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Most of us want to find a job we love, but we don’t quite know how to do it. We’re looking for that job love in all the wrong places.
Working with hundreds of people as they navigate their careers, I’ve seen again and again that leaping out of bed in the morning to get to a job you love doesn’t come from:
- Working in a sexy or cutting-edge industry.
- Working in the area of your passion (“I love fashion so I’ll work in the fashion business”).
- Advancing up the ladder in your industry.
- Having a great compensation package, cushy office or amazing vacation policy.
Long-term career enjoyment and motivation comes from finding a job that, in its day-to-day reality, is a right fit with who you really are—your strengths, your personality, your values.
Figuring out what that means for you requires the answers to three important questions:
1. What’s the work I’ve really been doing in every job I’ve had?
Your resume shows a variety of different job titles, but if you look closely, underneath the titles, you’ll see a common thread in the work you’ve actually been doing in those diverse roles.
Maybe you’re the one on the team who’s always called in to calmly resolve crises. Maybe you see what’s not running smoothly and put more efficient systems in place. Maybe your out-of-the-box ideas help your employers innovate and grow.
This is “the work underneath your work”—the work you really do, no matter what label, formal title or industry category is put on top of it.
Think back to childhood, and you might see this was also what you were really doing when you formed that rock band or “staffed” that lemonade stand.
Look for a job that centers on the work you’ve naturally and consistently done throughout your life and career.
2. What are my core values?
Job fulfillment also comes from something most of us don’t think about very often: aligning our work with our core values.
Here’s how to begin. Think back to a peak moment in your life when you felt particularly fulfilled. Maybe it was swimming in the ocean in Hawaii, finishing a major project at work or a simple moment like reading a great book with your dog on your lap.
Now ask yourself this important question, “Which of my values was I honoring at that moment?”
If your peak moment was swimming in the ocean, maybe you were honoring values of freedom, connection to nature and health. If your peak moment was finishing a big work project, perhaps you were honoring values of accomplishment and determination.
Do this exercise with two peak moments and list about five of your core values.
Reminder: values are not specific activities; they are intangible qualities. “Swimming” isn’t a value, but swimming might allow you to express values such as health or connection with nature.
Look for a job that will allow you to honor your core values. If you value creativity and spontaneity but work in an uncreative role in a conservative company, you’ve got some changes to make!
3. What’s my relationship style?
Look back to your past work, school, and volunteering experiences and identify how you like to work with others.
Are you a solitary contributor, or do you love being part of a close-knit team?
Do you need a lot of praise and recognition from others?
Do you like a lot of autonomy, or close mentoring and guidance from a boss?
Excavate your past to learn what interpersonal environment works best for you, and then look for a team structure that fits your relationship style.
Isn’t this a tall order?
It can seem like an impossible task—especially during a tough economy—to find a job that fits with your answers to these questions.
But it’s not as impossible as it seems. Here’s why:
- You’ll have a bigger playing field. Using these questions, you’ll find yourself exploring roles you haven’t considered before or that perhaps your inner critic wouldn’t have permitted you to consider but that are a great fit with who you really are.
- You don’t have to find a job that meets all three criteria. If you find a job that works on any one of the three dimensions, that alone is going to bring you a lot more daily satisfaction and happiness.
- It’s worth it. It might take some more thoughtful work up front to look for a job this way, but you are much more likely to stay in a job for a long time—and to be promoted—in a role that’s a true fit for you.
Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert on women’s leadership and well-being. A coach, writer and teacher, she is the founder of the global Playing Big leadership program for women and the author of the free 10 Rules for Brilliant Women Workbook.