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Chasing Career Fulfillment

By Elizabeth Christensen

Each year millions of workers make the tough decision to leave their current work for an entirely different field. The results of this major life decision sometimes leads to furthering their career clarity, fulfillment, and personal and professional growth. Other times workers find that they are still unhappy with their career change and wonder what is missing. It is increasingly important to recognize the driving factors behind your desire for a career change. Are you pursuing more meaningful, fulfilling, engaging work or are you seeking higher salary, senior titles or more career recognition? Neither of these roads is right or wrong, however, understanding your desire to change careers is important and the following studies and questions are meant to provide clarity regarding your motivation to make a major life change.

Firstly, money doesn’t buy happiness – according to the findings of a 2010 study on well-being conducted by Kahneman and Deaton.¹ They found that life satisfaction, consisting of emotional well-being and life evaluation, positively correlates with increased annual income to a point of $75,000 but does not progress further. Meaning there is no substantial increase in life satisfaction between someone that is making $75,000/year compared to $120,000/year. If you have a job that meets your financial needs yet you are considering changing careers with the hope that more money will bring you more happiness, reconsider.

Secondly, lower stress isn’t an indicator of career satisfaction, in fact if a job is so low stress it becomes a source of boredom. On the other hand, a stressful job can become problematic if the demands exceed your abilities.³ There is a fine balance where you are both challenged but not overwhelmed. The key difference is finding a job that supports you in the following ways – your career allows you to have high control and autonomy of your task list, gives tasks that are challenging yet achievable and readily provides support when needed. Seeking a job with less stress isn’t the right goal, instead seek a job that supports you in managing your stress in healthy ways.

If more money and less stress don’t provide career satisfaction, what will?

Your work should be engaging, empowering, and energizing if you hope to feel satisfied with your career. Imagine you are going into work on a typical Tuesday and ask yourself the following questions:

Is my job engaging?

  • Are my daily tasks clearly defined or is there confusion about what is expected of me?
  • Do I have the autonomy to approach my task list in a way that makes sense or do antiquated company procedures force a process that is unintuitive and clunky?
  • Is there enough variety in the types of tasks I am assigned or am I doing the exact same thing all day, everyday?

Is my job empowering, both for myself and for others?

  • Does the work I do impact other’s lives in a positive and meaningful way?
  • Are there volunteer or charitable giving opportunities that are facilitated by my company?
  • Does my work allow me to hone skills that I already possess and apply them in new and interesting ways?

Is my job energizing?

  • Am I able to work positively with my coworkers?
  • Are my coworkers and superiors honest, direct, and constructive with their feedback?
  • Am I mentally, emotionally, and physically drained due to long commutes, job insecurity or extremely long working hours?

Studies around job and life satisfaction agree that a combination of engaging, empowering and energizing work is the recipe to a happy career.²  It’s important to let these questions and research findings guide your trajectory rather than chasing titles, salary, reputation, or prestige – because those aren’t destinations, these achievements are rooted in a mindset of always wanting more. When we constantly desire more, we can never be satisfied – no matter how much wealth we accumulate or titles we achieve, more always exists. Contentment, satisfaction and groundedness will always elude us if we are hindered by that mindset. If your answers to the above questions were unenthused, weak, or lacking, then you might consider a move from your current role to pursue other passions. This can actually be a win-win for everyone.

Rather, chase fulfillment. Identify your purpose, skillsets, and values – whatever they may be, and make sure they align with your work. For example, in a survey we conducted some people valued team and work environment over career advancement opportunities, while others valued the mission/impact over a connection to the product. Where you would be the most successful depends on your values, skillset, personality and temperament, or in other words, you – who you are as an individual.

Each stage in your career provides an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your skillset, interests, disinterests, personal and workplace values, and so much more. Career choices you may perceive as “missteps†often prove to be the most informative and transformational on the journey to a fulfilling career. Letting your values guide you can help illuminate what you want now and in the future, give you direction, and even help attract aligned opportunities.



Kahneman, D., Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluations of life but not emotional well-being. PNAS, 107(38), 16489-16493. doi:10.1073/pnas.1011492107
Yitzhak, F., Ferris, G. R. (1987). The validity of the job characteristics model: A review and metaâ€analysis. Personnel Psychology 40(2), 287-322.
Johnson, J. V., Hall, E. M. (1988). Job strain, work place social support, and cardiovascular disease: a cross-sectional study of a random sample of the Swedish working population. American journal of public health, 78(10), 1336-1342.
Taylor & Francis. (2016, May 31). More satisfied workers, more successful company. ScienceDaily.