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A Job That Makes You Happy

The core purpose of what you do is the one thing that need not change.

The goal of every career should first be to make you happy. No amount of money or prestige can supplement happiness, nor can an unhappy career be considered sustainable. Furthermore, we live in an age where career opportunities are greater than they have ever been. We are no longer bound by the industries of geographical proximity, nor is our ability to gain skills stunted by lack of access. Instead, the barrier we face is the overwhelming multitude of options and the miss-directing information prevalent. It seems easy to follow the wrong path in a situation where the opportunity cost is the life well lived. The challenge then in our age is to navigate the sea of options towards that which suits our personal needs.


To discuss a career that will make us happy, we must first discuss happiness.


Please indulge me in giving a definition of a word everyone knows. I would like to articulate this precisely because it is so commonly used because it is used in multiple ways. To briefly display the contrast in the two most frequent uses of the word, most people speak of happiness either as the short term immediate emotional response to something positive and as the long term character of a satisfactory life. For clarity, I would like to identify these two types of happiness as "joy" and "actualization," respectively.

In the conversation of finding a career to make us happy, the short term joy is not as relevant. Even a terrible job can provide the occasional joy. Instead, a career contributes to one's self actualization and long term happiness.

Before we get in depth on how a career can do so, which we will do in the second section of this article, let's look at what it takes to increase self actualization. Obviously, a career is not the only factor which contributes to one's happiness so a principle is in order. In other words, how can anything contribute to our self-actualization. Once we know that, it will become evident how a career can do so.

Self actualization refers to the realization of one's full potential. It can only be reached once all other needs are met (refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). It is the feeling one achieves when their actions reflect their highest potential. It is an acknowledgement that they have engaged with and overcome challenges that have forced them to grow. It is important to understand that the reward for these challenges is reflected equally as the growth undertaken as it is the monetary or physical reward earned.

Full potential also requires engagement. In order to be engaged in something, we must care about it. It is not enough to say that a task was challenging, or that a task was at the peak of one's skill-sets. Full potential means we are leveraging our skillsets to the fullest capacity in something we find valuable. To put another way, we must be acting in accordance with our values at our highest capacity.

In summary, a happy life comes from intentional engagement with important challenges that develop one into their full potential doing.

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Happy Career

How then, can a career contribute to one's life-long happiness?

I will refer again to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as an acknowledgement of the prerequisite. A career must first provide for the physiological needs (i.e. enough pay), safety needs (i.e. job security), love and belonging (i.e. company culture), and esteem (i.e. recognition of a job well done). Before we can even consider a career contributing to one's self actualization, that is their life-long happiness, these needs must first be met.

For a career to contribute to one's life-long happiness, the work being done must be towards a goal that we are passionate about. As stated earlier, it is not enough that the tasks are challenging, they must also be in alignment with our values. When we take stock of our career, we must be able to say in full honesty that we are doing everything we can to achieve a goal we care about.

The goal, therefore, is to find a career which

  1. Servers our basic needs
  2. Challenges us to our capacity
  3. Aligns with our values

Finding the Perfect Career

"Go out and do what makes you happy" is always easier said than done. How do you know what will make you happy? How will you know which career options will satisfy the three needs stated above?


The answer is to get out there, try, reflect, and adapt. More concisely, learn iteratively. Your life is not something that can be planned perfectly before you need to make the decisions that will impact it. Most of us had to decide what career trajectory we were on when we graduated high school. In other words, before we actually lived in the environment for which we were deciding our fate.

The good news is that we have flexibility. We have the ability to change careers as we articulate our needs. Changing careers may not always be easy or swift, but it is possible. The barrier to finding our careers is not the ability to change but our lack of reflection. At times it seems we are hard wired to resist change and so we accept what is available to us, thinking the best we can hope for is to "make do." We spend all of our energy on maximizing the reward of where we are, or at times minimizing the harm of it.

Instead, we need to devote that time and effort to understanding what about those jobs make us miserable and what aspects bring us closer to actualization. We need to reflect on our values as our experiences grow, because our understanding of our values grows along with that experience. Then we need to lean into the changes required to get the career that is closer to the values that we now understand more fully.

You don't need to get it right the first time. You only need to keep your attention on what "right" is, and embrace the changes required to get there.

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