Which job would make me happiest?

Which job would make me happiest?

We were in Los Angeles a year ago, staying with my wife’s cousins when their daughter Ellie asked me a question.  Ellie is 20, fiercely bright and curious, a millennial, and very independent.  She turned to me and said, “Which job will make me happiest?”  Sometimes the simplest questions are the best and this one really should have been in my wheelhouse.  Instead, I fluffed it, muttering something about being an entrepreneur and in control of one’s destiny.I tried again the next morning, having not slept much.  I talked about the importance of understanding one’s strengths and finding work that uses these strengths daily.  She looked at me bemused, I had not helped.  We were setting off on a four-month family sabbatical from LA, so I had plenty of time to think and during the trip I kept coming back to this question.

Einstein said. “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would spend the first 55 minutes defining the question as once I had the right question it would take 5 minutes to find the answer”.

Further, if we agree with the Dalai Lama that the purpose of life is to be happy, and recognising that work is a central part of our lives then Ellie’s question is on the right track.

Can we start with a new definition of a job / work?  We live in an Anglo Saxon world very focused on work, input, time spent behind our desks, length of service in search of a promotion.  Instead, how about focusing on output, on the impact we are having on ourselves, others and the world.  This could be the impact we have as a parent on our children’s happiness, the impact we have on a family member we are caring for, the impact we have in building a business, or the impact at our office.  This starts to talk to legacy, thinking about what we are going to leave behind, reflecting on a meaningful life well lived.

So Ellie’s question now really becomes. “How shall I use my time and talents to be happiest?”  This broadens the question from just “work” to include ourselves and our relationships.  When you hear people talk about their life’s work they are as likely to talking about their children or a hobby restoring clocks as they are about their career.  We are happiest when our time and effort is split evenly between these three aspects of our lives; self, relationships and work.

To start to explore where this might be I use a model with clients developed by Scott Snook, a professor at Harvard Business School.
He talks about thriving, or being happy when you are in the sweet spot of three intersecting circles.  Your strengths, your passions, and what others value.

There are some pitfalls here, where two circles intersect.  Consider the high flyer, early on in their career they find a great combination of work they are good at and that people pay well for.  However, as the years progress their trajectory seems to flatten out; others overtake them  They do not become leaders in their organisations as they do not have the inbuilt passion for the work.   Or those that use passions and strengths to create amazing work that no one wants to pay for.  Not only are they starving, but in truth their work in not meaningful as it is not having an impact on others.  It is a purely selfish pursuit, and ultimately not one that will make them happy.  We also know people who are passionate about something, and do this for others at great expense to themselves as it does not come naturally.

So sit down and draw the three circles.  Strengths can be intuited from your values or times when you have been flying, what were you doing.  Alternatively, use excellent surveys such as VIA strengths (Free) or Gallup Strengths finder (not free!).  Next, have a think about passions, what do you do for fun, what magazines do you read, what do you talk passionately about, what would you do if money was no object, what will you still be doing on your death bed (asking questions if you are me!)  Finally, what do you do of value to others.  Start with a broad definition of value, parenting is clearly of value to your children, and then also look at what might be financially valued, or how you could make this financially valued.

What sits in the middle?

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