Looking for career satisfaction? Don’t ignore these two things.

career advice career development career happiness jobs life lessons personal development Jan 27, 2022

It can be hard to know what’s really bothering you when you’re not entirely happy at work. Some days, you hate your job, and the next day, it’s not that bad. Is a whole upheaval necessary? Should you stick it out? To figure out your next action step, it’s important to ask the right questions.

I often see people look to personality tests as a first step here. These assessments can be a good starting point when evaluating who you are and what you “should” be doing, but they’re limited in their ability to analyze your on-the-ground experience, and they often suggest broad ranges of roles that seem unrelated to one another, which can leave you in even more of a spiral! Certainly, don’t skip those tests if you’re curious, but following are two simple things you look at that can help pinpoint what’s missing.


Have you ever experienced a time when you were so completely absorbed in your work that you lost all track of time, you felt incredible, and you were amazingly productive? That’s flow. According to The Flow Research Collective:

“Flow state is the optimal state of human consciousness. It describes moments of total absorption, when you become so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Mental and physical performance go through the roof.”

Look back over your career. Are there times that you recall having experienced this state? Perhaps you’ve looked back over your career and you’ve never experienced flow. That is completely understandable and okay. In that case, look at other areas of your life. Have you experienced flow while engaged in a hobby or other activity outside of work?

Now drill down further and assess what was happening when you were in flow. Were you working alone? With others? What subject matter were you working with? What was the task at hand? What was the setting? What were the circumstances? Get really detailed.

Now look at the themes that run through the times you’ve experienced flow. This is what my evaluation of flow in my career looks like:

Times I’ve experienced flow:

· Client sessions as a social worker

· Interview coaching sessions

· Exploratory career direction coaching sessions

What was happening: 1:1 engagement focused on partnering with the client to achieve a specific outcome

What was my role: I was holding space for the person to understand and accept themselves and lay the groundwork for goal-directed activity. I was engaged in deep listening, reframing, and setting the tone of the interaction.

What was the setting: Sessions were either on the phone or in person — this did not make a difference in whether I experienced flow.

It’s important to note that a job can’t be all flow all the time. I tend to experience flow while coaching, not while writing. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like writing, that I’m not good at it, or that I shouldn’t do it. But it does point to the fact that if I’m working in a setting where I’m never having 1:1 engagement that involves holding space for others to accept themselves and make change, I will more than likely find myself discontent after a while. Any job I do, or business I operate, should include as much of that function as possible to maximize my satisfaction.


Aside from flow, there are other benefits that our jobs bring us. In this exercise, you’ll evaluate what you’ve found rewarding about each role you’ve held. These should be internal rewards — not external ones such as a large salary or a company car. Do this for every single role you’ve held since you began working — as far back as college, or even high school.

Often, these rewards show up as challenges or as pleasurable emotions. Examples include:

· The challenge of solving complex problems

· The challenge of quickly engaging with new people and getting them to trust you

· The challenge of learning new things

· The good feeling of having made a positive impact on an individual’s life

· The good feeling of having built something that will benefit many people on a large scale

Once you have your list for each role, review them and ask yourself two questions:

How often?

How much?

For example, if one of your rewards was the challenge of learning new things, how many new things do you enjoy learning at one time? Did you really enjoy a job that asked you to master one thing and then move on to the next, but you disliked another job that asked you to learn three or four new things at once? Or is it the reverse, and you need to constantly be learning new things to be satisfied? We all have our minimum needs as well as our limits, and you want to find yours so that you can properly evaluate whether a role is going to offer you the fulfillment you’re looking for.

How to start where you are

Let’s say you’re not in a position to change jobs right now. You can use the information you discovered in the previous two exercises to redesign things exactly where you are. Look for opportunities for the flow and rewards you’ve identified outside of your role, such as:

· Volunteer opportunities

· Consulting work

· Taking a class

· Taking up a new hobby

· Requesting new projects in your current role

This might be enough, or you may want to embark on a search for a more fulfilling role. Time will tell. Test and try different things until you find what feels right to you — there’s no rush.

Want more support finding fulfillment in your life and work? Visit me at https://www.protagonist.solutions/

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