How To Overcome Confusion And Find Fulfilling Work?

career choice, fulfilling work, meaningful work

I am always interested in understanding why things are the way they are. Why do we perceive work in a certain way? What does getting an education truly mean? It is quite easy to polarize topics and quickly judge something as good or bad, right or wrong. However, unless we are talking about something like a heinous crime, most things in life are nuanced.

Is the current work environment good or bad? The answer is neither, but this is not the same as saying that it cannot be improved. Most experiences in life can be enhanced, and isn’t it what we typically want - to grow as people and get better?

If that is the aspiration, then we need to start with the past before we can move forward into the future and figure out how to make people’s work lives better. In prior posts, I discussed the history of work and the role the Industrial Revolution and the New Deal legislation played in how we experience work today.

In his book How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric takes a different perspective on history. Krznaric wanted to understand why people have a hard time making career choices when they have so much freedom and many professional opportunities. Inadvertently, that is part of the problem. With the array of choices available to us, many people get paralyzed, unable to choose. They are uncertain about the direction to take in their careers. They are confused.

Krznaric identified three reasons why people feel so overwhelmed:

  1. The amount of choices we have to make has grown exponentially in recent history, and individuals are not psychosocially prepared to deal with the onslaught of decisions.
  2. People are influenced by their early educational choices.
  3. Personality tests do not typically help us find fulfilling careers.

Before the Industrial Revolution, people did not have many options in terms of the jobs they could have. Usually, it was simply a matter of necessity or even cultural or societal traditions. For example, Benjamin Franklin became a printer because his father had decided that it was the right career choice for him, not because Franklin had a passion for it.

In the nineteenth century, as the world started to change, Karl Marx was one of the first philosophers to observe that workers were becoming “a free seller of labour-power.” Once public education spread, job selection increasingly began to be based on merit and qualifications, which sparked a revolution in career choices.

In the twentieth century, especially after World War II, a large number of women entered the workforce. This further complicated professional aspirations as the question of work/family balance emerged as a new challenge.

In the twenty-first century, we have more choices than ever, and it is debilitating, as psychologist Barry Schwartz points out in his book The Paradox of Choice. He says that an abundance of options is no longer freeing. Instead, it is paralyzing. Even if we manage to make a choice, we are less satisfied, because we always wonder if we could have made a better choice.

We go through a similar experience in our careers. With so many options available to us, we are worried about making the wrong choice and then regretting the decision. Often, this fear prevents us from making a change leading people to stay at whatever jobs they have, no matter how unfulfilling they may be.

In the end, Krznaric’s recommends seeking purpose in our work and doing it actively. He does not believe in finding a job we were meant to do or even in its existence. Krznaric suggests that we do not find our vocation; we grow into it.

“A vocation is a career that not only gives you fulfillment — meaning, flow, freedom — but that also has a definitive goal or a clear purpose to strive for attached to it, which drives your life and motivates you to get up in the morning.”

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