The Career/Happiness Correlation

Okay, let’s kick off the blog here in 2014 with a bang.  Recently, I came across a Dilbert comic strip that got a laugh out of me, I almost hate to say, based on a wry observation it makes about the correlation between career success and happiness.  And while I’d love to paste the cartoon in directly for your review, I don’t dare tangle with Scott Adams’ lawyers over intellectual property rights.  They’d win.  So instead, I’d ask you to take a moment to go check out the strip at the following link:

Did you give it a gander?  If so, what was your reaction to it?  Is the advice offered by the “Alice” character in the cartoon a wild exaggeration or are we truly reaching the point where career success, at a certain level, demands that people give up many other things in their lives that are important to them?

Personally, while I don’t think the state of affairs is quite as extreme as this cartoon suggests, I believe we’re heading slowly and surely in that direction — and that ambitious professionals need to be prepared to make tough choices about where their priorities lie.

For example, would you take a job that offers consistent work/life balance, even if it required a major departure from your traditional compensation level?   Alternatively, would you fore-go the increased security that comes with working for a large and established company in order to embrace the risky, yet exhilarating, life of a start up?  Or vice versa, would you trade your entrepreneurial thrill ride for a steady paycheck and some guaranteed health benefits?

Again, more and more, I think professionals are going to have to pick their battles and make tough choices about what’s important to them, work-wise.  For those new to my postings, I’ve written several related blogs about this concept over the years if you wanted to check them out herehere, and here.  And while we’re on the topic, you might also watch a short TED Talks video by Nigel Marsh you’ll find here that delivers some riveting observations, I feel, on the challenges of navigating the balance between work obligations and family life.

I wish I could say these were all just intellectual musings.  But they’re not.  I see these issues play out every day in the real world.  I was recently visited by a young adult who is currently pulling in $300K as an investment manager, and who fervently hates his job, but has decided to stick with it and be miserable since he knows that if he left his field his income would plummet to a small fraction of what he’s making now.  On the flip side, I have another acquaintance who used to be a big cheese in his industry, but decided he’d rather give up the executive scene and the C-suite trappings in order to do what he loves every day — even if it meant downsizing his lifestyle and income level to a massive degree.

Choices, choices, choices.  That’s what the notion of career management is all about, and increasingly, I feel people are needing to really bear down and clarify their priorities in order to pursue any realistic notion of career happiness — versus just assuming they’re going to find a role where they truly “have it all” so to speak.

This being said, however, I have to admit that most of the people I meet each day — by definition — aren’t highly satisfied with their current career situation.  If they were, they probably wouldn’t be knocking on the door of somebody like me.  So I’m curious to hear some feedback from the rest of you out there as to what you feel the relationship is today between the notions of career success and happiness.  Your thoughts?  Anonymously or otherwise?  Have these concepts truly become mutually exclusive to each other — or is Dilbert creator Scott Adams just pushing our emotional buttons, knowing we’ll bite?

6 Responses to “The Career/Happiness Correlation”

  1. You’ve hit on the conundrum of the day here, Matt!

    I’m one of those people still looking for a perfect balance between a job I love that pays well (not ridiculous, but well) and the opportunity to still have a life. With four kids, I can’t afford to work 10-12 hour days every week nor have a 2 hour commute.

    It does seem like more people have to make the choice between a good job and salary, and work/life balance, even though that mantra is trumpeted at every employer. For me, the ideal would be to find a stable job that pays the bills and a little more, and which allows me to work remotely at least 1-2 days/week.

    What I’m finding is the employers that really want me, don’t pay for my level of experience and (again) since I have a wife and four kids, I can’t live on $45k/year, no matter if I loved the job or not. My ultimate goal in X number of years is to work from home full time, writing. In order for that to happen, I have to gain a certain level of stability and financial “security” for the time being.

    Thanks for the great article. Timely and valuable.

  2. Some of us live to work, others of us work to live. The fulcrum of the spectrum of life/work balance is ever-shifting over time. We always have to decide what the “return on our effort” generated by our investment of time and energy in work and outside of work must be to satisfy us so that we can retire at night knowing that we have not wasted our day.

  3. Appreciate the comments from several of you — and just to offer a positive counter-example to offset the “doom and gloom” of the Dilbert strip, I just had a client land a job who reported that her new manager told her in the interview process, outright, that her primary goal was to “develop her team of people to their fullest possible potential and help them accomplish great things, both inside and outside the organization.” Needless to say, my client was thrilled (and surprised) to hear this and pretty much accepted the role on the spot based on this statement by the manager alone. She said it was one of those “you had me at hello” moments that have unfortunately become few and far between among much of the corporate world today where the culture seems more based on control and profitability, versus trust, development, and growth…

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I think you really hit it when you said it comes down to choices, Many don’t take the time to think about what we are looking for in a job including what our values are (I was one of those people!). What are you willing to give up to have x, y, and z? It is important for people to reflect on who they are, what’s important to them, what they want and need in a job, and what do they find fulfilling. Finding that combination can be a journey but it can happen: I’m proof! I work in my dream job!

  5. What I’ve never understood is why we can’t “have it all” – work/personal life balance AND favorable compensation (notice I didn’t say extreme wealth). Who decided that we must sacrifice one for the other? Maybe 2014 will be the year I finally have to let go of this misguided and ill-fated dream that I’ve been advised by countless people working in “corporate America” is as extinct as a Sony Walkman and jazzercise at the gym. It’s the notion that enjoying the healthy balance of a rewarding, satisfying career with an appropriate, adequate salary compensation while also experiencing happiness and fulfillment in one’s personal life is actually possible – all the while without having to work 40+ hours every week, including weekends, or sacrificing what used to be standard employment benefits but are now considered “perks” that are vanishing faster than you can blink.

    For the 10 yrs. I’ve lived in WA, I’ve been chasing this mythical, gross illusion and sadly have come to the conclusion that my odds are greater of finding an honest politician in Congress who comes riding in on a unicorn with a leprechaun than me landing a job (let alone my *dream* career) that offers a compensation truly indicative of my worth and the ability to work truly only 40 hours a week so that I – a single person – can enjoy a rewarding, happy life away from the office that might even include a date from time to time! 🙂

    Must I completely relinquish “the dream” in order to join the exclusive ranks of the employed? Is an intervention necessary before I will succumb to the truth? I may give in but I will never give up . . .

  6. Matt, this is very interesting. I think that individuals in general do a poor job developing clarity on their Income, Lifestyle. Wealth and Equity goals. The job or the business, is self employed, should exist solely for the express purpose of working towards those goals. When you work for someone, you are working for someone else’s dream, not your own. That is why happiness may be elusive. This is a subject that I am passionate about and have a YouTube recording on the subject. I will send that to you under separate cover and if you feel it is appropriate, share it with your readers.

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