Call it the "Dilbert syndrome." The feeling that you’re not getting enough out of your job. If you’ve been there, you’re not alone.
In fact, of those who responded to the LIFE. TO THE FULLEST. global survey on living their best lives, 20% of people worldwide said “Work” is the No. 1 barrier that keeps them from living fully. Only “Money” (44%) and “Time” (33%) ranked ahead of it among the list of factors limiting their personal fulfillment.
Perhaps the notion comes from pop culture or the media, but in many circles there’s an unspoken belief that in order to “have it all” you need a non-traditional career. The problem is we don’t all fit that narrative. We aren’t all entrepreneurs or artists, or about to quit our jobs, sell everything we own, and travel the world.
So how do people find fulfillment at a so-called “traditional” gig?
San Diego psychotherapist Ruth Sucato believes that it’s not necessarily the job you do, but what you bring to it.
“The real answer is to develop the inner you that makes the outer you more effective in whatever life experiences you have,” she says.
Anna Dizon, an auditor at a major accounting firm, unlocks the passion in her work by finding the space where her personal goals and the goals of her company intersect. She says that her work satisfies both her innate curiosity and her love of solving problems.
“What I like about my job is that I get to see so many different clients from different cities,” Dizon says. “I find it fulfilling when I can help the client identify issues and recommend solutions.”
Dizon also makes sure to take advantage of the opportunities her company offers her, like the chance to relocate from the United States to New Zealand, where she currently resides.
Which brings up another of Sucato’s points: You can appreciate your job for the comfort and stability it provides you to pursue other joys—such as painting, hiking, studying haute cuisine, maybe even writing a literary classic, like T.S. Eliot (a banker) or Franz Kafka (an insurance clerk) did.
In fact, she says, office culture itself offers the opportunity for fulfillment—particularly fulfillment from social relationships. “People in offices get together, they have softball teams, they form friendships,” Sucato says. “And connecting with people is one of the keys to a fulfilling life.”
What’s more, working from home is not always right for everyone.
“My whole life it had always been my dream not to go into the office,” says author and editor June Casagrande.
She was working as a reporter for a newspaper, where the pay was short and the commute long, when she finally decided to strike out on her own.
She found a few freelance clients, wrote and edited at home and also published her first best-seller, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies.
A dream come true, right? Not necessarily.
Despite her success, she missed the social life and discipline her old workplace offered. “There were times,” says Casagrande, “when washing my hair was the biggest accomplishment of the day.”
So three years after going rogue, she headed back to an office job, working part time as a copy editor for the Los Angeles Times. “When you work in a profession you’ve chosen, and you’re with people you enjoy, it’s really good to be around that.”
The other two days she still works at home, turning out a string of successful books including It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences and The Best Punctuation Book, Period.
Verônica Merenge of São Paulo had quite the opposite problem. She was ready to quit her job in advertising when inspiration struck.
“I was pretty miserable,” says Merenge, who lives in Brazil. “And part of that was because I knew I could do better. I needed to learn and grow, but I couldn’t find a reason to stay motivated.”
Merenge had long dreamed of film school, but money was an obstacle. She signed up for a screenwriting seminar instead, and rediscovered her love of storytelling—and advertising.
“That’s really all this job is,” she says. “It’s telling a story.”
Learning to see her old job in a new light helped Merenge find fulfillment in it. Though she would eventually go on to earn a degree in film, Merenge decided to stay in advertising and says she’s never been happier.
“Once I started learning about narrative and form and structure,” she says, “I was able to apply that to my work. Learning how to tell a story helped me discover my own story.”
Tell the world
If you could do anything to “Live Your Fullest Life,” what is the one thing you would do?