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The Truth About Dream Jobs: What it Really Takes to Have a Fulfilling Career

fulfilling career

When we’re kids, we’re often asked what we want to be when we grow up as a way of being asked what kind of person we are. While most of us don’t become what we hoped to be as young children, this conflation of identity and profession continues well into adulthood. When you meet someone new, how many times have you described yourself as what you did for a living? Society promotes connection of personal and professional. But in fact, relying too much on your professional life for your identity and expecting a fulfilling career to lift up all areas of your life can be a trap. 

An article from Harvard Business Review describes the trap some feel if they put too much emphasis on their careers: “Many people with high-pressure jobs find themselves unhappy with their careers, despite working hard their whole lives to get to their current position. Hating your job is one thing — but what happens if you identify so closely with your work that hating your job means hating yourself?”

Even if you enjoy your job and profession, it’s still not the best idea to rely too heavily on your job to develop your identity – or your sense of self-worth. Here, we’ll consider how much you should rely on your work to provide you with emotional satisfaction – and when too much connection to your profession can cause you harm. Like most other things, finding a fulfilling career and cultivating a whole identity separate from your work is a balance.

Mistake #1: Forgoing your values and personal mission for external rewards.

It’s common knowledge that money can’t buy happiness. While earnings can improve your life, if you are only working for money, then you may be short-sighting yourself out of more fulfillment. In fact, people may overemphasize the importance of money when they think of happiness, says a new Wharton study. 

It’s also important to consider fulfilling career paths, which likely have earnings expectations but also include facets like your values, belief system, and self-conception, as well. 

Mistake #2:  Failing to establish an internal value system.

Especially for younger workers reared on a diet of praise, positive feedback at work can be the factor that makes or breaks their professional fulfillment. This means that they only thrive when managers and coworkers are giving them feedback – and suffer if they receive poor performance reviews or no feedback at all. 

This reliance on others for emotional well-being can be problematic, especially if someone can’t determine if they are reaching their own goals without input from others.

“Though older, [millennials[ still expect similar positive reinforcement from their work colleagues and managers. And maybe that is the problem. The reason young adults are struggling to find fulfillment in their lives, regardless of their career success, relationships and achievements, is that they aren’t looking inward,” writes The Warm Up. A fulfilling career isn’t necessarily something that comes from outside, finding internal meaning in your work can make a difference.

Mistake #4: Getting too tied up in your career so failures crush you.

A related problem is if your self-esteem is inherently tied to your job. This is a clear problem if every time you struggle or fail at work, you feel less-than as a person, as well. It’s one thing to feel demoralized if you’re not successful at work for a period of time; it’s another to devalue your own personhood. If you can’t disconnect your personal and professional identities, there’s a clear indicator your profession has become your identity. 

A positive outlook at work is key to your emotional fulfillment: “Of key importance, studies have established a clear positive relationship between psychological and a number of desired workplace outcomes, including job satisfaction, organizational commitment and psychological well-being.”

Mistake #3: Working so much you don’t have time for other people or hobbies.

If you don’t want your job to become your whole life, make sure it isn’t your entire life. This means that you shouldn’t be taking on that extra project, or working on the weekend, even if this is the culture of your workplace. 

If you’re not sure if your work is taking over your life and identity, you may want to keep a list of how you spend your time. Do you have hobbies? Do you have time for those hobbies? Do you have time for your personal relationships? Do you have personal relationships outside of work? 

If your workplace expects or requires overworking, you may need to be on the lookout for what psychologist Janna Koretz in the above-mentioned HBR article calls, “A particular confluence of high achievement, intense competitiveness, and culture of overwork has caught many in a perfect storm of career enmeshment and burnout.”

Find a Fulfilling Career, and More

Finding the right job and career can give you meaning in your life. A career that aligns with your values and personal mission can be professionally fulfilling. But if you find yourself describing yourself only in terms of what you do for a living, you may be hurting your emotional wellness. Key here is to identify fulfilling work, while also realizing you are more than your job – and structuring your time accordingly. A fulfilling career is possible, and a worthy goal, but work cannot be the only thing that fulfills you. 


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