So what makes a good job, anyway?

Two of my coworkers were having a discussion today about job satisfaction that swirled around me while I was doing my work, and my mind floated in and out of their words.  By the time I was walking out the door, keys in hand and shouts of Freedom! in mind, the seed of this post had formed.

(‘ve always enjoyed a heady rush of liberty when walking out the door of my workplace, no matter how awesome of a day I had, regardless of which job I was in.  I actually like working — on most days, I’m pretty content — but I absolutely hate being tied down to any specific schedule. And every job, unless you’re freelancing or an entrepreneur, forces you to commit particular chunks of your life to a calendar.  And I hate that.  Hence the surge of joy when I can escape the clutches of a calendar, even if for just 12 hours.)

Anyway –  I got to thinking about the elements of a workplace / job that draw me in.   This list is idiosyncratic, of course, but maybe you’ll be sparked to make your own.

Sorta in order of importance:

Camaraderie:  I’ve decided that finding the right kind of people to work with matters more than the work I’m doing, at least by a small margin.  It’s not that I’d take a terrible job just because my friends work there; but if I have to choose between a dream job in an emotionally chilly office vs an ok job with people I really dig, I’m gonna pick the job with the better people.  I like to feel part of a team working toward a goal that we all care about.  And I hope that for all of my working life, I’ll be able to work with people that I consider friends.

Autonomy:  I never realized how important this was until I stepped out of the classroom. Teaching isn’t an entirely autonomous career — and if you’re working within the public system, it may not feel like you are in control of much of anything. But I had the privilege of working in a school where teachers had wide latitude and a great amount of input into curriculum direction and development. (Whee! Professionals being treated like trained professionals! Novel!) So I’m pretty used to being the queen of my own castle.  I don’t want to be the CEO of the enterprise, but I really appreciate having real control over a clearly defined area over which I possess both responsibility and accountability.  Plowing someone else’s field wears me out.

A bigger purpose:  If I wanted to be a cog in a wheel, I would have found some huge corporation to work for in a cubicle farm. (Apologies to anyone out there who’s stuck in that environment.  I never want to trade places with you.)  I’ve spent my life in education, intentionally.   My life’s work focuses on people and ideas, because that’s what I’m good at, and they both matter to me.  So I’m willing to work for less pay if it means working to help people in a way that I find significant.

Unpredictability:  Some people live for a routine.  I like a loose framework that’s adaptable and responsive, and a task list that doesn’t fall into the same rut day after day.  As long as I’m on my own turf, I like to deal with what comes in the door each day rather than sitting down to a set of duties set up far in advance.  Give me punches to roll with.

Flexibility is nice too.

Challenge:  Yeah, I know. It sounds trite. But I really mean it when I say that I don’t want to be bored at my job, and that means encountering difficult problems, challenges, and obstacles as part of routine work.  Creativity flourishes under limitations.  If I sense that I’ve got a job “figured out,” it loses a lot of its luster.

Ideas and People:  I mentioned this before, but it’s pretty significant. Everything I enjoy is linked to interaction with people and wrestling down ideas.   Even when I’m having a bad day at it, it’s what I was built to do, and I want to keep at it.

Someone to follow who has a vision: I might end up running my own business someday or freelancing, but I like getting into something bigger than just me.  Big vision, core ideals, high goals.

So if you can mix together a great team who work and feel like they’re a team, an interesting job with a lot of challenges and opportunities, but within a supportive work environment with a great leader blazing the trail, you might be in my sights.

I’ve also learned that not all of my skills transfer as easily as others.  I do like trafficking in details — I can carry a lot of information in my head — but that doesn’t mean I wrangle all types of details equally well, or that I enjoy it in all circumstances.   I can plan and execute events just fine but most of the time I’d rather being doing something else.  Like brainstorming, developing ideas, and chewing on a question about life, the universe and everything,

It’s taken me a while to figure it out, but I think my strengths are in active listening; challenging people’s assumptions and ideas with the goal of making them think new thoughts; connecting ideas to people who might find them useful; and enticing people to be more curious about the world.

On a good day.

Other days, I just lie around and read a book.   But only on my own schedule. 😉

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