of job that requires you to monitor your emails out of the office, which is a way to facilitate better work-life balance?
a) set a time past which you will not respond to emails unless absolutely urgent
b) leave your work devices in an inaccessible location and set times that you will check on them, such as 9:00 pm.
c) set filters so that only emails flagged as “urgent” will appear during downtime hours
d) all of the above. Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is D. All of these are options for setting boundaries so that work-life balance can be achieved while still remaining connected. It is important that employees, employers, and colleagues be notified of these limitations, though.
Which is true of goals as you consider your continued engagement in the workplace?
a) Goals should be met before you consider making a change.
b) You should feel comfortable changing or even abandoning goals that no longer apply to what you want in life. Correct Answer
c) You should align your priorities to the goals that you have set for yourself, not the other way around.
d) Bad days occur as a result of poorly set goals and aspirations that do not align.
Feedback: The answer is B. It is important to see that not all goals must be met, and that if a goal no longer serves your interests, giving it up isn’t a failure.
When should you talk to your supervisor about changing your schedule, responsibilities, or assignments?
a) When you’ve exhausted all other options.
b) When you think there is room for advancement and improvement. Correct Answer
c) When you’re committed to leaving your job, just as a formality to preserve relationships.
d) none of the above
Feedback: The answer is B. When you think there is room for advancement and improvement, you should speak with your supervisor about changing your schedule, responsibilities, or assignments. You shouldn’t wait until you’re fed up and thinking about leaving.
Which is NOT a good priority for finding a job?
a) a good salary
b) meaningful work
c) proximity to home
d) ability to address personal commitments
e) none of the above Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is E. All of these are viable priorities to consider when finding a job.
Which is an example of a long-term goal?
a) negotiate a raise
b) meet the quarterly revenue goal
c) set boundaries for work-life balance
d) retire by age 67. Correct Answer
Feedback: The answer is D. Setting a retirement age is a long-term goal that can guide supportive short-term goals and actions.
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