Success vs. Fulfillment

Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Doesn’t that sound fabulous? I often think of this quote when I contemplate where I want to take my career next. The trouble is, even when I’m doing what I love, it’s still work. In fact, the most successful writers, artists and entrepreneurs work longer and harder than everyone else in their field. They may love what they’re doing, but there are still trade-offs.

Time that could otherwise be spent with friends or family is spent working or traveling or networking. New experiences are sometimes foregone so that they can instead spend more time perfecting their craft. They’re happy to make these trade-offs because they truly love what they do, but the fact is that only the independently wealthy offspring of the bourgeois have never worked a day in their lives.

This got me thinking about success and all of the ways that we traditionally define it. You can’t argue that those who earn a high salary or hold executive-level positions or are at the top of their field are successful. But are those people also fulfilled?

There is some truth to the cliche “money can’t buy happiness,” but the reality is a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it? It turns out that, in fact, money does buy happiness, up to a point, and then the law of diminishing returns kicks in, causing it to level it off.  So money is a little bit important, but what else?  What qualities would my perfect job have? I’ve thought about it a lot, and I came up with this short list.

1. Meaningful Work – We all like to feel important, don’t we? For me personally, salary and status take a back seat to “usefulness” in terms of my job role.  As long as I’m helping people or performing some function crucial to a process, I feel a high level of fulfillment.

2. Flexibility of Schedule – In my younger days I didn’t care as much about this, but I’m at a place now where having the time and freedom to enjoy the non-work parts of life is very important to me.  Being able to take a bike ride at 10 a.m. or attend a friend’s birthday party without having to ask for a vacation day makes me happy. Of course, there are trade-offs. A flexible schedule usually means self-employment or working for a very progressive company, and things like wages/salary and opportunity for advancement will probably be curtailed if you want to be able to punch the clock on your own terms.

3. Fun Factor – I have worked some very low-paying gigs simply because the work itself was so cool. I’ve been a dog walker and a beer tender; I’ve even written freelance articles for no compensation at all, just because I liked the topic I was writing about. If it’s something fun or interesting, or if I can learn something new, count me in!

4. Reasonable Compensation – Well, I had to get to money sometime, right? While it’s less important to me than other job aspects, it can be a deal-breaker if I don’t feel the compensation is fairly matched to the amount of time and effort I’m putting in. It’s a very subjective scale for me: for jobs I really enjoy or that I find easy and stress-free, I’m willing to earn less for my time; but for those that have an aspect of boredom, stress or inconvenience, a little more money can make it worthwhile.

Well, that’s my list.  Of course, I’m still hoping for the fun, interesting, stress-free job that allows me a flexible schedule, compensates highly and let’s me make a difference in the world. If anyone out there is offering such a position, I’m your gal!

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