To Be Fulfilled in Your Work, Figure Out Your Must-Haves

Know Where You’ve Come From

I’ve been working professionally since I was a kid.

My mom was always an amazing example of entrepreneurial force and independence. She left her full-time, mid-level Property Management job in the mid-eighties and struck out on her own to build her practice. (She’s been doing it for 35 years now!) From the ground up, she built a business that was not only successful but meaningful to her and to our family. I had no idea how lucky I was. I was a beneficiary of not only the example she set for me but also the opportunities that gave me to work.

A simple question, “Do you want to mow some of my lawns?” turned into a profitable part-time summer business. I was set on a course, sometimes reluctant, sometimes frustrating, but always learning. I made twice as much money in a single summer than the rest of my working friends did working all year.
My dad was always an amazing example of work ethic and work culture. Without a college degree, he worked hard at all kinds of jobs — a meatpacking plant, fast food, a donut shop, a farm — often for minimum wage, and often during the graveyard shift. Eventually, he found work as a rural mail carrier in the United States Postal Service. But even that didn’t come easy. The position, which started off as substitute, often required my dad to pursue other part-time or fill-in gigs like janitorial services or day laboring. My dad knew the value of hard work. He was physically strong, mentally strong, and never let pride get in the way of an honest day’s work.

I wasn’t cut from my father’s mold naturally. I had chores, yes. He had even put me to work helping with his janitorial work. But I generally hated every minute of it. I had grown up playing, not working (and he did love playing!). And getting up early to go vacuum an acre’s worth of mall carpet wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. But he had planted a seed—if you want something, work hard for it. And eventually, as my college soccer pursuits required a next-level commitment, the “play hard” philosophy I subscribed to as a child turned into a “work hard” philosophy. I saw value in it. I lived it.

What’s my point? Know where you’ve come from. I think it’s important to recognize the source of your belief system about work in order to build upon it. None of us have all the things it takes to be successful right off the bat. But chances are, you’ve got a better foundation than you realize if you take some time to consider it.

5 Things I Must Have at Work

At one point in my mid-career, someone asked me, “What are you really looking for in a job?” As I took a deep breath to talk about all the things a person normally talks about, he doubled down. “I don’t mean the surface-y bullshit you normally tell people. Bigger salary, stocked fridge, better chairs, nicer computers and all that. I mean, what kinds of things would you look for in any job?” 

I knew exactly what he was asking, and I was hit with a wave of emotion, followed closely by embarrassment. “I don’t know…I mean…” I trailed off. “Damn, good question.”

It took me three years to finish my list. I had to experience another job, more freelance, and more leadership. Once I recognized exactly what I needed from any job (regardless of what I’m doing), the power of that knowledge became undeniable. I was able to gauge almost any opportunity in my professional career by this list. It became a set of standards. And, it empowered me to share my standards at every turn, in interviews, in emails, and in conversations. Instead of a small side conversation, it now became the focus…and it clearly defined who I was and what I was all about.

These are (my) 5 Must-Haves I look for in any job: 

1. A leader I can follow. Trustworthy, trusting, authentic, self-aware. High EQ. 

2. A purpose I can believe in. Aligns with my values. 

3. Rigor with healthy conflict. Intelligent discussion, continuous learning, constant improvement. 

4. Autonomy. No micromanaging, no watchdogs. I have the choice to keep my family #1. 

5. An opportunity to influence. Culture, processes, norms. (See rigor) 

Here’s the amazing thing: If I have my 5 Must-Haves, it almost doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I’ll be pretty damn happy. And it works inside the job, too. I have used my Must-Haves to continue to measure my own core values as well as the experience I’m having at work. I’ve used my must-haves as a conversation piece to lean into some pretty difficult conversations.

I hope you take my friend’s advice. Ask yourself, “What are you really looking for in a job?” and enjoy the journey that follows.

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Looking for career advice? Just hit me up on LinkedIn and start a conversation.

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