In honor of Labor Day, I wanted to write a post about what I’ve found to be one of the most critical factors for finding satisfaction at work in my own life.
One of the things I’m most passionate about is personal development. Rarely do I receive more satisfaction than when I feel like I’m growing as a man, a son, a friend, and a professional. Within any context, learning is at the core of personal development. I’ve found that consistently learning has had the greatest correlation with my satisfaction in the workplace. Conversely, it’s when I feel bored or that my learning is restricted that I’m truly unhappy at work. With a finite period of precious time on this Earth, nothing is worse than feeling like you’re not spending it in a fulfilling way.
Personally I advocate that this insight be taken into account throughout the life-cycles of our careers and the companies we build. Specifically, I think about this framework when selecting a job, maintaining satisfaction at work, and building a company/managing.
Selecting A Job:
I want to climb to highest peak and yell to every college student that learning should be at the top of their job selection criteria. The luster of making a lot of money, prestigious titles, and nice perks all fade quickly. At least that has been the case in my own life. I was happier sleeping in the office some nights because I couldn’t afford an apartment at my first startup then I was having dinner with former MLB all stars at my first job.
Ask yourself: is this a place where I can learn and be intellectually stimulated on a consistent basis? When assessing this question I look at 3 things:
Role: Does the particular role seem like one that will facilitate on-going learning? Will you be challenged? Your initiative dictates this to a certain extent, but the responsibilities and restrictions of a job play a very large role. If you’re spending all day cold-calling there’s only going to be so much you can push yourselfto learn.
Mentors/Peers: Do the people surrounding you have the experience and expertise to be an effective teacher? Equally important, are they interested in your professional development? Surrounding yourself with experienced mentors who care about you growing as a professional is invaluable. My friend Eric Stromberg wrote a great post about selecting a startup to join that highlights the importance of mentorship.
Company: Is this company on autopilot or are they charging forward? Are they looking for ways to innovate? Do they give employees an opportunity to be exposed to multiple facets of the business? I could probably add about 30 more questions here.
The bottom line is if they’re aggressively pursuing a mission, I believe the conditions are likely more conducive for employees to learn. I was temptedto put company stage here, but there are some large companies that have done a greatjob ensuring their employees continue to learn and grow internally.
Finding Job Satisfaction:
In the context of learning, the responsibilities of some jobs are just going to entail more learning than others. Such is life. However, I think far too many people use this as a crutch to fall into a mundane, unsatisfying work existence.
I’ve found that in most situations, striving to master something or engaging in experimentation are effective ways to ensure you’re learning even in more routine environments. Mastering something new is about as synonymous with learning as you can get. Far less obvious is the mastery of a current skill which can be achieved through measurement. For example, if I’m a salesman and email is the primary way I engage new targets, I can learn how to become better at my job through simply measuring my actions. How does the title effect my response rates? Do people respond more frequently when I keep my pitch under 4 sentences? You get the gist.
Experimentation in the workplace can mean a ton of things, but in this case I’ll define it as engaging in an activity outside your day to day. This can mean working on an internal side project (google 80/20), helping a colleague out, getting involved in a different part of the business, spearheading independent analysis, etc. Being pro-active within your workplace to see if you can help with different tasks that you’re typically not responsible for is a great place to start.
Building A Company/Managing:
When you’re in a leadership role, you are responsible for making sure your employees are continuing to learn. In my own experience, intellectually stimulated employees are happier and ultimately perform better. I say this through the limited lens of someone early in their career so I won’t expand much here, but rather point you to Rand Fishkin’s phenomenal post where he offers some strategies to effectively achieve this.
In my humble opinion, learning is at the core of satisfaction in the workplace. I view this as one potential explanation for all the people I encounter who externally appear to have it all, but on the inside are discontent with their jobs. Culture, company mission, and the people you’re surrounded by juxtaposed with your personal preferences are all paramount to job satisfaction as well. But for me, all of this is secondary to feeling that I’m learning and making myself better each and everyday.
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