What Does “Career Fulfillment” Mean?
“Are you fulfilled in your career?” To some people, feeling fulfilled in one’s career is the epitome of privilege. One’s work may serve to put food on the table and make ends meet – anything more than that would be a bonus. To others, feeling fulfilled in one’s career is priority number one.
So, what does it mean to experience career fulfillment?
Components of Career Fulfillment
Myriad factors play a role in whether and to what extent one’s career is fulfilling. However, there are some common components that, together, lead to career satisfaction.
Many people wish to spend their time at work making an impact on others or the world at large. Some of these people aspire to reach positions of power and influence whereby their impact can be felt on a broad scale. If you have ever dreamt of starting a company, writing a book, advancing to the C-suite, or running for office, you have big career impact goals.
Other people wish to make an impact on a smaller scale, such as running a family dental practice or being the jack-of-all trades at a local retailer. These folks have the same drive for impact as those who have more public-facing goals, they simply choose to focus their efforts on areas that are more low-profile but similarly meaningful to them.
Either way, people experience feelings of accomplishment, pleasure, and satisfaction when their work affords them with opportunities to solve problems and help others in meaningful ways.
Keep in mind: what is meaningful to one person is often different from what is meaningful to another person. For instance, the organization that you work for may be engaged in important work that is positively impacting others; however, you may not feel personally invested in the mission, or you never get to see and experience first-hand the impact of your work. It has to feel meaningful to you in order to get the sense of fulfillment that you are seeking.
- What do you regularly help friends/family with?
- What do people thank you for most often?
- When do you feel like you last really made someone’s day?
As you consider your current position and career at-large:
- How is your work impacting others?
- How invested do you feel in your organization’s overall mission? Do you believe in or care about the organization’s mission?
- How often do you get to see or experience first-hand the impact of your work?
Time is probably the #1 constraint that coaching clients are seeking to overcome. Whether they are looking for flex time at work or ways to be more efficient with their tasks at home, time is bearing down on them, for better or for worse. When we invest our precious time into tasks that are meaningful and enjoyable to us, time is a gift; when we spend our time on tasks that are incongruent with our skills, talents, or values, time is a bear.
So, how are you spending your time these days? The best way to gain clarity (and accuracy) about where your time goes is to keep a time diary for at least 7 days (more is better). I created this weekly time diary for my own use as well as for my clients’ use in tracking and planning their time.
Take a look at the last 30 days on your calendar and ask yourself:
- Am I spending time at work doing mindless tasks that I could do in my sleep, or am I investing time into professional development opportunities that will get me closer to my career goals?
- Am I using my skills and talents to the fullest extent possible?
- Am I investing my non-working time in restful activities that restore my energy, or am I passing time with unfulfilling tasks and behaviors?
Looking forward to the next 30 days, ask yourself:
- What do I want my calendar to look like?
- How could I invest my time in ways that positively contribute to my career fulfillment?
- What tasks or activities can I remove from my calendar to make space for more fulfilling work?
For some people, earning a sizable income is part-and-parcel with career fulfillment. For others, the size of their paycheck is not as important as the impact they make or the causes into which they are investing their time.
So, take a moment to consider your responses to the following questions:
- Is earning a sizable income important to you? Do you know how much income you WANT to earn vs. how much income you NEED to earn?
- What are you comfortable selling or promoting? What are you NOT comfortable selling or promoting?
- What type of compensation arrangement (e.g., fixed salary vs. variable based on performance) is meaningful and stimulating to you?
- How much risk are you willing to take with your a) time and b) financial investments into your career in order to earn the income that you are seeking?
When we are engaged in activities that we are interested in and that stimulate our passion, our mind is not at “work”, but rather, at play. One important component of play is making connections with others. As human beings, no matter whether we’re introverts or extroverts, we seek to know others and to be known. When we use our skills and talents in service of other people, we are making important connections and thus feelings of fulfillment increase.
- Where does my mind wander when it is at rest?
- What am I doing when I lose track of time?
- What do I daydream about?
- What do you not mind worrying about?
The images, ideas, and projects that came to mind when you answered these questions provide insight into the type of career that is likely to be fulfilling to you.
If you are working in a position that seems bereft of fulfillment, take a moment to consider the questions posed in this article. Sometimes, fulfillment can be created with a change of mindset and/or a change of position; other times, a career change is necessary to gain the satisfaction you are seeking. No matter what, keep in mind: what is important to you is important to your career fulfillment, so start your career fulfillment journey there.