What Makes a Career Worth Having?

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The Industrial Revolution brought to life an amazing array of machinery and carved a path for the modern capitalist economy. From this time of revolution also came a revolutionary way of working known commonly as the assembly line. Instead of having one individual create a product from start to finish, it was discovered that tasks could be broken up to streamline the process. This method of utilizing both collaborative manual labor and advanced machinery working hand-in-hand brought productivity and efficiency to new heights.

So much so that new ideologies were being developed on human nature and what drives people. Adam Smith, a pioneer in political economy and widely considered the father of capitalism, illustrated in his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ the necessity of division of labor for economic growth. Adam argued that allowing an individual to focus on one aspect of a production path resulted in greater efficiency and effectiveness. In the same light, Smith also argued the negative impact of this development on the labor force. He illustrated that the mundane, repetitive work that defined the assembly line has the power to transform individuals into a mind-numb race that can only be motivated by compensation.

In result, the transformation of how we work during the Industrial Revolution developed a dissatisfied and unmotivated workforce that still exists today. In an effort to boost efficiency and productivity, our fearless leaders ended up developing a disengaged and unpassionate labor market that was as a result less conducive.

So how does one transform an outdated methodology that views humans as machines into one that allows us to grow, contribute, and make our lives worth living? Digging into what we know about human nature and why we work through research, experiments and theories, let us explore attributes that have shown to produce fulfilling and worthwhile careers.

  1. Ingenuity

We’ve all seen how our minds go to work when we are given the opportunity to be creative. Our originality flourishes, motivation is at a higher level, and focus is razor sharp until we have finished our creation. Not to mention, once it is complete we gain a strong sense of accomplishment and ownership from our work. Creativity is at the forefront of attributes that get us excited and motivated to work and is highly valued within companies that actually get it.

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Google is a prime example of an organization that sees the importance of allowing its employees to display their ingenuity through the implementation of their 20% time concept. The 20% time meant that Google employees were allowed to take out ⅕ of their week to work on their own projects. Creations that they felt would benefit Google aside from what has been assigned to them. Innovative methodologies like this inspired essential features like Gmail, Google News, and Google for Good.

2. Being Able to Accomplish Stuff

It’s no surprise the impact the feeling of accomplishment can have on the fulfillment of a task. Mountaineers, bodybuilders, rock-climbers put themselves through extreme hardship and conditions partly because of the sustaining fulfillments that are experienced from such a tremendous feat. Within the workplace, although the feats aren’t hopefully as dangerous as climbing mountains, do demand the satisfactions associated with achievements that have an impact and are memorable. About a third of your life is spent working, I would imagine you want to be able to look back and say you’ve accomplished something there.

In the 1940s when instant cake mixes where first introduced, the product had trouble taking off. Company executives couldn’t understand why since the cakes tasted great and were incredibly convenient. After some time, manufacturers realized they had made the process too easy and in result customers weren’t putting enough effort for the product to be valued and have ownership. Eggs and milk were then removed from the mix, a change that still exists today.

3. The Opportunity to Learn and Be Challenged

Instinctively, us humans relish on the opportunity to learn on topics of interest and stimulate our minds. And for the ambitious and self-motivated, challenges are welcomed with open arms as accelerated opportunities to learn and grow. Regardless of your status on the ladder of ambition, these two attributes play a pivotal role in providing fulfillment in our daily professions. The founder of the industrial assembly line, Adam Smith, himself argued that education was a necessary addition to the lives of factory workers to combat the deleterious effects of life on the assembly line.

4. Autonomy

Having the power to make decisions and be in control for certain tasks grants the user a sense of responsibility and ownership. This ownership not only provides powerful sense of accomplishment when a task is completed, but also relays a level of trust of the employee in charge. Autonomy by design also has the capability of allowing ingenuity to blossom which is convenient for executives interested in employee satisfaction reading this.

The Self Determination Theory describes autonomy as being one of three basic needs to motivate us to work outside of extrinsic influence and interference. In other words, having the freedom to make decisions that are self-endorsed and congruent within yourself is a key component of self-motivation within our work. The other two needs being competence and relatedness (feeling of belonging and knowing that you are contributing to your community).

5. A Sense of Purpose

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Believe it or not, humans have an innate desire to want to help one another. We are able to stem a natural high (that warm and cozy feeling you get from volunteering or giving to charity) from it that is rarely found in other actions. Now our upbringing and environment might discourage us from altruism and bury the remembrance of the happiness that is experienced from it, but that’s a discussion for a later composition.

Going off of this belief that people are naturally philanthropic, it’s pretty clear to see why being able to make a difference would be a desired attribute within a profession. You’ll end up seeing some of the happiest and positive individuals working in societally undesired profession because they see the impact they are able to make within their community if not a single individual.

A study of how several hospital janitors see their work conducted by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski sheds an invigorating light on how work can be perceived. From conversing with a group of janitors, Amy learned about the amount of extra effort these individuals were putting on the job that was outside the scope of their responsibilities. These individuals spent time interacting with patients to be able to learn how to assist them in any way possible. Some would bring water or Kleenex tissues to patients they knew needed it without being asked. Others would notice how many visitors certain patients were receiving and be sure to come back to visit those who didn’t receive as many. The janitors in this study simply shifted their perspectives in how they viewed their positions and acted on duties they found purposeful to gain fulfillment. Granted not all janitors can work in a hospital and have the opportunity to interact with those in need but they could have also been miserable within their professions if they had been reluctant to find a deeper purpose.

Striving for these attributes within a profession isn’t an unachievable task when we truly understand them as a necessity. Understand that settling for a long-term career that just ‘pays the bills’ is ONE option, among several others. Believe that the empowerment of individuals to attain worthwhile careers can create a happier and conducive society.


Credit to those who contributed their knowledge.