Once upon a time, long before becoming a career coach in San Diego, I had the perfect job. In this blog post, I talk about that job and the research on extreme job satisfaction/dissatisfaction.
It was a summer job while I was in college, and if there was a more perfect job, I couldn’t tell you what it would be, even now having seen lots of jobs as a career coach.
At the beginning of summer, I would get flown from Maine to the British Virgin Islands at my employer’s expense.
Once I got there, I lived onboard a beautiful 50 foot sailboat and took groups of 10 teenagers at a time around the islands, teaching them to sail, navigate, etc.
It was a sailing summer camp for highly privileged kids, who’s parents basically paid us to teach them to sail as they toured the Caribbean (rough life!).
It worked for me. In addition to seeing the BVI, I also went to the Leeward Islands: places like St. Martin, St. Barths, Nevis, St. Kitts and other places the rich and famous frequent. (It’s even nicer than San Diego!)
I had no expenses, all my food was paid for, and when I left at the end of the summer, I got a check.
Let me think about this from a career coach’s perspective:
Autonomy: Check – I got to run my boat more or less the way I wanted
Purpose: Check – I got to teach something I loved doing to other people and help them gain skills and self-confidence in the process.
Mastery: Check – I got to use my deep sailing skills to benefit others
Compensation: Check – I didn’t get paid all that well, but I had no expenses and walked away with a check at the end of the summer.
Other benefits: Check – I got to see the Caribbean, SCUBA dive at some amazing sites, and staff meetings included an afternoon beer in the cockpit of a beautiful sailboat with several other captains.
So, was I happy? Yes. But I still had a few complaints: We lived with the campers, so we were on 24/7 and only got 2-3 days off in an entire summer, which meant we had no downtime. There was unpleasant boat maintenance to be done from time to time. –And while most of the kids were fantastic, every now and then you did have to deal with an eye-rolling teenager.
Usually, at the end of a summer, I was ready to get back to college.
[Writing that now, after having worked my way up from frontline corporate roles to executive positions, it is almost hard to believe that my perfect job in the Caribbean seemed like anything but a vacation.]
This brings me to my point: No job, even sailing around the Caribbean, is a perfect job. You can hire a career coach to help you find your career direction, but the perfect job just isn’t out there.
One of my favorite studies was done by Frederick Herzberg and outlined in the article “One More Time, How Do We Motivate Employees” in the Harvard Business Review.
Herzberg and his colleagues looked across industries and roles to determine what characteristics of a job lead to satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
Here are the criteria that lead to career satisfaction (in order of importance):
And here are the items that lead to career dissatisfaction (in order of importance):
Company policy and administration*
Relationship with supervisor
Relationship with peers
Relationship with subordinates
*Note that Company policy and administration leads to dissatisfaction much more than the other factors.
If you look at this list of items, you can see that the odds of a company or entrepreneurial endeavor doing all of these things really well just aren’t that high.
My amazing, perfect Caribbean sailing job, for example, didn’t offer a ton in the way of achievement or advancement opportunity, though it did offer some.
However, from a growth perspective, I will say that it was absolutely transformational in terms of developing my skills as a leader.
And of course, among the dissatisfying elements of my perfect job were the fact that I didn’t have time for a personal life at all, as I was literally with my students 24/7, and the fact that we didn’t have more than 3 days off in 3 months (company policy).
In other words, if you are thinking of hiring a career coach to find you that perfect job, you are embarking on a mission with a destination that doesn’t exist.
A career coach can help you identify the right position for this point in your career, yet even sailing around the Caribbean isn’t perfect.
Instead, you need to focus your career search on opportunities that offer achievement, recognition, intrinsically motivating work and responsibility.
In reality, most jobs have some parts we really enjoy and some parts we can do without. The art is finding a non-perfect job that you enjoy, in which you can do something that makes a difference in the world while helping you grow.