How to have a fulfilling career with your degree

Having a fulfilling career doesn’t necessarily mean making a lot of money. You can use your skills to help other people and be happier for it.
James Davis
James Davis
Team PostgradAustralia
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Postgraduate students of all ages are no longer aspiring merely for a life of comfort and modesty. Some see the world’s imperfections and think change is a necessity. 80,000 hours recently examined over sixty different studies concerning student employment goals, finding that aspiring primarily for high salary or low stress positions does not improve career satisfaction. In fact, among CareerCast’s four criteria for job satisfaction, only point four, “positive work environment,” is truly worth pursuing. So what’s wrong with the other three?

  1. Aspiring for high current pay: This improves each student’s evaluation of life rather than actual emotional well-being according to a 2010 study. Sufficient pay is a catalyst for comfort rather than fulfilment and happiness.
  2. Aspiring for high future pay: Facing a similar issue, focussing on future pay is a recipe for disaster. Diminishing returns are significant on different tiers of income. To cite the example from 80,000 hours, an employee making $80,000 is only marginally more content than one making $40,000. This only increases across income. The difference between $200,000 pa and $500,000 results in an even more marginal increase; so it goes for higher echelons.
  3. Looking for a job with low stress levels: Low stress is actually a bad thing when it comes to work. Higher stress levels facilitate improved productivity. The reason for this stems from where the stress is derived. If it’s from challenging work that forces employees to improve, then stress is merely the byproduct of a worthy pursuit. Conversely, if a job lacks any stress whatsoever, one must question why that is the case from a developmental standpoint. Perhaps the work is boring. Maybe it lacks any reason to exercise creative thinking. However, there’s something else a career needs to be fulfilling.

A fulfilling career needs passion. This is an often-touted stimulant for higher well-being, but it’s surprisingly quantifiable. Even in the absence of a bespoke passion, it’s possible to reap the benefits and develop one along the way. Here’s how.

  1. Find an activity that has significant variance in day-to-day tasks. Doing one or two singular tasks repeatedly is a drain on productivity and happiness. Careers that require dynamic strategies and problem solving are excellent for keeping the mind focussed and happy.
  2. Focus on meaningful results, where ‘meaningful’ is any goal with personal or professional significance attached to it. Whether you see career growth as an end unto itself or want your work to feed the poor or cure diseases, seeing meaningful results is essential to happiness in a career. There’s more regarding goals, however.
  3. Goals must not only be set, but defined. A career rife with illusory tasks with neither beginning nor end is demoralising. There’s no way to see where all that time was spent if there’s no definition of success or completion.

These sorts of criteria for happiness in a career can be applied across disciplines. Aspirants across law and finance to engineering and physics can all reap the benefits of passion, regardless if they have one or not. After all, fulfilling careers don’t need to spring from passion. It can just as likely be the other way around.