Wellbeing #3: An Engaging Career

The Gallup Organization has conducted research over the past fifty years and then assessed the results from across many different nations, languages, and life situations to determine what it takes for one to experience wellbeing. Discovering five common strands threaded through the many results they have released a book called Wellbeing to describe them. The first element is "Career Wellbeing" which they define as "how you occupy your time" or "liking what you do every day." Reading this chapter has led me to several observations that are really impacting the way I think about how I view my life and work. My first observation is that what makes one's career fulfilling is not necessarily the same thing as what makes them a living. We define our careers far too narrowly. When we think of a career our minds turn first to our job, or maybe the type of job that we wish we had. Certainly our careers involve what we do to make a living but on the larger scale our careers are made up of what we do with our time and what we work at accomplishing. "You don't need to earn a paycheck to have thriving Career Wellbeing. But you do need to find something that you enjoy doing — and have an opportunity to do it every day." In some cases our jobs can help us to directly fulfill our goals and in other cases they are what facilitates accomplishing what is most important to us. As we become "responsible adults" and become more and more busy with our work, we often misplace every other ambition in our lives. Someone asks what we have been up to and we respond "oh, just working I guess." Yet Gallup's research shows that only 20% of people can answer a strong yes to the question, "Do you like what you do every day?" What this means is that in general we do not like our jobs and yet we hope to live satisfying lives with our schedules and goals revolving solely around what we do to make a living.

Perhaps part of the reason why do not like what we do for work is that we have not taken the time to plan or prepare for something that we would love to do. We can spend most of our lives making excuses for why we did not end up doing what had once set out to do. We like to say things like "well, we have to be realistic" to make ourselves feel better. This leads to the second observation that our career wellbeing is far more important to our lives than we realize. We cannot afford to keep putting off the kind of effort that it will take to lead us toward engaging our time with that which matters to us.

Wellbeing puts it this way, "But Career Wellbeing is arguable the most esential of the five elements. If you don't have the opportunity to regularly do something you enjoy – even if it's more of a passion or interest than something you get paid to do – the odds of your having high wellbeing in other areas diminish rapidly. People with high Career Wellbeing are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall."

My third observation is that our goal should be increasing engagement with the things that matter to us rather than retirement. Life is not primarily about how much money we make or how much we are able to own as a result. Real life is about how we engage with that which is most important to us and the rich experiences that result from this engagement.

Gallup's research shows that people who are engaged with their work have extremely different experiences with it than those who are not. Their stress is lower, their happiness and interest are higher, and they do not have to live for the weekends because they remain engaged both at work and away from it. People who are engaged with their careers are healthier. One study identified that of those who live to age 95 the average retirement age is 80. This is up from the nationwide average of 65 and shows that longevity is linked to engagement.

We are told that a successful life is blazing through our careers, making as much money as possible so that we can retire and finally engage with the things we love as soon as possible. Engagement is what keeps us healthy and interested throughout our lives. We should take small "retirements" along the way to recharge and keep our interest strong so that we can continue to pursue with increasing vigor that which matters to us.

What do we mean by "that which matters?" That's for each one of us to decide personally. It is shaped by many influences such as our spiritual lives, family situation, and a variety of other interests and concerns. Reading this made me think about my grandmother. She is no longer working for a living but she has not ceased to engage that which matters to her. Grandma Nafziger travels around visiting and caring for her family. If you strike up a conversation with her at any time she will be able to share the latest concerns, developments and celebrations of every member of her family. She is truly engaged with that which matters to her most and I think that this is part of what keeps her so healthy and mentally sharp. I want to live my life well and hope that as I grow older I am marked by an ever increasing engagement with that which is most important in my life.