Chances are, your daily life is pretty busy. You answer a lot of emails, have discussions with colleagues, clients, and customers. You work your way through your to-do list each day, hoping to keep up with the many things that need to be done. As a result, one day bleeds into the next. You complete a lot of tasks. You might even see those tasks add up to important contributions to your workplace.
But will they make you happy?
That depends in part on how those contributions relate to your own personal values. Your long-term satisfaction with your work is certainly influenced by whether you feel like you have accomplished your work goals. But it is affected quite a bit by whether those work goals align with what is important to you.
As I discuss in my new book Bring Your Brain to Work, the social psychologist Shalom Schwartz has demonstrated that there is a universal set of values that can be observed across cultures. The particular value a person holds depends in part on what the culture promotes, but it is also affected by a person’s experiences and beliefs.
The basic values
First, consider which of these values are most important to you:
- Power, which reflects how much people want to have control over people, resources, and social status.
- Achievement, which reflects the importance of personal success.
- Hedonism, which relates to the importance of pleasure and enjoyment.
- Stimulation, which refers to excitement, and the pursuit of novel experiences and challenges.
- Self-direction, which relates to independence in thought and action and the importance of creativity.
- Universalism, which refers to tolerance and acceptance of all people.
- Benevolence, which reflects the importance of helping others and protecting their welfare.
- Conformity, which relates to obeying social norms and restraining impulses.
- Tradition, which values respect for cultural customs, norms, and ideas.
- Security, which reflects the importance of safety and stability.
How they affect your work
Generally, there are a small number of these values that you hold at any moment. And, of course, some of these values are contradictory. For example, if you value hedonism, then you probably don’t value conformity (and vice versa).
Every so often, it is a good idea to take stock of your current values. You may find that they have changed over time. You might value achievement early in your career, but be more focused on self-direction at mid-career and on security later in life. Taking note of changes in your values can help you to reassess your career path to place it more in-line with what is important to you.
For example, I knew someone who focused on achievement early in his career and put in long hours in jobs that led to recognition by his peers. Later in life, however, this individual shifted his emphasis to benevolence, which led him to quit a high-powered job and go to work for a nonprofit that helps others.
The trick is to seek a career path that is consistent with your values, even if you may not be able to make significant progress in living out those values at the start of that career path. For example, if you value self-direction, you might start on a path that will eventually give you a lot of autonomy, even if you have to carry out the orders of someone else at the front end of your career. In this case, you’re delaying your gratification for a while.
Finally, if you find yourself feeling dissatisfied with your career path, it might be a good time to take a look at the alignment between what you are able to accomplish with your work and your underlying values. That nagging frustration with your daily grind might just reflect that your job is a poor match to the goals that are fundamentally important to you.