I made a tough decision towards the end of last year — I changed my work situation. What made it tough was, it was a good job, at a good company. It ticked most of the boxes.
All jobs have their ups and downs. I tend to find I go through periods of about 8-10 weeks when things feel really good. The work is engaging and challenging, and the results are there. And then I will hit a couple of weeks where I feel low. Everything feels like a bit of a slog. Sometimes it’s an unexpected miss or a problem. Sometimes, it’s just a case of burnout. But, I soon come out of it and get myself back into a good stretch.
Around the middle of last year, I found the good periods were getting shorter and the slogs were getting longer. It forced me to do some thinking and exploring around what is important for me at work.
I settled on 7 things that were important to me. A dream job would probably have all of them. A good job would have most of them. A bad job would have few of them. Interestingly, most are linked — so you tend to find you either have all or most of them, or hardly any at all.
Here’s my list:
1. Work you’re good at
Doing work you’re good at, might be the most important, because it’s linked to many of the other points. I.e If you’re good at what you do, you’re more likely to find the work engaging. You’re more likely to get paid well. You’re more likely to make an impact etc.
Cal Newport wrote a whole book on this — So Good They Can’t Ignore You. It’s excellent. In the book he talks about building career capital by developing skills that are both rare and valuable. The idea is that it gives you leverage in your career.
If you’re good at something, most other things tend to fall into place. Or at least you have the leverage to control them.
2. Work you’re naturally passionate about
Cal Newport argues being good at something is more important than passion, and should come before it. I mostly agree with that. But, it doesn’t always have to, and you do need to have some type of passion or natural interest in what you’re doing.
Anything worthwhile is usually hard. When things get hard, most people will need to draw upon their passion or a wider purpose / mission to keep pushing forward.
3. Work that helps others
As I get older, this has become more important to me. Making a difference is a bit of a cliche — but I do want to have some type of positive impact on people. Making people happier and improving their quality of life is very rewarding. I’ve always admired the company and team at Watsi for this reason. It even led me to volunteer, helping to write patient profiles last year.
4. Engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow
The simplest way I can explain this is — can you get lost in your work? Can 4 hours slip away in what seems like 15 minutes? If so, you probably have the right environment and work in front of you. Things like autonomy, variety, clear tasks, feedback all play a part here.
5. People you like working with
This is really important and often a deal breaker, even if every other point is there. Do you actually like spending time with the people you work with? Can you learn from them? Are they supportive?
Some people call this the aeroplane test. How would I feel sitting on an aeroplane or being delayed for hours in an airport with this person?
At Stripe, they call it the Sunday test. Would you be likely to come into the office on a Sunday because you want to hang out with this person?
Bottom line, if you don’t like the people you’re around for most of the day, it’s going to be hard to feel happy.
6. No major negatives
If there is something which stands out as a major negative, it can often put a damper on everything else. It slowly eats away at you, despite everything else being good.
This can vary, depending on what is important to you, or how much tolerance you have for certain things. But, usually it’s things like long hours, unfair pay, politics, a crappy boss etc.
7. Work that fits your personal life
This is another one which has become more important to me as I get older. When I was younger, I mostly cared about climbing the career ladder and earning more money. As I got older, that changed.
Spending time with my family and friends is more important than work or money. So is being in good health. So is having the freedom to pursue personal projects and hobbies. That wasn’t true 10 years ago. 5 years ago I said it, but didn’t believe it. Now it’s genuinely true for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have a bit of a workaholic trait in me. I doubt anyone will ever have to pull me up on effort. But, finding a good balance between my work and these other things is super important to me at this point in my life.
Going back to my decision to change my work situation at the end of last year. As I said, it was a good job at a good company. It ticked most of the boxes. But the few it didn’t tick were starting to become a real problem for me.
Those two were ‘Work you’re naturally passionate about’ and ‘Work that fits your personal life’.
I’ve been in games for over 15 years. I kinda fell into it by accident. I loved games when I was younger, but didn’t have a passion for them or the industry as I got older. I just found out I was good at product, leadership and operational stuff — and I love technology. Being good at what I did, used to carry me through the tough times. But I started to find this wasn’t working any longer. I felt the need to work on something closer to what I’m passionate about.
Whilst the job fitted my personal life to some degree (good work / life balance and hours), two things were starting to eat away at me. A 45-60 min commute each way was starting to feel like a drag. Most importantly, I missed being away from friends and family. I REALLY missed not being able to easily hang out with them.
I hope I’ve lined up something to work on which will tick all of the boxes above. It does feels like it. And being back amongst friends and family has validated it was absolutely the root cause to things not feeling right last year.
As we start 2018, I’d encourage you to think about these things and your own work situation. If your work ticks very few of the above, it might be time to consider how you can change that. It doesn’t have to be as drastic as leaving your job — but in some cases, it might be the answer.