The first thing I ask people who are looking for a new job is “What work do you want to do in your ideal job?”
It is interesting how few people answer this question. Almost everybody wants to answer different questions like “What do you want to work on?” or “What kind of work environment are you looking for?”
They respond with answers like “I want to work on a small dynamic team with other smart people” or “I want to build products that millions of consumers will use.” These are great answers; they are just answers to a question I did not ask.
work [wurk] noun
- exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
- something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking: The students finished their work in class.
- productive or operative activity.
The people who I think will be the most successful can think about and discuss the actual WORK they do in their jobs, day-to-day. Their answers include specific tasks. “Write code”, “respond to emails”, “create user stories”, “analyze data”, “run brainstorming meetings”, and “build relationships” are great examples.
Happiness, I believe, comes from doing work that makes you happy.
When I ask the question “What work do you want to do?” I’m asking a very precise question. I ask it because I believe the biggest indicator of someone being successful in a job is whether they are happy with their job. And happiness, I believe, comes from doing work that makes you happy.
I have been known to spend hours cleaning and polishing the wheel wells of a car. Yes, I get the satisfaction out of the clean result, but, as screwed up as it sounds, I actually love the hard work of the cleaning. I think it is fun. It makes me happy!
I have also been known to spend hours reviewing spreadsheets full of product usage metrics. Finding the key indicators gives me satisfaction, and makes my customers happy, but I find the actual work excruciatingly painful. For me that kind of work is not fun. I do it because it is required.
In my job at Amazon, I am blessed the majority of the work I do is fun for me. Talking face to face with employees about their career is fun. Doing pixel-perfect reviews of our product’s customer experience with the team is fun. Teaching the team that saying no is more powerful than saying yes, is fun. Sitting down with my leads and writing and re-writing a 6-page narrative describing our product is fun. And the list goes on.
I am happy with my job because most of the work I do, even though it is hard, is fun. It is an extra-special bonus that someone is willing to pay me for doing it. Because I’m happy with my job, I’m generally happy.
Think about the work you have done in the past and create two lists: In one write down the tasks that didn’t feel like work and in the other write the tasks that you toiled over. Then go find a job where the majority of required work is in the first list.
Don’t get me wrong, accomplishing big things can give you confidence and bolster your resume (and change the world). Confidence and a strong resume create opportunities to find jobs where the majority of the required work doesn’t feel like work. Happiness does not comes from what you’ve accomplished. Happiness is not about the past. It is not about the future. It is about the now.
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Great post Charlie. I definitely agree that you have to be specific about the exact work that brings you happiness. It’s not just about working with smart people and building great products. For most great companies, I would say those are table steaks.
Love how you break it down, Charlie. Great advice. As I always say “If you are enjoying the journey, you will reach the right destination”.