Some things in my life have always been a given and needed little questioning. Among those givens is the understanding that I would one day pursue a career that gives me fulfillment and satisfaction. It’s not that I necessarily want a job that makes me feel like I’m saving the world on a daily basis, but I never really questioned that I would do something that makes me feel genuinely good about the work I do. Safe to say, working in investment banking was never really something I considered, but working as a curator in a museum was certainly something I imagined doing. Studying and researching art and is something that truly fulfills me and makes me feel a bit more complete. (I also happen to think that museums give to the community a cheap, if not free, source of worldly education, enjoyment, and entertainment.)
But the other night I was meeting up with a friend from college who hasn’t yet graduated. Joking that he sold his soul, he told me he just signed on to be an analyst at a major bank and would start work in January. I asked him why he would accept that job if he knew it wouldn’t make him happy, and he told me that I was being a naïve idealist who would one day realize that I cannot, in fact, change the world.
I can only imagine what my face looked like at that moment, and it probably looked something like one of those Kristen Wiig SNL characters where she looks like she just smelled the most repulsive spoiled meat in the deli. Seriously, what did my friend know at all about working?! Not that I know all that much, I’m pretty fresh on the professional scene, but I at least know enough to know that you darn well better like your job, or life may start to look bad pretty quickly.
In my most argumentative, albeit a little self-righteous, voice, I told him that he, in fact, was the naïve one. When the majority of your life will be split between hours sleeping and hours at work, I think it’s pretty (read: insanely) important that you have a fulfilling job, and if that for you means working to better the world, then why not! And if that for you means working to build new computer software, then that’s great too! Just do something that makes you feel good.
But he raised something interesting. He asked me if I think it’s important to like your work, or does it just have to be “fulfilling.” At first I didn’t really understand the difference, but as I think about it more, it begins to make sense. There are many things in life that don’t make me happy in the moment- running on the treadmill, walking my dog in the rain, or fasting on Yom Kippur, to name a few. But in the long run, they certainly do make me feel some sense of fulfillment. Though I hate taking Lady out to pee when it’s raining, the love she gives me in return makes it beyond worth it. Same goes for running and even for (gasp!) fasting.
And then there are things I really like doing but give me no fulfillment. Among these activities are watching Bravo TV, buying new shoes, and eating cookies. But in the moment, doing these things feels really great (especially eating cookies).
So what my friend was trying to ask me was, do I think it’s more important to have a job that I like in the moment, or a job that I like at the end of the day? To that end, I don’t have an answer. That’s a personal choice. But then I wonder how I would feel at the end of the week. How about at the end of the year? At the end of five years? How would I feel if I looked back on that last five years and saw only the money I earned in that time, but couldn’t see what I really did with my time?
I answered my friend with a question: Since when is it a choice between liking what you do and being fulfilled by what you do?
Not every job will give you both, but I think there are plenty out there that will. But this is just my philosophy. I hope he has lots of fun (and fulfillment) when he starts work at the bank.