3 Requirements For A Satisfying Job

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Within the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I found a great distillation of the requirements for a satisfying job. Whenever I think of times when I have been unhappy, at least one of these things was missing.

  • Autonomy. You get a role in deciding what you do every day. Even if you might not always get decide exactly what you do, you can choose how to get it done.
  • Complexity. It must be an intellectually stimulating challenge. As the book states, it should “engage both your mind and imagination.”
  • Connection Between Effort & Reward. The harder you work, the greater your income or recognition (at least eventually).
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  1. “You get a role in deciding what you every day.” I think you mean “…deciding what you DO every day.”

    oh. One more thing….FIRST!


  3. This is pretty accurate for me. I would prefer to be a small business owner than a salaried worker. I hate at least in my field no matter how hard you work there is a cieling. You can get raises and promotions but you will not make money in my field unless you are a medical doctor. However, you have to go deep in debt before you even get to that point.

  4. ditto, I’d change it slightly as:

    NO NEED TO BE CLOSE TO HOME (e.g. internet business).

  5. Autonomy is my number 1 priority…not having someone looking over my shoulder is KEY to my happiness.

  6. I’ve been following this blog for a while and this is my first comment.

    Regarding the 3 requirements for a satisfying job; I’ve seen plenty of my friends bounce from one job to another trying to get their #1 requirement right, which is MONEY. Little do they know that MONEY should not be their #1 requirement if they truly want to be satisfied (happy). This, I find, is true in life as well.

    I, on the other hand, have the following 3 requirements (in this order):

    1) Enjoy what I do all day long (this is probably similar to the book’s #1 requirement in that if one gets to decide how to do something, then usually one chooses the method one likes, be it easy or challenging)

    2) Have a chance for advancement in the company (otherwise the 10,000 hours I put into my current position will get me nowhere with the current company)

    3) MONEY … which doesn’t have to be the huge, just enough for me to be happy, to enjoy the things in life that make me happy (be it travel, support my family, add to my retirement fund, etc)

    I recall seeing a graph in Money magazine that showed happiness on the Y axis and salary on the X axis. The line graph rose from 0,0 (as expected), but then started to flatten (like a plateau) somewhere in the low 6 figures. After that happiness actually started to drop as the salary increased. I assume this is due to the added pressures that having such a high salary brings (expensive lifestyle, etc).

    For me, I’m at the right level … happy with the income I earn … and happy with the job I do … if I were to switch to another job where I earned more money I would need to wear a suit everyday (yuck) and probably need to drive a fancy car to keep up with the Jones (yuck).

  7. That’s very interesting and insightful. Though my current job pays pretty decent, yet it probably fails all three requirements, especially the first one. Yet in this economy it is hard to have to guts to move.

  8. I totally agree. I mean, I can mostly deal with people telling me what to do, since I get to go home and veg out afterwards, but some completely mindless, mind-numbing task with no reward whatsoever is just complete crap. I’ve spent countless hours staring at my latest stack of useless paper and thinking “why the hell am I doing this?” I used to have a part-time desk job working an assistant to a secretary, and THAT had more reward in it than some of the things I’ve been doing for my college professors. At least as the freaking assistant when I came back quickly and did well she’d smile and thank me and I’d feel happy for just that stupid little “pat on the head.” Plus; when you manage to staple 700 sheets of paper to 700 note cards in 12 minutes, you feel freaking successful.

    So yes; this “article” is lovely. Despite what some people say, I’ve never met someone who really “enjoys” a monotonous job, even if it’s got decent pay(high paying jobs are rare, and generally have some non-monotonous reason for being high paying)

  9. A lot of guys in this comment section don’t even understand the post, saying that “My requirements are more money and less work!!!”

    All that means is that you would have more time and ability to do other things that DO satisfy those 3 requirements for you. If your job itself satisfied those 3 things, you wouldn’t be concerned about money or hours. Gladwell’s theory remains correct.

  10. Michael F says

    One more: Work in a warm place. There’s no amount of money or autonomy that would get me to work in Nome, Alaska.

  11. I don’t know if Gladwell cited it but this sounds a lot like the self-determination theory by Deci & Ryan, regarding what motivates us:

    »Competence – Refers to being effective in dealing with the environment a person finds themselves in
    Relatedness – Is the universal want to interact, be connected to and experience caring for others
    Autonomy – Is the universal urge to be causal agents of our own life and act in harmony with our integrated self.«

    Where Autonomy = Autonomy, Complexity is similar to Competence (facing a challenge) and Connection Between Effort & Reward is similar to Relatedness (experience caring for others, non-monetary rewards).

    More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory

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