Every Dream Job Has These Six Ingredients: A Roadmap For Crafting Meaningful Work
If you’re like most health & fitness pros, you fantasize of scaling your business so you can make great money while working minimal hours. But what if you knew that chasing this reality could make you less happy? This step-by-step guide will show you the 6 ingredients you need to succeed, and how to craft a dream job of your own.
What you think is a dream job is actually your worst nightmare
You’re sitting on a beach on an exotic island. You hear the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore. Dolphins occasionally surface and slide in and out of the water.
You have your laptop on your beach blanket and you’re shooting off a couple of emails — the only task that you have for the day.
And, you’re getting paid.
You have enough money in the bank that you don’t have to worry about paying the utilities, the internet, the rent (or the mortgage for your beach-front home), and you’re saving money because you’re happy living below your means.
But, there’s a flip side:
You’re bored. There’s no challenge in your work. You’re never pushed to the edge of your abilities and you’re not growing your skills as a professional (or as a person).
You’re not helping other people. At least you don’t feel that way. Your work is empty and vacuous. You wonder what kind of impact you might have in the world if you did something else.
You’re not really great at sending emails (or doing whatever it is that you do). Because of your boredom, you don’t spend time trying to be the best “worker.” Since you don’t get enjoyment out of it, you’re distracted by other things, and the quality of your work shows it. Many times, you find yourself sending emails while you scroll through instagram.
Your colleagues are mean. They’re all in the same boat as you: making money and living the “dream,” but feeling like something really big is missing. So, they take it out on each other and on you. They’re unhappy, snarky, and sometimes downright nasty.
Your job isn’t secure. You’re making great money, but you don’t know how long it will last. Your relationships at work are strained and you and your boss have a mutual disdain for each other. Any day now, you feel as though you might be let go.
Your work does not match who you are. All of the above gives you a sense that your work does not fit within the context of your life, and who you are as a person. Sure, you’re making great money and living on the beach care-free, but that’s it — everything else about this work doesn’t fit. You find no meaning in your job, and you’re not using your time in a way that’s in line with your purpose, values and priorities.
If it’s easy and it pays, it must be good, right?
Making money and having it easy is what most people think of as a dream job. But while having enough money to be comfortable is important, it’s only one small piece of the puzzle.
For instance, research has shown that going from an income of $40,000 to $80,000 a year in the United States only increased life satisfaction from 6.5 to 7 on a scale from 1 to 10.
That’s a very small increase for a doubling in salary.
And, when researchers looked at day-to-day happiness, that metric flat-lined at about $50,000 per year in the US.
Furthermore, as we’ll explore below, if your work is easy, it’s probably also boring. Your sweet-spot of engagement and mastery exists at the intersection of challenge and skill. Work that is challenging (but also within your range of skills), will be more rewarding than work that is easy.
So, what should you aim for in a dream job?
Professor Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, summarized the key ingredients of wellbeing as:
Positive emotion — feeling happy day-to-day;
Engagement — having challenging, absorbing tasks;
Relationships — having supportive friends and family;
Meaning — having a purpose higher than yourself; and
Achievement — being good at something.
In addition, research in job satisfaction has shown that our greatest motivation at work — or elsewhere — is derived from three psychological factors:
Competence — a sense that you’re good at what you do;
Autonomy — a feeling of control over your time and your actions; and
Relatedness — a feeling of connection to other people and a sense that you belong.
These basic psychological needs, described in Self-Determination Theory, are job agnostic. While individuals from varying age groups and cultures may fulfill these needs differently, everyone is likely to benefit from having them satisfied.
The Six Ingredients For Cultivating Your Dream Job
Researchers at the Oxford non-profit, 80,000 hours, have combined the above principles to achieve a framework that predicts job satisfaction.
Here are the six ingredients to cultivate the job of your dreams:
1. Work that’s engaging
What you do day-by-day and hour-by-hour will always trump your salary, status, and the type of company you work for. Engaging work draws you in and gives you a sense of flow.
In the classic work “Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalhy (pronounced Me-high Cheeks-sent-me-high — you’re welcome), the author defines “Flow” as a state of consciousness where people find genuine satisfaction.
In this state, you’re completely absorbed and engaged in an activity to the point where time dilates or contracts, and there is a loss of self-consciousness (i.e., worries about whether or not you have a booger hanging from your nose do not enter your mind).
The ever elusive Flow state exists at the intersection of challenge and skill. If the job is too easy, it won’t challenge your skills and you’ll become bored. If the challenge surpasses your skill level, the task will produce anxiety.
The cool thing here is that your perception trumps fact.
We can find ways to get better at mundane tasks, and get bored with complex tasks. How you perceive the work and the opportunities will dictate whether or not you can achieve a flow state.
Besides being able to achieve flow in your work, their are other factors that contribute or correlate with job satisfaction:
Autonomy (or freedom)
Autonomy is the need to be in charge of our experiences and our actions. The ability to have flexibility and choice. The desire to work on something, rather than being forced to work on something.
Autonomy is so important that people crave it more than status or power.
According to findings across nine experiments involving more than 2,000 participants across three continents, researchers from the University of Cologne, the University of Groningen, and Columbia University found that, although employees without a lot of power do indeed desire more of it, ultimately “gaining autonomy quenches the desire for power.”
In other words, a role that allows you the freedom to do mostly what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it is much more appealing to people than the ability to govern and have influence over others.
And, if you have a higher level of autonomy at work, you’re more likely to report higher levels of overall well-being and job satisfaction. Your level of productivity will be higher and you’ll be more likely to perform to the best of your ability.
One of the reasons why video games (and games in general) are so enthralling is that the creators give you clear tasks with defined beginnings and endings (though there are some exceptions, in which case, autonomy becomes a major driver of engagement).
Conversely, open-ended tasks are used in Special Forces Operations selection to weed out the “honest dogs from the dogs going home.” Our brains have difficulty processing tasks with no conclusion in sight, so the military uses unclear workouts with random endings to thin out the selection pool for special forces.
When we have a clear assignment with a beginning, middle, and end, we can pace ourselves effectively, and work diligently towards completing — and celebrating — short-term goals.
Simply put, novelty makes us happy. New experiences produce dopamine in the brain. Furthermore, the more we practice tasks, the easier they become. This forces us to search for more challenging tasks to achieve flow.
When new obstacles are presented, it becomes a fresh opportunity to hone our skills and chase flow.
Imagine playing a video game where you don’t know if you are winning or losing. This might be akin to being in the gym and not knowing if you are moving in a way that will hurt you or help you make long-term progress. Ambiguity in performance leaves us feeling lost and isolated.
Asking for and giving great feedback — positive, neutral and negative — will greatly enhance your level of confidence. It will give you the opportunity to interact with others, gain respect, and show your humility.
And, if you learn to share your feedback with others in thoughtful, caring, and compassionate ways, they’ll see you as someone they can rely on for their own growth. Applying simple strategies, like asking for permission, being specific and objective, and waiting to provide feedback until things have calmed down will get you on the right path.
(To learn more about how to give — and receive — great feedback, check out this article: Mastering Feedback: Use These 3 No-Nonsense Strategies To Give And Receive Feedback Like A Pro)
These four factors: Autonomy, clear tasks, variety, and feedback have been shown to correlate with job satisfaction and they’re widely thought by experts to be the most empirically verified predictors of job-satisfaction.
That said, it is only one sixth of the puzzle. You’ll also need to find…
2. Work that helps others
Human beings are social animals who live within communities. Our survival as a species depends on our ability to help one another: first within our families, then within our tribes, and then (hopefully) within our larger communities and the world.
Being able to support others through your work is one of the biggest indicators for whether or not you will find meaning in your role.
In a survey of over 2.7 million Americans, jobs like Revenue Analyst, Fashion Designer, and TV Newscast director had all four ingredients for engaging work, but over 90% of respondents didn’t find them meaningful.
In contrast, nearly every Fire Service Officer, Nurse, and Neurosurgeon found their jobs meaningful, and the reason for this is really simple: this set of jobs directly helps other people.
The good news is, you don’t have to quit your amazing job as a Fashion Designer because you don’t think you’re helping people. And, you don’t need to come up with some lame semantic contortion to pretend like you’re helping the rich and privileged feel confident in their clothes.
You can actually have a huge impact in the lives of people who are suffering greatly by keeping your job and making focused decisions outside of work, like volunteering your spare time, or giving a percentage of your earnings to organizations or people who can have a big impact.
3. Work you’re good at
If you’ve followed Change Maker for any amount of time, you’ll know how big we are on finding work that utilizes your Unique Abilities. These are things that you are, or have the potential to be, world-class at, you really enjoy doing, and you can make a big difference with, if you use them.
Being good at your work not only gives you a sense of achievement, but it also will make you feel competent, and give you the power to negotiate for the other components of a fulfilling job, such as the ability to work on meaningful projects, undertake engaging tasks, and earn fair pay for your work.
If you’re curious about how to find your Unique Abilities, check out this article:
How To Uncover Your Unique Abilities And Use Them To Serve Your Purpose
4. Work with supportive colleagues
Humans have an inherent propensity to feel connected to others. To be a member of a group. To be cared for. This need is satisfied when we have close relationships with others. This is also true in the workplace.
According to Gallup, employees with a best friend at work are 43% more likely to have been praised for the quality of their work the week prior, 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development, are 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important and that their opinions matter, and more.
When we feel connected at work, we feel like our work matters. We feel like we matter.
Research has shown a positive association between social support and physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. On the other hand, when people lack social support, they can suffer from loneliness, increased levels of anxiety and depression, and more.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to become BFFs with all of your colleagues. Research shows that the most important factor is whether you can get help from your colleagues when you run into problems. In other words, “social support” is a top predictor in job satisfaction.
A bad boss can ruin a dream job, but even boring, tedious work can be fun and meaningful if done with a friend.
5. Lack of major negatives
All of the above can be in place, but you also need to be free of unpleasant things like…
A long commute.
Very long hours.
… in order to be satisfied.
Although these may sound obvious, they are often overlooked. So, maybe don’t take that dream job in Miami or Los Angeles if you know you’ll need to sit in traffic for an hour plus each way. In your mind, it may not seem like a bad idea, until you realize that 10 hours a week in a traffic jam is the reason why you’re going to therapy for anger-management.
6. Work that fits with the rest of your life
You won’t be able to understand how to design your work life until you understand how it fits within the context of the rest of your life.
You also won’t know what the real challenge is if you don’t get honest with yourself in regards to how each realm of your life is doing, and how you’re doing on the whole.
If, for example, you take time to reflect and find that your biggest problem is a relationship problem, you won’t be able to “fix” your life by focusing solely on your career. If anything, pouring more energy into your career, as a means to avoid the issues that are in your relationship will only make your life worse.
By evaluating how you’re doing across various domains, you’ll be able to see which areas of your life are working — and which ones aren’t — so you’ll be able to clearly define your biggest challenge and generate relevant solutions.
You’ll also save yourself years of time that might be otherwise spent focusing on the wrong thing.
Plus, within a career context, you’ll get a better sense of how you’d like your career to fit within your life. Meaning, if you notice you’d like more time to focus on your health, you might look at career paths that allow for more predictable, steady hours so you can consistently block off time to workout.
You also don’t have to get all of the ingredients of a fulfilling life from your job. It’s possible to find a job that pays the bills and find a sense of meaning from philanthropic work or volunteering. Or, you can build great relationships outside of work.
If you’re curious about what parts of your life might require the most attention right now, we recommend filling out our Deep Health worksheet to get a clearer picture of your current context.
You can find this worksheet, along with three other exercises, in our FREE Dream Job Workbook for Health & Fitness Pros.
Why “Follow your passion” can be bad advice
Passion is helpful, but it’s not all you need. Even if you’re passionate about the work, if you lack the other six factors, you will most likely be unhappy in the long run.
Your passion also may not be career-relevant. Most high school boys are passionate about sports, but the spots available in almost any sport are in extremely short supply in comparison to the demand.
There are famous examples of this too — Einstein had his most productive year in 1905, while working as a clerk at a patent office. Steve Jobs was passionate about Zen Buddhism before he went into technology as a way to make some quick cash. His passion for technology grew as his success grew, until he became the most famous advocate for “doing what you love.”
Your passions will change and they will be influenced by unseen factors. What won’t change is your need to fulfill the above qualities to find satisfaction and meaning.
A dream job isn’t easy work with high pay
Yet, this is what most think of as a dream job. And, even if you did find this elusive pairing of ease and luxury, chances are you would still feel incomplete and unfulfilled if your work lacks the six factors below.
Do work that is engaging
Your work challenges you, but not so much that you are experiencing chronic anxiety. You have at least some autonomy, you work on clear tasks, and you’re getting consistent, useful feedback.
Do work that helps others
You really feel like you are helping people, and that your work matters. If you don’t feel like you are helping others, try giving to a charitable organizations or volunteering for a cause you believe in.
Do work you’re good at
You’re using your unique abilities most of the time. You’re excited to do the work because, while it’s challenging, you look at it as an opportunity to master something you can be the best at.
Work with supportive colleagues
Who you work with matters. While you don’t need to be BFFs with all (or any) of your colleagues, you can always ask them for help and get an eager reply in return. Working with people who are willing to help you when you get in the weeds is more important than making friends.
Do work that lacks major negatives
Even if you find a job that fits five of the six categories, major negatives like long commutes in traffic, unfair pay, or job insecurity can kill job satisfaction. Make sure you’re getting into a situation that lacks these major negatives (or anything else that you might consider to be undesirable).
Do work that fits with the rest of your life
Match the context of your life with the work you are looking for. And make sure that the work you are doing is in line with your values and purpose. If you’re a vegan, you probably won’t be happy working at a butcher shop that pays really well, has supportive colleagues, and exploits your keen cutting abilities.
If any of the above is missing, look for it outside of work
You don’t need to necessarily find all six of the above ingredients in the work you do. You might have five, but seek the sixth outside of your job. For instance, if what is missing for you is feeling like the work you do is helping others, you can always donate a portion of your earnings to a charitable cause, volunteer, or do some other philanthropic work.
Want to learn more? Dive deeper?
Then download your Dream Job Workbook for Health & Fitness Pros.
It will help you take the above – and put it into practice – so you can:
- Understand what actually makes for satisfying work (so you know where to place your effort),
- Get a better sense of where you are now (so you know what you want to change), and
- Build the career of your dreams.
Dream Job Workbook for Health & Fitness ProsThis step-by-step guide will help you craft a career of your dreams, backed by research.
This FREE Dream Job Workbook for Health & Fitness Pros will teach you the 6 ingredients you need to build a satisfying career, and show you how to craft one of your own.