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Your job supports your life, not the other way around
Here's how I decide which roles are right for me
I got my first full time job at 27 — a late bloomer, I know. For most of my twenties I was studying and working on a doctorate thesis, so you can imagine how ill-equipped I was for real life. It’s not surprising how picking that first job wasn’t a deliberate process. My criteria were shallow: making enough money, working in tech, and avoiding coming back to my authoritarian home country.
As I adapted to survive outside of the academic bubble, I figured that trading time for cash wasn’t the only option. Work could be fulfilling, meaningful, interesting — except that I didn’t know what each of those adjectives meant to me. When it came to career choices, I was as blind as a naked mole-rat. How was I supposed to pick the right job?
Selecting a job based on shallow criteria like pay is easy, but it can set us up for a disaster. After many career mistakes and years of soul-searching, I learned that to know the right job from wrong, I had to look beyond responsibilities, salary, or company culture. I had to focus on how each opportunity fit with my notion of a good life, and how it supported my mid- and long-term life goals.
If you have two brands of jeans to choose from, the choice you make is irrelevant. But if you suddenly have a choice of two thousand, then the pair of jeans you pick will depend on your definition of comfort, your sense of style, and even your identity.1
Defining a good life is tricky because life is a process, not a state. Our value systems evolve as we mature, and what matters to us now is likely to change in the future. While we can’t see a decade ahead, we can make good guesses about where we want to be in the mid-term.
With that in mind, I put together a 4-step framework that I used to find the right role in my 2021 job search.
Step 1: Decide on your primary path to a good life
Which one is most important to you: hedonic wellbeing, eudaemonic wellbeing, or psychological richness?2 And, by the way, picking one doesn’t mean you should ignore the others. Just decide on the one that feels most important. In my case, for instance, that’s psychological richness.
Step 2: Map the timeline and the drivers of your life
What kind of life do you want to live in the next 2, 4, and 6 years?
For example, here are the factors that support my psychological richness:
• Exploring different career paths
• Exploring in different countries & cultures
• Fun projects
In the next 2 years, I can achieve that through:
• Working on global products
• Working in international / cross-cultural teams
Your list will look different, or you may not consider psychological richness at all. That’s fine, because human value systems are unique.
Step 3: Describe the job that helps you live the life you want
List the attributes of a job which over the next 4 years will support your drivers across all three types of good life. Then mark the ones that are non-negotiable.
With that list in mind you can start building a pipeline of companies to connect with and work on getting those interviews.
Step 4: Litmus-test the opportunities
Once you get the offer(s), ask yourself: if you only had 1 year left to work, would you regret not taking this job? Why? Why not?
Did you try this framework or something similar? What worked? What didn’t? I’d love to hear from you here or on Twitter!