This week marks four years since I left my previous job to join Facebook. I’m feeling both nostalgic and also very fulfilled in my current role. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what feeds into that sense of fulfillment at work. What drives my satisfaction day-to-day, and over the long term? When I’ve made moves in the past, what was I looking to change? And could I have found what I was looking for without changing jobs?
There are so many things that factor into workplace fulfillment. And there’s been a lot of good research done on the subject. Still, over many years and changes in my own career, I’ve developed a simple framework for myself that seems to work pretty well. In order to take a temp check on how I am feeling about my current job situation, I ask myself how I would rate my current sentiment around four key statements.
“I am inspired.”
Inspiration comes in many forms. And, ultimately, it drives a lot of the energy that I bring to work every day. It’s really important to me — and I suspect for many people — to feel inspired by the mission of the company or organization that I work for. Am I proud to tell people where I work? Am I inspired by the leaders? My colleagues? The team I am leading? The specific projects I get to work on?
If you are feeling uninspired, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change jobs.
Creating a narrative about your work that inspires you is something you can do for yourself. And you can then share it with others, and be a source of inspiration for the whole team!
“I am useful.”
Are the things that I am best at — my superpowers, if you will — the same things that the team/organization need at this particular point in time? Does my unique set of skills position me to have significant impact?
I remember when I was considering moving to Facebook, I was trying to decide what particular role to explore. I asked Sheryl Sandberg which area of Facebook she thought I would be best suited to, since there were several openings for design leaders at the time.
Sheryl said, “It doesn’t really matter which team you join; just look for the place where you can add the most value.”
That was great advice, and it’s how I ended up joining the Facebook Ads & Pages team, where I’ve felt very useful over the past four years. And that’s a good feeling.
Sometimes an individual can be extremely talented, but their particular skills are just not the ones needed in a given context at a given time. For instance, some of my core strengths lie in building and running large teams, so organizations which need to scale are ones to which I am particularly well suited. But I may not be as well suited to a tiny start-up that’s looking for someone to do hands-on design or front end-development.
Ideally, you will find a context where there’s a solid overlap in what you do best and what is most needed by the team. Sometimes you need to develop new skills to increase your sense of usefulness. And, sometimes, you may realize there’s another team that is in greater need of your particular skills.
“I am respected.”
I need to feel that my skills and talents are recognized and valued. This is not the same thing as being useful. You can be exactly what an organization or team needs — but if they don’t know that and show it, it can contribute to a frustrating work life. Everyone needs to feel that their work is recognized by others at some point, even though respect and recognition may take distinct forms for different people and contexts.
Gaining respect takes time. If you are early in your career and learning how to do various parts of your job, it may take a while for you to really feel the kind of confidence and deliver the quality of work that helps generate respect. And sometimes you might knowingly opt into a scenario where your skills may not be well understood, at least initially. At various points, I’ve taken on roles where I knew part of the job was to grow respect for design within the cross-functional team and company culture. That can be an exciting challenge — though after a reasonable period of time, you want to see that respect and recognition grow.
It should go without saying, but if you are working in an environment where people regularly disrespect you in ways that make you feel uncomfortable, you need to address that immediately with your manager and/or HR.
I have a strict “don’t work with jerks” policy for myself and it’s served me well for many years.
“I am growing.”
I need to feel that I am learning and growing, day-to-day and over time. The ways in which I’ve wanted and needed to grow have changed over the years, but what’s been consistent is the need to feel that my skills and abilities aren’t stuck in a rut.
Growing can mean many things. It can mean developing new technical skills, learning how to manage or scale a team, or enhancing soft skills like collaboration, communication, or conflict resolution. Sometimes these opportunities for growth can come from performance feedback in your current role.
And sometimes, they come from dreaming about the kind of role you want in a year or two, and mapping out what you need to learn to be ready for those new challenges.
Identify things that are important for you to learn, both for yourself and your long-term career development. Then work to make those learning opportunities happen in your current role. If the context won’t support or allow it, maybe it’s time to find another project, team, or context that will.
Here’s how to map out your path to work fulfillment. Draw a little chart of these four dimensions. Like this:
Then, decide where you think you are on each dimension. Mark each of those points, and then connect them into a spider web chart.
Now, think about and mark where you want to be in six months for each dimension, and then connect the lines in a different color.
How does the shape of your spider web change as a result? Which dimensions feel particularly critical to you right now? They may not all be equally important at this moment in time, and reflecting on that can help you prioritize your efforts.
Looking at your spider web chart, where do you want to see significant change? What are some specific goals you can set for yourself to move the needle? What can you do to create change for yourself? What help might you need from your peers, your manager, the company as a whole?
Some simple ways you could build momentum for change:
Inspired: Identify someone in your broader organization who inspires you and ask them to lunch. Ask them what inspires them about their own work, and see if that generates ideas for you.
Useful: Identify a specific pain point for your team or organization and explore ways to help solve it. For instance, let’s say your team is having trouble aligning on a product roadmap. If you have strong group facilitation skills, you could offer to facilitate a structured brainstorm to produce results which the team is collectively bought into.
Respected: If your discipline is not well-understood by your colleagues, consider teaching your colleagues how to do what you do. That may sound counterintuitive, but by giving them hands-on experience in what you and your discipline does, you can help them appreciate true expertise.
Growing: Identify something you could learn that would not only make you more effective at your job but would also stretch you to learn challenging new things. For instance, as a designer, you might commit to learning a new prototyping program that hones your technical skills while allowing you to bring your design concepts to life in new and innovative ways.
It’s important to note that, often, you don’t have to change your job or company to change how you feel about your work.
Building self awareness around where you are at across these dimensions and where you want to be over time, talking it over with your manager or other trusted colleagues — perhaps even sharing your current and aspirational spider web chart— and then setting some specific goals for yourself can help you see opportunities to increase the fulfillment you experience in your work.
If you find that you really do need a more significant change, you can take this new knowledge, and the vision of what you want your chart to look like and use that to help frame your search and conversations with perspective new teammates.
Test this framework for yourself. I hope it leads you to new levels of fulfillment, leaving you feeling more inspired, more useful, more respected, and with the potential to grow in ways that are meaningful to you. After all, most of us spend more time at work than in any other single place in our lives. Let’s make sure we all feel continually fulfilled by the experience!