Jobs are no longer just for paying the bills. Today, people want work that is meaningful and enjoyable. This has led to the advice to “follow your passion”: the idea that we must identify our greatest interest and pursue this as a career in order to find happiness and fulfilment.
Whilst well-intentioned, this guidance is an oversimplification at best, and damaging at worst. Interest-fit explains only 2.9% of job satisfaction, according to research. How did we get this so wrong, I hear you ask? Again, according to evidence, human beings are notoriously bad at predicting what will make them happy… And we are blind to this fact. This leads to confusion and inner conflict when performance practitioners end up achieving their “dream job” in sport only to (sometimes, not always) find themselves unhappy.
We invest our time, energy, and identity into getting these jobs. Pair this with a shortage of opportunities, and it’s unsurprising how often we stay put in roles even when we’re unhappy. Over time, this can bring about a gradual decline in our wellbeing and relationships.
Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology and author of “Stumbling on Happiness”, suggests the solution is not to attempt to guess or imagine which future career paths will make us happy. Instead, we should base our predictions on other people’s actual experience.
Research has investigated this, and top predictors of job satisfaction include:
- Work that’s engaging (tasks that feature autonomy, clarity, variety and feedback)
- Work that helps others
- Work that matches your skills/abilities
- Work with people that you like
- Work that meets your basic needs (job security, perceived fair wages, and your individual work-life balance preferences)
When evaluating job opportunities, consider ranking them based on the 5 factors listed above. Try not to make choices based on salary or how easy a job is, which evidence suggests are poor predictors of job satisfaction.
Struggling to move on from a role in which you’re unhappy, because you don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted time or “given up”? You can avoid biased decision making by looking to the future, not the past. Create clarity by inverting the question to highlight future losses. For example: “What are the potential future costs of staying where I am?”.