During my first four years in the workforce, I would come home tired and frustrated without the slightest desire to return to work the following day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that two out of every three Americans feel the same way about their current work. They dislike for their boss, their colleagues, or the actual work they perform. However, if two out of three employees are unhappy, it follows that one out of three are happy and fulfilled. These are the people who perform at very high levels and provide the most value to their employers. How are they able to accomplish this? One way is by figuring out their “Why.” In other words, they are able to answer the question, “What am I working for?” An example of these high performers is the nurses at the Cleveland Clinic.
When Tony Scwhartz (CEO and founder of the Energy Project) and his team interviewed Intensive Care Unit nurses and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, they discovered that both the nurses and doctors felt overworked and underappreciated. The Cleveland Clinic is regarded one of the top four hospitals in the United States. It often had chronic staffing shortages, and nursing staff rarely had time for meals or breaks. They often worked 12 to 14 hour shifts without eating anything and sometimes without even sitting down. The only thing that kept the nurses fully committed to their work was the deep sense of satisfaction they derived from caring for the patients. They survived almost entirely on spiritual energy – the feeling that what they were doing made a significant difference in the lives of their patients. Interestingly, although the surgeons were paid better wages than the nurses and had a higher level of prestige, they brought less passion to their work than the nurses did; this was because the surgeons felt much less emotionally connected to the patients. One doctor said he felt like he was working in a factory, only seeing his patients when they were knocked out and for a brief time after surgery.
Your level of job satisfaction and fulfillment are not always linked to your level of compensation. Your mindset and understanding of your purpose are the most important factors. If you are making a contribution and are working for something greater than yourself, you are very likely to derive a high level of satisfaction, regardless of how much you’re being paid.
Take a few moments to think about the bigger picture of your job. For example, if you teach, think about how the knowledge you are imparting onto your students will help them to make a useful contribution to society. Focus on this bigger picture and you will most likely find fulfillment.
There are millions of people with average to below average incomes that have remarkable careers. We all need money to survive, but to be truly engaged we must find purpose. There is purpose in almost every job – you just have to find it.