While not everyone needs to find purpose in a career to be happy, many of us search for a meaningful job. But how do you find the right job for you? And when do you know you’ve got there? Whether you’ve been working for decades, or are just starting your professional journey, it takes a bit of soul-searching to figure out what career path may be a fit for you. Wondering how to find a job you love? The following six questions can guide you in the process.
1. What makes me who I am?
This may seem like a weird existential question, but it’s an important one to make when you’re unsure about how to find a job you love. After all, you can only pick a meaningful career if you understand what meaningful looks like for you. So start by asking yourself: what drives me? What are my deepest passions and beliefs?
Then you can go a step further and ask why those particular values and ideas are essential to you. This exercise can help you discern between authentic passions you have, and influences that you’ve internalized and believe to be yours. In this process, you may find that you’re holding onto particular career goals because of external influences, without individually evaluating if they’re really what you want.
2. What kind of contributions do I want to make in the world?
What type of contributions would you like to make? This is another question that can guide you when looking for a fulfilling job. Would you like to invent a new technology? Maybe help your community via public service? Whatever it is, start with a general idea, and get increasingly more specific.
A strategy you can implement is to think in terms of pursuits, instead of a particular job. You can list some of your skills, for example, and then match them with a specific problem you’d like to fix or an industry that fascinates you.
Once you decide the type of contributions you want to make, it should be easier to understand what companies and projects align with your goals.
3. What do I enjoy learning about?
Another crucial question to ask when searching for a job you love is “what do I enjoy learning about?” You can have interests that materialize as hobbies, but there may be other interests worth exploring as a job. So, how do you differentiate between the two?
One way of approaching this is to separate what you love only from a consumer point of view from a topic or industry you’re actually invested in knowing the ins and outs of. You may enjoy eating Italian food, for example, but have no real interest in knowing how it’s made.
In addition, while some jobs will require you to have a very specific set of skills, including higher education at a Masters or Ph.D. level, you don’t always have to go to grad school to learn about a certain industry in-depth. In fact, many companies offer paid training to their employees. So ask yourself: what do I want to learn about? And, where can I learn it?
4. What is my idea of success?
When I was half-way through my undergrad degree, I thought for a hot minute that I really wanted to be a war correspondent. Years after abandoning that idea, I was puzzled by how past me thought that covering stories from war zones was my calling. Me? The person who cries over holiday commercials? Still, at the time, it seemed perfectly logical.
I’m telling this story because it speaks of how we buy into other people’s ideas of success. Growing up, we’re told that work brings success, and success brings happiness, so we keep working hard, trying to attain this idea, only to reach the top wondering where exactly happiness lies.
Looking back, I can see why being a war correspondent was appealing to me. I understood that society regards journalists in this field as courageous—and I wanted to be perceived that way. In addition, I had somehow internalized that witnessing the horrors of international conflicts first-hand was the only meaningful work I could do as a writer.
Forget what constitutes success for others. Instead, ask yourself: what is my idea of success? What is something that brings me true fulfillment, and a sense of achievement?
5. What am I willing to compromise for a job?
No job is perfect, which means that, when looking for a fulfilling career, you’ll have to consider many factors—including what compromises you’re willing to make. For example, you may think it’s worth accepting lower pay for flexible working hours.
Truth is, we’re often told to “follow our dreams”, but this idea of putting passion at the top may not exactly be right for you. Once again, you’ll have to let go of societal expectations and the pressure to follow a specific career path to determine your priorities.
Start by asking yourself: What values are important to me? Remember, you’re the only one who can determine what you’re comfortable compromising, and what are your absolute non-negotiables, so take your time: nothing is set in stone!
6. Where does my career fit relative to my life?
From the early days of our childhood, we’re asked: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In a way, we’re telling children that the process of growing up and finding yourself is finite: it ends once you reach adulthood.
What’s more, this question can propagate the idea that who you are as a person, and what your profession is, are the same thing. This makes it all too easy for your job to become your whole identity.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s understandable that we attach value to our jobs. After all, work represents a significant part of our time on earth. However, you may find joy and satisfaction in other aspects of your life, too. Therefore, I think it’s important to reflect on what role you’d like your ideal career to have in proportion to your life.
There’s no perfect formula to find a job you love, but asking yourself the six questions above can be a start. While education and work experience are important factors to consider, exploring your personality may also help you figure out the right career for you. And remember: not everyone needs to find meaning in a job. But when you do, it can give you the intrinsic motivation to keep on doing it, and getting better at it.