Maybe it's just something that happens in your 40s. Or maybe people are always wondering if they're in the right job. But the more I talk to people about their career choices, the more making the right decision all boils down to three factors and how you prioritize them: time, money and interest.
It's hard to envision a worthwhile job that doesn't require a meaningful amount of actual effort and work. If the job doesn't ask much of you, why would anyone pay you to do it and how interesting and meaningful can it really be? But total hours worked is not the only criteria that matters. It's also worth looking at:
- Commuting: No one at work gives you a medal for spending 90 minutes each way to get to work and back. If you want to live further away, that's your choice. But study after study shows that commuting has a materially negative impact on happiness, so the time spent getting to and from work may be just as important to examine as the time spent at work itself. In other words, if possible, a job closer to home is better.
- Travel: Some people love to travel for work. But your perspective and interests tend to change as your life evolves (i.e., kids), so getting to go to Phoenix for the 35th time may be a lot less exciting than the 34th trip. So the amount of travel may be as important to consider as the total hours the job requires.
- Predictability: In my 20s and early 30s, I didn't mind working for really demanding bosses who called at all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends. It was part of what allowed me to build a relationship with them and gain responsibility and opportunity. I could never handle that now - I have other priorities and I lack the patience. Some people love feeling needed at all times and they're willing to put up with a crazy boss, an unpredictable schedule, and being on call at all hours. Others really want a clear separation between work and the rest of their life. It's good to know which category you fall into and choose accordingly.
2. The work itself
We all want our jobs to be interesting, fulfilling and meaningful. We want to like our colleagues, employees, bosses and clients. We want to avoid drudgery and just focus on the important stuff. And some jobs offer a version of that. But there's also a reason they call it work, so there aren't many jobs (if any) that are always fun, all of the time. That's why it's worth asking:
- Is this interesting?: You can only fake it for so long. And especially if you're in your 40s, you know what you find interesting (and hopefully you're mature enough to genuinely not care if the job sounds cool or impressive to anyone else). Even a pretty laid back job still takes 40 hours a week. Assuming you sleep 7 hours a night, that's 35% of your waking hours (and most people work more like 50%+ of waking hours). If you have to convince yourself that you'll find the work interesting, odds are, you won't.
- Is it meaningful?: Let's be clear - most people don't pay you to do work you find truly meaningful. That's why people volunteer in their spare time. But there's a difference between finding everything you do at work utterly pointless and finding some societal value in it sometimes. It could mean getting to do some pro bono work or it could mean working on projects that contribute to the greater good in some way. For example, at Tusk Ventures, we fight hard every day for startups to have the right to innovate and to protect them from corrupt entrenched interests trying to stifle competition. Not every startup in our portfolio enhances society, but the overall work to create a culture of innovation and ideas certainly does.
- Does it lead anywhere?: Once you stop learning, work gets very boring, very quickly. Depending on your stage in life, you may not still be choosing jobs based on what it can lead to next, but even if the job isn't a stepping-stone, it can still lead to new learning, new ideas, new thought processes. And that all makes you more engaged, more interested and happier at work. If you're never going to learn anything new from the job, don't take it.
Lots of studies say that happiness and money are not directly correlated and that may be true, but anyone who argues that money doesn't at all matter is just denying reality. So ask yourself:
- Basic needs: If your job doesn't pay enough to cover your basic needs (food, clothing, shelter), it doesn't work (which is why we need a higher minimum wage). How we define basic varies greatly, but anyone struggling to put food on the table or to pay the rent knows exactly what it means.
- Longer-term needs: It's great to have a job that doesn't require a lot of commuting or travel and that's both meaningful and interesting, but most people want to earn beyond their basic needs. They want to have money to pay for their kids' college, for retirement, for vacations. While money definitely isn't the only arbiter of happiness, it certainly still matters.
- Other financial goals: Depending on where you are in your career, you may have the basics covered and some of your longer-term needs covered too. Then you have to decide why you still want to make money and what it does for you compared to what it takes from you (time, effort, stress, risk, travel). Some people feel like they can do more good in the world by making money and donating it to specific causes than by just working directly for those causes. Other people want to leave long-term financial security for their children and grandchildren. But if you've already made the money you need, it's worth asking why and how making more money adds real value to your life. If you can't articulate why, then maybe you shouldn't take the job.
Time. Money. And the work itself. No matter how you look at it, every decision you make about your next job revolves around those three factors. Just knowing what each factor is doesn't automatically dictate what your decision should be.
But if you can boil down your considerations to these three criteria, making the right decision should be a lot easier.