The Ingredients of Fulfilling Work

The world of work is changing, it doesn’t take much searching to find that the state of global job dissatisfaction is pretty dire.

The American workforce has more than 100 million full-time employees. One-third of them are actually engaged at work, they love their jobs and make their organizations and our society better every day. At the other end, 16% of them are actively disengaged — they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what their most engaged colleagues have built. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged — they’re just there.

Underlying all of this is an evolving attitude about what a job should and shouldn’t be. Most of us approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. We want our work to have meaning and purpose. We want to use our talents and strengths to do what we do best every day. We want to learn and develop. We want our job to fit our life.

We know what’s important to us and we aren’t going to settle. We’re all willing to look and keep looking for a company that’s mission and culture reflect and reinforce our values. We have seemingly unlimited resources to help us conduct our job searches — far beyond classified ads and our immediate professional networks. And, if we can’t find an exceptional job that complements other aspects of our life or, at a minimum, pays enough to make the 8-to-5 grind worthwhile, we can create our own job category. We might work 20 hours a week at a contracted office gig, 20 as a ride-hailing service driver and 10 as a freelancer.

With 35% of the U.S. workforce freelancing, companies are thinking beyond traditional employment to build more flexible teams. It’s estimated that more than 40% of the workforce will be freelance by 2020. So, how can you best position yourself in this emerging freelancing economy?

One of our most honest learnings at Escape is that there is no silver bullet to finding fulfilling work. No one-size-fits all blueprint to get there either. This begs two questions:

First: What exactly are the ingredients of fulfilling work?

Second: How can I build my own personal blueprint into more fulfilling work?

Let’s dig into these two questions.

Question #1: What are the ingredients of fulfilling work?

Here’s what leading researchers and thought leaders have uncovered about fulfilling work:

  • In Drive, Dan Pink says that being fulfilled at work requires us to have autonomy, mastery & purpose in our day-to-day.
  • In Happiness By Design, Peter Dolan says that striking an equal balance on the pendulum of pleasure and purpose gives people fulfilment and long-term happiness.
  • In The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst takes it one step further to say it’s all about purpose: personal purpose, social purpose, and societal purpose.

In our own research at Escape, we identified six key characteristics of the 21st Century Career:

A question to you: What ingredients of fulfilling work are missing for you?

Identifying which specific ingredients are missing for you is a solid first step to setting the course forward, and working towards a career where you can check the boxes that are important to you.

Question #2: How do I build my own personal blueprint and future-proof my career?

Each one of us are unique in our hopes, dreams and ambitions. All of us have our own set of values, gifts, talents, strengths, and skills. We each have our own unique potential to fulfil.

While no two Escapes are the same, there are clues.

Steve Jobs said it best in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Today I’d like to consider one of the most important dots: your strengths & skills

Gallup studies show that people who have the opportunity to use their natural strengths every day are “six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs” and “three times as likely to say they have an excellent quality of life.”

“Full human potential is realized only when people are in a position to use their greatest talents. Great performance is found when people are in roles that match what they naturally do best.”Gallup Business Journal

Self-knowledge, especially understanding your strengths and skills, is key to unlocking fulfilling work and preparing you for the work of the future. Starting a portfolio career is predicated on your understanding of your skills, this underpins all else, as it allows you to position yourself best with employers and in the emerging marketplace.

Here’s a 1-minute challenge to help you uncover your strengths and skills, and to identify how these skills can map into opportunities for you in your work. Building out a portfolio career requires tenacity and hustle, but it is based upon an understanding of yourself: your abilities, your weaknesses, and constantly learning so that you can build yourself out.

You can think of freelancing as volatile and risky, or as flexible and opportunity-rich. Doesn’t having multiple sources of income and multiple moneymaking skills sound less risky than putting all of your eggs in an employer’s basket?

Freelancing lets you shift gears when the world does.

Here’s an exercise to get started – Build a key skills list

  1. Take two pieces of paper
  2. On one piece, list out the skills you love to use and that you’d be very happy to use daily
  3. On the second piece, list the skills you don’t enjoy as much, but that are in your ‘bag of tricks’. Be sure to use all of your skills from all the parts of your life, that you could legitimately charge a fee for.

All sorts of abilities can pay – including stuff you’ve never thought of charging for (fixing things around the house, helping people with their computer issues) and stuff you love doing (cooking, coaching, taking great pictures at parties). This list will help you to see different ways to market yourself and find the project-mix likely to be most satisfying. Is there work that you love that others find not-so-fun? Great! You may have just found a high-paying niche.

Look at your list and think about what you’re really great at, what are your top rated skills? In order to identify these, think of any work achievements or obstacles you’ve overcome. Identify the results of the skills in practice:

  • Did you save money… make money… get new customers?
  • Was it more beautiful…safer…more innovative…more efficient?
  • Did you do it faster or more effectively?
  • Did it win awards… gain acclaim…get people excited?
  • Did it produce a perfect result despite chaotic circumstances?

Your top skills create your reputation – which drive your marketing message, your negotiating leverage, and your pricing. Provide value and you’ll get the reputation you need to build out your portfolio.

Can’t think of what your skills are or the value you provide? Email five friends or colleagues you trust and ask them what they think you’re great at. Here’s a script to help you out:

“Hi _______,

I’m trying to better understand my strengths, skills, and the value I create as I build out my portfolio career. Because you’re someone I trust and respect, I wanted to ask for your help. If you have 5 minutes to answer the following questions, I’d be very grateful. Thank you in advance!

Feel free to make the answers short or long, and interpret the questions how you like:

  1. What do you think I’m great at?
  2. Is there a key skill I possess that you think I might not be aware of?
  3. What are 5 words you’d use to describe me?
  4. What are 5 words you’d use to describe the way you feel when we’re together?

Please be honest! Thanks again.”

The world around you can serve as an honest mirror to help you understand yourself better. If only you have the courage to reach out and ask.

Transformation is hard and it takes time, but we’ve created our Career Change Accelerator to make it a lot less lonely and a lot more fun. Join us to accelerate your career change in an exciting new direction – find out more.

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