Tag Archives: selfesteem

What makes you happy about your job. Think Maslow, not Brooks

Too often when I see pieces on work and what makes a good job, they downplay certain aspects, like pay or job title. That comes up in this piece by Arthur Brooks, How to Pick a Job That Will Actually Make You Happy, where he writes:

… this belief is based on a misunderstanding of what brings job satisfaction. To be happy at work, you don’t have to hold a fascinating job that represents the pinnacle of your educational achievement or the most prestigious use of your “potential,” and you don’t have to make a lot of money. What matters is not so much the “what” of a job, but more the “who” and the “why”: Job satisfaction comes from people, values, and a sense of accomplishment.

I don’t think he is wrong with this, I just think he is missing out on the bigger picture. The way to see the bigger picture is to focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (shown above).

According to Maslow, we have several needs: basic needs, psychological needs and finally self-fulfillment needs. The lower needs are simple and obvious: the higher ones are complicated.

Our jobs provide for some or all of these needs. For example, our work environment should provide us with our basic needs, while our pay satisfies both basic and psychological needs. Things like job titles, promotions, awards, perqs, and other acknowledgements also help with psychological needs. As for the work itself, and the things Brooks is discussing, they satisfy our self-fulfillment needs. If you are fortunate, you have a job that provides for all those needs to a high degree.

That said, we all measure our needs differently. For people who work dangerous outdoor jobs, their basic needs may not be met nearly as well as someone who works in a warm office. For those outdoor workers, the satisfaction from the work itself (e.g. rescue work, emergency repair work) may more than make up for the discomfort and difficulty they face. Likewise, for a person working in an office, doing interesting work that fulfills their potential may be much more important than promotions and pay raises and other things their co-worker with different psychological needs has.

In Brooks’s piece, he emphasizes self-fulfillment needs and minimizes basic and psychological needs. That’s a common mistake, and the reason people might become dissatisfied with their job, even though on the surface what they have appears to be a great job. We all know about people quitting because of bad management: in that case you can see people’s needs at all levels not being met. But people can also struggle because they have a conflict that some of their needs are being met while others are not. For example, people can have a good job with lots of benefits, but it is very unfulfilling, or they can have a good job that is very fulfilling but it doesn’t meet their basic needs.

The best job can fulfill all of your needs to a satisfactory level. That’s the job that will make you happy, not just a job that satisfies your top needs. When you look to work at a new place, make sure you can get all your needs met to the level you need. You’ll be much happier.

To set goals, you need to look at your life. Here’s what I mean. (Or how to deal with Wanting to Have a Social Life, with Friends)

I’m not going to say that your goal setting is wrong. But it’s likely you are setting goals without looking at how you spend your time.  So let’s start there.

Write down what you are doing or think you are doing every day, week, month. Really think about this and take the time to document your life this way. Be as quantitative as possible. Then categorize those activities. After you do that, ask yourself: do you want to spend the same amount of time doing those activities in the future? If you don’t, do you want to spend more time or less time?

Let’s take someone named Alison. Alison thinks her goal is to be a better parent. However, when she looks at what she is doing, she finds she is spending most of her time working to become a partner in her firm. That’s her real goal: promotion.

Now Alison is multifaceted, as we all are. She doesn’t need to abandon one goal to work on another. She decides she does want to get promoted, but she does so in the context of also being a better parent. So she shifts some of her time and focus towards more parenting, then works to track that over time to see whether she really has internalized that as a goal.

The time and effort and focus you spend on something tells you what your goals are. Even if you don’t know those are your goals. I discovered this some time ago when I was tracking my todos in an app called Remember the Milk. I was the opposite of Alison. I thought I wanted to get promoted, but I spent most of my time focused on being a good parent and not enough on getting promoted. Eventually  I was content with that. I accepted that I would like to get promoted, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my parenting time to that. And I liked my work as it was. From time to time I would be disappointed to see others rise in the organization while I stayed the same, but quickly I thought that was ok. I was meeting my goals.

Likewise, I ran marathons for a long time, and I thought my goal was to run more. But over time I realized that what I got out of marathon running had slipped away. It just became a chore and my goals changed from being a marathon runner to being healthier. Maybe as my life changes I’ll go back to running marathons.

There is a famous poem by Kenneth Koch  called You Want a Social Life, With Friends that addresses this:

Koch is strict here but the thinking is the same. Setting goals helps you move forward in life only if the goals you set align with your values and interests and the time you spend on that. Trying to do everything is difficult when resources  are limited. So think about the time you have and set better goals.

For more on setting better goals, read this piece.

(Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash)

Did you mess up this week? Are you beating yourself up about it? If so, read this


Chances are you messed up at some point this week. It happens to everyone.

If you have a good attitude about it, that’s great. If you don’t, if you are beating yourself up for messing up, then read this.

I hope you feel better after reading that. Everyone makes mistakes. People trying really hard especially make mistakes. Give yourself a break. Then get back at it.

(Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash)