When someone asks if you’re happy in your job, the answer is generally “yes” or “no” after a short pause.
But something very interesting happens in between the question and the answer.
During that brief moment, your brain goes through an assessment to: compartmentalize, weight, and rank all aspects of the job which are most/least important to you. Your job satisfaction is then determined from the aggregate sum of these parts.
Imagine a set of 4 or 5 buckets. Each bucket has a label representing a desired job characteristic. There’s no set combination of buckets or labels – it’s entirely up to you. Just don’t end up with 10 buckets because then you dilute the importance of each. The labels could be anything: social impact, impressing the opposite sex, compensation, contribution, entertainment, work/life balance, ethical practices, whatever would constitute your “dream job”.
Once your satisfaction has been broken down into the buckets, it’s time to re-size them. Think about what’s most important. Determine how heavily each one weighs on your happiness. This will be a very personal process and different for everyone, which is why there are well-paid bankers who overlook their long hours or not as well-paid non-profit employees swelling with pride from their sense of purpose.
Part of Generation Y, my friends and I have arrived at what feels like a junction point in our careers. We’ve been working for a few years now and seem to have a better handle on how we plan to contribute to society and what we’re looking for in our jobs.
Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about my own buckets for a long time now. I often fear my desire for career purpose consumes me, preventing me from living in the present and always thinking about the not-so distant future. Working towards defining my buckets has helped to ease this concern.
For those who don’t know, I took a risk on an engineering job which was supposed to split my time 50/50 between coastal development projects in the Turks & Caicos Islands and Florida. Not quite turning out as expected and adding in the economic downturn, things fell flat with the job. I was forced to re-enter the industry I’d left in the first place! It feels like I’m still picking up the pieces and trying to figure out where I’m headed in the long run. When I think about what will come, two buckets stick out.
Would you rather do something you love with someone you hate or something you can tolerate with someone you love?
I’ve been where I dreaded the work, but loved the company and people. I’ve also been where the work was enjoyable, but the company was unbearable. At least for me, the first was a lot better situation. It’s so much harder to buy into your work if you can’t buy into your employer.
I’m proud to say I’m an engineer but embarrassed to say my industry. Beyond the stigmas associated with it, everyone seems content with outdated and inefficient practices because that’s what is most profitable. And unfortunately, I can’t see these changing during my lifetime. Similar to above, when I struggle to respect the industry practices or the people I’m engaging with, giving 100% effort is so much harder and each day is left in frustration instead of accomplishment.
But I didn’t want to stop with my own viewpoints. Having a variety of friends, I wanted to see what their take was and how they viewed their own buckets.
CORPORATE COG TO ENTREPRENEUR
Value of Time
I need to be in an environment where either the organization values my time the same way I do, or I have control over how my time is allocated and how I’m compensated for it. One of my biggest frustrations at Capgemini was how my time was valued or, for that matter not valued… Since it didn’t cost the company, the client or my coworkers anything to use my time, they would make inefficient use of it. Now that I am my own boss, I get to determine what is worth my time, and to assign a cost to it.
BETTERING YOUR FUTURE
This one can encapsulate all sorts of elements about an organization: the people, the office environment, etc. I’ve found myself happiest in work cultures where everyone is treated equally (or close to it, at least). At Greenpeace, everyone is encouraged to share the ideas they have and contribute however they want/can. There is a palpable sense of respect amongst the staff here, and it doesn’t matter whether someone’s been here 20 years or 20 minutes.
This last one really deals with the what/why questions. What am I actually doing with my life? Why is this important? (or, why am I doing this?). For me, right now, it’s easy to feel good about the big picture that I’m working towards. I’m part of an organization that promotes green and peaceful ideas for a better future. Despite learning all about the terrible things that go on in the world, I feel much better coming to work every day knowing I’m contributing towards that.
Wow… tobacco marketer saying money is the most important thing… shocker… But seriously, the compensation here is a big reason why I stay.
My sister worked for a non-profit in NYC living paycheck-to-paycheck and now finds herself with tons of debt to deal with. I don’t think she regrets her choice, but the reality is that she is years away from being financially stable. For her that’s not a big deal, but for me it is.
The benefits here are also unbelievable. The company paid for my MBA, no strings attached. That kind of benefit is so rare these days and one of the biggest reasons that I took this job in the first place.
Finally, the opportunity for advancement is legit. Promotions can be hard to come by, but when they come they can feature some truly significant pay increases. If you really stick with it here you can make some really life-changing amounts of money, setting up not only your kids, but also your grandkids.
There can be some extremely long nights working at this place, and some nights I find myself sitting here wondering why I’m working so hard. Working weekends to ensure that I can discount cigarettes by an extra $1 next week? There is absolutely a disconnect there, and it’s what will eventually make me leave this place.
GOOGLE IN BRAZIL
At my previous firm, it felt like a lot of times I didn’t have enough work to do, or the work I was doing was just “busy work” that really didn’t make a difference. With Google, I’m hoping there will be plenty of work to do and it will all be more meaningful.
Important up to a level where I’m comfortable and I feel like I’ve already reached that level now. I’m actually taking a 20% cut by going down to Brazil since I’ll be earning income in Brazilian Real on their local salary scale. Plus, Sao Paulo is actually more expensive than Atlanta, so I’m becoming additionally poorer in the transition!
BANKING NO MORE
I’m not saving up for a Lamborghini and generally don’t get very excited about extravagant lifestyles, but it’s an empirical way to measure your progress. If I joined a start-up and we made lots of money, I’d think there’s a pretty high correlation between our paychecks and the quality of strategic decisions we made. Not always, but usually.
A big part of why I left banking is because I really couldn’t relate with most of the people I worked with. They had no interest in music, science, religion, etc. Their interests seemed to revolve around: finance, making money, the Wall Street Journal, action movies, hot girls, spending money, finance, sports, and finance… you get the idea.
At CIT and Merrill Lynch I had no sense of pride in my work. That could be because I’m a negative, cynical, sarcastic individual, but to use Google as an example… that’s a company I would actually be proud to say I work for… I would want to help Google improve their bottom line and develop the “next big idea.” When Merrill or CIT had a good year, I couldn’t care less. I didn’t shed a tear when CIT filed for bankruptcy or Merrill was acquired.
WRITING @ ONION & FAST COMPANY
Fast Company knows my outside work, and they give me respect for it, without me having to brag about it. A lot of employers don’t care what you’re doing outside the office, even if it can technically make you a better employee. At FC, word always gets around if I have a new book or a freelance article out, and it’s nice for that stuff to be acknowledged without me having to toot my own horn.
Trust is a big part of journalism, since editors have to trust their writers aren’t making shit up. So it’s nice that everyone I’ve ever written for has trusted me implicitly, even when sources bitch that I wasn’t fair. They always size up the facts defend writers, unless of course we’ve made some transgression we shouldn’t have.
I’ve been taking extended time away from this website so I can focus more on where I’m headed and what direction I need to be pointed in order to get there. The question remains: Can I stay somewhere I don’t really feel in touch with and still be profitable? John Bogle has made quite the name (and fortune) for himself doing just that.
More importantly, this mini-research project refueled my outlook for Generation Y. Articles (often written by “old” people) continue to criticize and critique our traits of entitlement and laziness with grim predictions for the future, but this couldn’t be further from our aspirations.
Our desire to be highly compensated only stems from our plans to contribute significantly not only to our organization, but to society as a whole. We want, and are looking for, opportunities to become integral players in this country’s growth and development. Once we figure out what our buckets actually are, we’ll be on our way.