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Job Satisfaction and Success Through Self Knowledge

Updated on May 25, 2009

Self Knowledge Is Key To Job Satisfaction

Since my earliest days as an engineering graduate working in industry I have been fascinated by the fact that some individuals apparently, almost effortlessly, move to the top of business management, or become experts in their fields, apparently enjoying their work and getting some sense of job satisfaction from what they do. Others, however, seem to struggle all the way through their careers, experience little in the way of progress, and perhaps finish their working lives feeling unfulfilled with little job satisfaction. Yet, to a great extent, all these individuals start working in the same business with, quite often, the same opportunity to progress. So why is it, given the same starting point, that individual careers, and therefore lives, can take such different paths?

It's a huge subject and no doubt a "brainstorming" session with a whiteboard (do whiteboards still exist in this IT driven world?) would throw up many, many different reasons. So what I want to focus on in these brief notes is the importance of self knowledge, and how by recognising our strengths and weaknesses, and using our gifts we give ourselves the best chance of a "successful career" with real job satisfaction.

The Sign Of Success?
The Sign Of Success?

I deliberately put quotes around successful career above because it is so important to define what it means. For the vast majority, I suspect it means wealth and status represented by the big house, the big car(s) and responsibility for a company or department. These may well be the trappings of success but quite often they are a poor substitute for job satisfaction in our work. I've met many people who are apparently successful in their careers, but in reality although they may have the cars and houses, they are still not satisfied with their lives. They are not content, and I would argue that if they are not content, they are not successful.

It was A H Maslow in the mid-1950s who put forward his theory that there are five basic levels of need which people aim to satisfy, and when we have satisfied one, we move onto the next one on the list.

The first are the physiological needs: the basic need for food, clothing and shelter. These are the necessities of life that everybody needs, let alone aspires to. Regrettably, about 20% of the world's population still don't have these basic needs fulfilled.

The second are safety needs: the need for security and continuity in our lives. We need protection against things which threaten our routine orderly existence. Again, it's a tragedy that so many around the globe still can't rest peacefully in their beds at night because of security issues, through no fault of their own.

The third are social needs: the need to belong and to be accepted in a social context. We need to be part of a community.

The fourth are esteem needs: the need to have some status and respect. This usually goes hand-in-hand with a well paid job and it is the level which so many people aim for, thinking it will bring contentment, only to discover that the old saying is true - "money can't buy happiness."

The fifth are the self-fulfillment needs: the need to feel content through the creative use of our natural aptitudes and skills. This is where we find real job satisfaction, and I would argue that truly successful people move past the status and power stage, the fourth level of needs, and experience the lasting success of using natural abilities to enjoy real job satisfaction.

Real Job Satisfaction

So according to Maslow, and many others since, we need to feel content to be truly satisfied with our lives and careers, and this is achieved by using our natural aptitudes and skills. Those individuals in business and industry who apparently, with little effort, enjoy promotion and success are almost certainly tuning into their natural aptitudes. I don't want to suggest that they don't have to work hard, or study hard, to progress because they almost certainly do, but it's not the "grind" that it is to so many of us because everything they do is channelled into moving them forward in the direction that is naturally right for them. Some would say "they are swimming with the current and not against it." Many will not have even thought about what they are naturally gifted to do. Their interests and hobbies will just take them in the right direction where job satisfaction is greatest.

If we want to be part of this group who appear to find life and careers easier than some, we need to be able to identify our natural abilities, dare I say God-given abilities. As I already said, truly successful people often naturally know the right direction for their careers and lives because it stems from their interests and hobbies as a child. But for those of us who are still not satisfied with our careers because we are still chasing the "money and power," it is a good idea to do an audit or our abilities and interests. Just as important is to look back to what it was that interested and inspired us as a child, before "the world" or circumstances steered us in a direction that was perhaps not ideally suited to us. To explain what I mean, let me briefly lead you through my experience.

My Skills - Design and Build

As a boy, I would sit and make things. All sorts of construction kits and toys that I could put together in all sorts of ways. Often I couldn't be bothered with instructions - I just wanted to create something! Often I would build model aircraft (my dad was a WW2 bomber pilot) and I grew up living on air force bases. I thought I wanted to be a pilot too. I worked hard at school. I went to schools where the culture was to work hard to get a "good job" and in due course I passed exams and university beckoned.

I really wanted to fly but I was advised to get a degree. I wanted to do aeronautical engineering but I was advised that was too specialist and that mechanical engineering was a better choice. Well it wasn't that different so I worked hard and got my degree in engineering. I had to work hard because at times I was very, very bored. I thought mechanical engineering would be about design, not the theory, but the nuts and bolts of design. But I was wrong it was all theory, but I survived.

I settled into work at a smallish company where I was involved with design and development of exploration equipment and these were some of my most fulfilling days. Drawing things and building things - it was like my childhood all over again. But the work hard ethic kicked in and I was driven internally to do better. By the time I was in my mid thirties I was running a design department of fifty engineers responsible for large cranes. It was a nightmare. I had totally lost my roots and all job satisfaction. The job was all administration and problem solving. As a department we were almost out of control at times so I found a job in a smaller company. This was much better with just ten design staff and more hands-on experience. But life as a member of the senior management team was, for me, unpleasant. The politics, the backstabbing and the lack of compassion for the employees. I know businesses exist to make a profit but employees still need to be treated reasonably.

For the next ten years or so, I moved jobs a few times and the decline in engineering in the UK meant a transition into technical sales, which was OK as I enjoyed driving around the country, meeting other engineers and solving problems. But after a while I became bored with trying to enthuse and sell products I wasn't really interested in. So I stopped and asked myself (and asked for a bit of divine inspiration) what do I want to do? What are my skills and abilities? What do I enjoy doing? When have I known job satisfaction? What did I do as a boy?

And the answers, in no particular order.....I like to design things. I like to make things. I am good at creative design and engineering design. I can visualise in 3D. I can plan projects. I can solve problems. I have sales experience.

At the time in the UK there was a shortage of plumbers. I had experience of all sorts of pipework and fittings from my engineering background and had fitted all my own kitchens and bathrooms in our houses over the years. So after much thought (and some prayer) and a little top-up training, I gave up a well paid, respectable (boring) job to become a self-employed plumber specialising in the design and fitting of bathrooms. It uses virtually all my skills. From sales skills through to design and then installation. I get to sit on the floor, just as I did as a boy and put together pipework and other parts. It's still a job with good days and bad days, and sometimes it's not easy, but it taps into my core skills and abilities and provides true job satisfaction at the end of the day. Customers even say "thank you" - that rarely happened in industry.

It's Not Easy, But It's Worth It

I have been fortunate in building up a skill set that enables me to do something I now find satisfying. I have managed to move past being successful in the eyes of the world to being truly successful by doing something I enjoy. It was a difficult transition for me and I am aware that for many it others it will be even more difficult. Bills have to be paid and life has to go on. But if you're fed up and frustrated with work and life, because the money and possessions and power are just not providing the job satisfaction you need, I do encourage you to take stock. To ask yourself about skills and abilities, and what you enjoyed doing as a child, because that's where so many of the clues can be found. By looking back you may have the best chance of finding the right way forward!


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  • bigmikeh profile image

    bigmikeh 8 years ago from UK

    Roger, I couldn't agree with you more.

  • profile image

    Roger  8 years ago

    I think that too many people focus on money as a indicator of success. Success should really be finding the right path that brings you enough income to live comfortably and be able to provide for your family, as well as the path that brings you balance and happiness to pursue your dreams simultaneously.