Nov 3, 2022 - Economy

Axios Finish Line: The perpetual pursuit of professional happiness

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Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

The piece of advice I offer any college grad hitting the job market:

  • Persistently pursue work so personally satisfying that you would do it for free.

Why it matters: We spend more than half our adult life at work, getting to work, thinking about work or whining about work.

  • So hunt for deep, meaningful professional happiness until the moment you need to work simply to survive or provide for others.

The harsh reality: I'm writing this after reading some depressing data from Gallup global polling:

  • Gallup found that only 20% of us say we're thriving at work.
  • 62% are indifferent to their work lives. 18% are downright miserable.
  • No wonder Gallup found people are sadder than ever in its worldwide survey of happiness.

🔭 Zoom out: Millions of Americans, including many people I know, have little choice about their work for a variety of reasons. But millions of young college graduates and knowledge workers have more choices than at any time in the history of the planet.

  • The puzzle is that so many don't act on that and get stuck in a totally unnecessary rut of their own making.

💡 Here are a few things I tell my kids:

  1. Study yourself. Yes, do your homework and get good grades. But study more closely what electrifies your mind and lights up your heart. These two signals tell you what you love.
  2. Don't listen to your parents. So many kids simply do what mom or dad did, or what mom or dad wants them to do. Parents can guide and love — but they can't impose passion or joy. 
  3. Meaning, not money. A clear, well-worn path to indifference or misery is seeking a profession simply because it pays well. A lower-income teacher who loves her job will live a far better life than a rich financier who hates hers.
  4. Quit until you hit. This one will elicit hate mail. But setting artificial obligations to stay in soul-sucking jobs or majors is silly. You will have bad days. Suck it up. But if you have bad months, mix it up.
  5. Fight back. You should never settle unless you have no choice. We get one lap around life. So perpetually pursue jobs, bosses, colleagues and work that bring maximum growth, fulfillment and happiness.

The big picture: Happy work alone does not a happy life make. But it sure as hell helps when other parts of your life are sagging or sucking.

  • Go deeper with "Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It," by Gallup CEO Jon Clifton.
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