How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric

How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric

How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric

“There is perhaps no way in which we can overestimate the impact that our daily job has on our sense of contentment.”

Many of us wish for a more fulfilling career – one that provides a sense of purpose, reflects our values and is in consonance with our personality. In short, we expect our careers to give us a lot more than just material prosperity. In How to Find Fulfilling Work, British lifestyle philosopher and founding faculty member of The School of LifeRoman Krznaric explains the core ingredients of career satisfaction, addresses the issues related to making good career choices and provides original insights to take working life in new directions.

Making A Difference

Beyond money and status, Krznaric includes “Making a difference” among the major factors that make a job meaningful.

(…) Although we all desire money and status to some degree, a career decision driven primarily by these extrinsic motivations is unlikely to offer sublime depths of meaning to our lives.

Most people intuitively know that making a difference is a promising path to a fulfilling career. And it’s borne out by the evidence. A major study of ethical work by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon showed that those doing what they call ‘good work’- defined as ‘work of expert quality that benefits the broader society’- consistently exhibit high levels of job satisfaction. The moral philosopher Peter Singer would agree. He argues that our greatest hope for personal fulfillment is dedicating our lives – to a ‘transcendent cause’ that is larger than ourselves.

Wide Achiever vs. High Achiever

Krznaric states that people who are able to employ their talents and follow their passions in their jobs are more likely to feel fulfilled. One of his most prominent ideas is that “we each have multiple selves” – an argument that conflicts with “our culture of specialization”. The multiple selves’ proposition derives from the assumption that we have different talents and passions that we might only be able to fulfill through different jobs.

There is a further dilemma awaiting those intent on pursuing their talents or passions in the workplace, which is whether we should aim to be specialists, directing ourselves towards a single profession, or aim to become generalists developing our various talents and passions across several different fields. (…) Specialization may all be very well if you happen to have skills particularly suited to these jobs, or if you are passionate about a niche area of work, and of course there is also the benefit of feeling pride in being considered an expert. But there is equally the danger of becoming dissatisfied by the repetition inherent in many specialist professions.

Moreover, our culture of specialization conflicts with something most of us intuitively recognize, but which career advisors are only beginning to understand: we each have multiple selves.

(…) we might discover career fulfillment by escaping the confines of specialization and cultivating ourselves as wide achievers. Only then we may be able to develop the many sides of who we are, allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold. There are two approaches to being a wide achiever: becoming a ‘Renaissance generalist’, who pursues several careers simultaneously, or a ‘serial specialist’, who does one after the other.

Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, arms stretched out wide, is the quintessential symbol of the Renaissance wide achiever

Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, arms stretched out wide, is the quintessential symbol of the Renaissance wide achiever

Moving Into Action

Being a wide achiever calls for stepping out and experimenting. Krznaric challenges the traditional model of career change, and proposes an alternative approach consisting of ‘Acting First and Reflecting Later’. He invites the reader to test and explore that range of ‘possible selves’.

(…) Taking those essential next steps into the unknown requires far more that pumping ourselves up with positive thinking. First, we need to understand the psychology of fear, and why the idea of changing profession can create such anxiety. Second, we must start testing our possible selves in reality by undertaking experimental projects. 

It will gradually become clear that our greatest hope for overcoming    our fear of change and finding a life expanding career is to reject the traditional model of career change, which advises us to plan meticulously then take action, and replace it with the opposite strategy, which is to act now and reflect later. 

The experimental projects that Krznaric suggests range from radical immersions into new careers for a period of time, to pursuing different projects in our free time, or even just listening to first-hand stories of people.

(…) successful change requires a substantial dose of experiential learning. Just like we can’t learn carpentry from a book, we can’t shift careers without taking practical action. First we should identify a range of ‘possible selves’ – careers that we believe might offer us purpose and meaning (…). Then (…) we have to trial them in reality by undertaking experimental projects. Following a period of job dating we will be in a position to make better and more concrete decisions. 

The quest of fulfilling work begins with acting, but is resolved by reflecting.

The author proposes three different ways of experimenting:

  1. “Radical Sabbaticals”, which involve taking some time off to dive into something new (e.g. unpaid leave or some time away from your vacation);
  2. “Branching Projects / Temporary Assignments”, a less risky strategy, consisting of short experiments pursued around the edge of the existing career, using your spare time to try out different interests and gradually increasing the time devoted to them as you find them more fulfilling (e.g. training courses, or Saturday hobbies);
  3. “Conversational Research”, which involves talking to people who are already doing what you are interested in. These conversations should be ideally beyond our usual social circle to get in contact with other mental frameworks and worldviews that may show the way to new previously unknown possibilities.

Krznaric defends that we should always keep experimenting, even when we feel content in the present.

In fact, I think it would be a good idea if we all spent at least one week every year trying out a different career, even if we believe we are happy in our existing job.

Our motivations and ambitions evolve throughout the course of our lives, and we are often poor judges of our future interests. The route of a ‘serial specialist’ may be just what we need nurture our many talents and passions, and to lead the many lives that lay dormant within us, like seeds beneath the snow.  

How to Find Fulfilling Work is a thought-provoking read for those reflecting about career decisions, and especially for those wanting to explore new career choices.

You can watch Roman Krznaric talk about his ideas about career change in our video-article Transitioning Into A New Career.

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