When it comes to choosing a career path, each person is presented with two questions: How can my career help me lead a fulfilling life? And can I be happy with an unfulfilling job?
Late last year, Gallup released a massive State of the Global Workplace report, showing that only 13 percent of workers feel engaged by their jobs. On the other hand, 63 percent are “not engaged” and 24 percent are “actively disengaged,” meaning they hate their jobs passionately.
It’s not uncommon these days to find a middle-aged individual still unsure about “what they want to be when they grow up.” But why is that the case? There are certainly a number of different reasons, each depending on who you ask.
THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
Forbes’ Jeanne Meister wrote that job hopping is the new normal for young people these days. In fact, the Employee Benefit Research Institute shows that the median tenure with a current employer for both male and female workers ages 25-34 is a little more than three years. That figure contrasts heavily with the tenure of men and women ages 45-54 who stay closer to eight years. Additionally, a Future Workplace survey of employees and managers shows that 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in their current jobs for less than three years.
So what’s the deal? It all boils down to expectations. Where stability and seniority were once highly prized, young people are now more willing to live nomadically in order to find the greenest pasture. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age at first marriage for men in 2010 was 28.2 and 26.1 for women, compared with 24.0 for men and 20.5 for women in 1950. This shows that young people simply have more time to search before settling down and starting a family.
MONEY VS. PASSION
The statistics are showing more and more that the way people evaluate their jobs has shifted dramatically. In the beginning, most people worked simply to sustain life. But over time, the possibilities began to creep up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For example, unions provided security during the Industrial Revolution. Businesses started moving toward focusing on teamwork in order to give employees a sense of belonging. Now, people often identify others and often judge their worth by their employment. For example, would a person think differently of a friend if he chose to be a garbage man instead of becoming a financial analyst? How would one feel about himself or herself if he or she had made the choice?
Finally, a person has reached the zenith with self-actualization: seeking personal growth, realizing potential and finding fulfillment. But interestingly enough, as the motivation for employment has shifted away from the physical needs of self and family toward finding something one is passionate about, money has become more important than ever. So which is it to be? Money or passion?
When young people start out of the gate after graduation, most not only want to find a job they can be passionate about, but also one that will help them make a good living. Some are blessed with the privilege of having both, but the majority of them are forced to choose between the two. Regardless of which path is chosen, the desire for the other serves as a constant distraction — a reminder that there just might be greener pastures elsewhere.
In today’s world, a job is not just a paycheck. It’s an opportunity to express oneself in a positive and productive way. But there are ways to find contentment in life without having a dream job. One way is to try to find fulfillment in another aspect of one's life. Whether it’s spending more meaningful time with family or taking time each day to throw oneself fully into something he or she is passionate about, seeking fulfillment in other ways can lessen whatever stress or unhappiness one experiences at work.
There are also situations where it’s good to just move on. Sometimes a fulfilling job can turn into an unfulfilling one as time passes. There is no shame in trying all avenues to find fulfillment, and sometimes that means trying a different industry, or turning a hobby into a full-time career.
Lastly, it is also important to remember where the control lies. While a person's mood and attitude can be influenced by external forces, he or she can choose to influence them themselves. This may mean moving on, or it may mean working to turn the current situation into a better one. Both require courage and self-awareness, and in most cases, either one can lead to the fulfilling career we each desire.