Hunting for a new job hunt
April 28, 2012 6:15 PM   Subscribe

What makes for career/life satisfaction? What jobs have it?

Quarterlife investigation underway here...

I've pretty much scoured the internet looking for info for my impending career/direction change. And I've hit a dead end when it comes to the real stuff-- finding out about the actual day to day of work in different fields.

Are any jobs that are reasonably satisfying, require intellectual diligence and creativity, net positive relationships with other people (coworkers/clients) and allow one to stay, real, grounded and have a life?

To clarify, I'm looking for a professional job, one that affords some independence (65K)-- not picky about subject matter or period of training, but more about these intangibles.

My first choice was college professor (throughout college). That's not gonna work out. But I now want something meaty and big to plan for. I won't be happy until I have a plan.

Where can I get stats on actual career satisfaction before committing to a track?

Does shadowing help? Are internet discussion boards--,, realistic when it comes to discussing the pros and cons of embarking on different career paths?

Or does career satisfaction even still exist? Should I just be striving for minimizing dissatisfaction, and keep writing my novel on the weekends?

posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
By the way I realize it is a total meta-question to ask if information from internet discussion boards counts as career advice.... sorry!!!!
posted by kettleoffish at 6:16 PM on April 28, 2012

Why not management consulting?
posted by lotusmish at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why not work for a non-profit?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:25 PM on April 28, 2012

I think almost any career can be satisfying. It's just a matter of finding one that you can enjoy well enough. I certainly don't work in a field that I'm passionate about, but it keeps my brain occupied during the day, the hours are reasonable, and I work with a group of people I get along well with. I would say I'm very satisfied with my career.

Are you still in college? Or a recent graduate? You could try some temping to try out office work in various environments.
posted by barnoley at 6:29 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think career satisfaction is very interrelated with your personal ability to be satisfied in your life in a general way. It's thrilling to set your sights high and try to find a perfect fit, but so much of your adult life will be made up of situations (both personal and professional) where you have to be comfortable accepting less-than-ideal terms and being creative about ways to wring personal satisfaction out of them.

The only reason I bring this up is that I think young people have this whole sweaty gambling feeling when it comes to job hunting, where it's like, "Unless I choose wisely early in my career, I WILL WRECK MY WHOLE FUTURE." Really, making *a* definite choice of nearly any kind is more important than making the right choice. I know more people who have regretfully hemmed and hawed for years (all while still having to compromise in order to support themselves) than people who regret having thrown themselves whole-heartedly into a path that they later on wound up abandoning in favor of some other.

This is why volunteer work is so useful I think -- it exposes you to a lot of other working environments, lets you see what works and what doesn't, what feels good and what doesn't, and you get to walk away from it basically whenever you want. It also may unearth abilities and interests that you didn't know you had.

Sorry for such a non-specific answer, but like you said, we are talking about intangibles.
posted by hermitosis at 6:32 PM on April 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

Any career can be for you so long as it requires you to do things you a) like and b) are good at.
posted by mleigh at 6:38 PM on April 28, 2012

Thanks for the answers-- just to clarify one more thing too, I would love to hear where I can find hard data on, all things being equal, which professions tend to promote happiness. For instance, there are unique costs and benefits to every field-- economic pressure, politics, administrative woes, hours, family planning issues, etc. Yes, happiness is what you make of it, and perhaps experience is the best teacher, but I'd love to find out, also, what fields tend to give people the sense 10 or 20 years down the road that it was all worth it.
posted by kettleoffish at 6:44 PM on April 28, 2012

Not sure if this would be helpful to you but here's a list of jobs & satisfaction ratings:

I think maybe jobs that emphasize helping other human beings become better (teachers, doctors, clergy, social workers?), where the people you help can see you later on down the road and go, "Hey kettleoffish, you helped me out X years ago, I'm doing quite well now thanks to you!"are the ones that leave you more satisfied. Just my guess.
posted by Seboshin at 6:56 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

kettleoffish: "which professions tend to promote happiness."

as others have stated every career promotes happiness to some people. Equally every career promotes misery to some people. You can't pick a career based on which one has an edge on the percentage of satisfied workers. That is no guarantee that you will find happiness in that field.

Pick something you feel you are good at, find something you enjoy or that you find rewarding in one way or another. Take into consideration things that are important to you. Do you like working with people? Do you feel more relaxed with a tight or relaxed schedule? Do you enjoy more physical or mental exertions? etc etc.

What make you happy is what is important not what made others happy
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:00 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is a little bit out of date, but here are the most satisfying jobs in America. Clergy is tops, followed by firefighters.

But really, I don't think a survey means much; your personality is unique and what jobs will make YOU happy depends a lot on your personality. Also, I could not have predicted, at 20, what would make me happy at 34. I knew some of my strengths at 20 (I do well with a lot of responsibility, I like to write, I enjoy people), but I had no idea of some of the other things I would learn to be good at (the "mean" parts of supervising people, learning various ways to influence others, working with clients). And I had no idea of some of the workplace things that would come to drive me crazy (I spent years working at "idealist" sorts of places, in non-profits, educational institutions, first-amendment advocates -- still do -- but BOY OH BOY does Corporate America look more attractive to me now because there (can be) so much less dithering.) Also my "lifestyle" needs are a lot different these days than they used to be.

In many professional careers, you also have to get some experience to open doors to more satisfying work. People will put in 10 years of long hours or boring work to get to a place where they can do something more to their liking.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 PM on April 28, 2012

I strongly recommend reading Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life?" regardless of what the data tell you. It helped me a lot in a similar time.
posted by linettasky at 8:02 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think you're going to have to figure out what's most important to you, personally, and find jobs that fit the bill in terms of the job attributes that are most important to you. You're asking a question that only you can answer.

For me, a lot of independence is important. I don't like having to answer to a "boss", and I don't like having to show up at a particular place if I'm not needed at that particular time. So I found (and love) a job that allows for that autonomy and flexibility, but I find myself frequently pondering jobs that pay 3x as much and don't have those affordances. Your hypothetical $65K is more than I make by the way, with a PhD and around 10 years of relevant experience. You're going to have to make some concessions, and deciding which one's to make is a very personal decision -- but importantly, not a permanent one. You can always quit or shift gears a few years from now.

If you're young, it's a great time to temp at a bunch of different places to get a feel for different work environments. That way, when you're applying for "serious" jobs, you'll be able to more readily identify the toxic places. Temping helped me figure out what I did/didn't like in work environments, and that's really valuable information.
posted by plantbot at 8:07 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Answers vary from person to person but I think these criteria are the top of the list:
- Do work that you can care about (either you care about the result/product/service) or you can take pride in doing your little piece well.
- Work environment, especially getting along with your co-workers and boss (can be very specific to the opportunity - probably impossible to generalize on a career basis
- Doing work where you enjoy (or don't hate) most of the day to day tasks.

For the last one, coming at it from a different direction, the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory matches your interests with those of people in a wide variety of professions to see which jobs attract people like you.
posted by metahawk at 8:50 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it's so much easier to shop around when one is young, and it's true that personality matters a lot in the fit for a job.

I guess I'm referring to the kind of research that a lot of psychology & professional journals have about career satisfaction.

They might say something like 35% of widget sellers are satisfied with their job, with 40% earning a mean of 30,000. 80% wish they had known before starting this career how hard it would be to start a family, and 90% wish they had gone to a cheaper school.

Are there any good stats on this kind of thing that have been collected across professions?

Is the only way to learn about that stuff to really volunteer, shadow, or do informational interviews?

I took that test for Strong-Campbell and got Investigative, Artistic, and Social.

My Briggs Myers type is INFJ.

I promise this is my last thread-sit!
posted by kettleoffish at 8:53 PM on April 28, 2012

I'm an INFJ and after much deliberation and research decided that clinical psychology seemed like a very appealing, satisfying path.
posted by whalebreath at 10:00 PM on April 28, 2012

Teaching. I think teaching is something that'll provide you enormous satisfaction. Not only that, being a teacher doesn't men you're gonna be in a classroom. You might end up working in other places as well like being a consultant or guide or adminstrator.
posted by RapcityinBlue at 10:18 PM on April 28, 2012

I suggest you aim for variety and helping people.
posted by ead at 12:38 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience it has less to do with the field/job/task and more to do with the employer. I've done my job (user experience research) for a decade now and have worked in places where I am left feeling satisfied at the end of the day, and I've worked in places where I felt incredibly miserable. Same work, just very different environments.

To make it even more complicated, the places I worked that made my life hell are places I've known other people to love. I have friends in this career path who find my preferred work environment (consulting) to be incredibly dissatisfying. So what does that mean? It's all a matter of what works for you, and I don't believe any stats will help you figure that out. It took me about 8 years of working professionally to learn what I like and to pick the right environment for me to feel satisfied.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:28 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It really helps to have a clear idea of what makes you happy. I sell vintage clothes, and I'm very happy doing it because I enjoy every aspect of the business. My sister loves her job at a green urban growth nonprofit-- she majored in historic preservation and urban development. Once you know where your interests lie, it gets a lot easier.
posted by nonasuch at 9:19 AM on April 29, 2012

Are internet discussion boards--,, realistic when it comes to discussing the pros and cons of embarking on different career paths?

Yeah and no. Keep in mind that a major function of Gradcafe and Student Doctor is to provide a place for people to vent (as one of my friends put it, "Most of what grad students do is bitch about grad school.") This isn't a bad thing--I'd say it's actually quite important, given how stressful grad/med/law school can be--but you're definitely getting a skewed perspective. People tend to post more about the negatives than the positives. The positives that come up tend to be the big milestones (passing major exams, landing good internships/positions, getting approved for graduation, etc.), rather than day-to-day stuff. No one ever posts about boring or uneventful days, even though those will probably make up the majority of your experience as a FOO. Also: in many careers, the "training" portion differs substantially from the actual work.

As far as ways to armchair-investigate possible careers: try looking for professional publications for fields that you're interested in. Read a little bit from them. Can you imagine caring about the stuff that they're talking about? Can you imagine going to work and thinking about/working on that stuff for hours on end, every day?
posted by kagredon at 12:43 PM on April 29, 2012

I'm an INFJ and I work at a nonprofit in fundraising. I'd say I'm very satisfied with my job. What makes me happy with what I do is:
1) My coworkers. I work with very smart, very motivated, very committed people. In general, these are the types of people you will find in nonprofits. You're not making much money, so you're motivated by something else. Typically that's a passion for whatever cause you're working for.
2) The cause. I am extremely passionate about what we do and I know that every day when I go into work I am, in some indirect way, having a positive impact on the lives of our clients.
3) The work itself. I've told people that I got into this field not necessarily because of the desire to help people, but because I love the work. Fundraising to me is the perfect combination of analysis, strategy, networking, and even writing. There are a lot of things about it that are like a puzzle to me. It also is generally fast-paced and involves some pressure, which I tend to thrive under.

Any questions, MeMail me. But I agree with others that any psychological studies about which professions have the happiest employees are not going to be very relevant to you. You are not everyone else. You are you. What makes firefighters happy about their jobs may make you feel terrible.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:12 PM on April 29, 2012

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