How to Design Your Dream Job

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Reading time: 5 minutes

How come you’re so happy with life? What’s your job?

I’ve been asked this by quite a few of my readers. You really want to know the answer? It’s long and complex and it varies from one person to the next. And I don’t think you would want to read all of it, so I won’t even try to answer it whole.

But I will let you in on one secret. I will give you the solution to one part of the problem — the job part.

What if I never find my dream job?

There is a formula for the perfect job. Trust me, I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. And so have several firms who lose millions of dollars every year because only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work.

But, if this is so well known, why are so many workers still unhappy with their jobs? Why are whole nations still cursing every morning when the alarm goes off? And why are millions of people around the world hating every hour spent in their office, cubicle or operating room?

If this describes you at least in part, then you’re in luck. And if you’re the boss or supervisor responsible for such misery in your team — well, you’re in luck too.

I will teach you both how to design the perfect job.

My bet is that you wouldn’t recognize the ideal working place if it hit you in the head. I know I wouldn’t. Up until a few months ago, I had a very clear idea of what the job of my dreams would look like. Even more, I’ve known it since I was a student. Until I finally got my dream job and saw what it was actually like.

Why dreams become nightmares

dream catcher black and white

You see, most of our ideas about the ideal workplace have no solid foundation. We are deeply influenced by our environment (our families, friends, successful peers and role models). And we have no clue if that job is right for us.

In most cases, we are either pushed into a career by external forces, or we aspire towards an end result: being a famous lawyer, a prize-winning researcher, a supermodel, or the star of the football team. Being, not becoming one!

We dream of these jobs without knowing the sacrifices it takes to get there. Or the odds of it ever happening.

I can’t get no satisfaction

One of the benefits of being an overachiever is that you generally get to live your dreams. The downside is that, more often than not, those dreams come with strings attached. And this can turn them into nightmares.

I won’t bore you with stories about dream jobs gone bad. I’ve written about thembefore. From being the youngest presenter at a worldwide scientific conference to working next to a Nobel prize winner — I’ve done it all. And it turns out the reality doesn’t live up to the dream.

But you’ve found a job you’re happy with, right?

Yes, I have. And you want to know how I found it? I stumbled into it.

There was no grandiose plan, no lifelong dream behind it — it was pure luck. But you can’t rely on luck to determine your career, right?

So I decided to give the whole problem a more scientific approach. Surely I’m not the first and only one to experience this. There’s a huge number of subjects out there from which to gather data. One only needs to isolate the variables and find the common thread that leads to job satisfaction. Why hasn’t anyone done this?

Well, it turns out someone has. And that someone is Benjamin Todd. He’s an Oxford graduate and the founder of 80.000 hours, a nonprofit that raised $1.3m in donations to study career advice. Ben also has access to a lot of case studies and research data provided by different teams from Oxford University. So here is what I found out from Ben and several studies out there.

Martin Luther King Jr. memorial I have a dream

The 7 Magic Ingredients for the Ideal Job

1. Make the world a better place. This one simple idea will bring you professional and personal happiness. No matter what industry you’re in, you should have a scope higher than yourself. Helping others will give you a sense of achievement and make you feel good after a hard day’s work. This feeling is so good that 45% of survey respondents said they would take a 15% pay cut to make more of a difference in the world. So go out there and do your part to make the world a better place. You can thank me later.

2. Have control over your work. Control is so important that Professor Cal Newport calls it the “dream-job elixir”. Having control over what your goals are and how you achieve them will give you more autonomy and will lead to more engaging work, both of which raise job satisfaction. This is also emphasized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.

3. Possibility to grow. Your working environment should be a place where you can constantly evolve and get better. For this, you need challenging projects and quality feedback. In turn, this will lead to a higher status and professional recognition. And we all want more of that.

4. Security and rewards. A good job will provide the financial security and the benefits you need to focus entirely on your work. Worrying if your toothache is covered by the insurance or if you can pay the rent next month will only make you less productive. Knowing you have everything covered will allow you to focus only on the job. Furthermore, a system of performance-based rewards will keep you motivated and focused. If used right, it might even make you loyal to the company, which is a win-win situation.

5. A good team and a reasonable boss. We often spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our loved ones. It sounds sad, but it doesn’t have to be. Look for a pleasant working atmosphere, you will share a lot of your time with those people. And, if the vibe is right, you might even make some new friends and enjoy your work so much more.

6. Good work/life balance. The folks from OfficeTeam asked over 1.400 people, ranging from simple workers to senior managers, one question: What aspect is most important for job satisfaction besides salary (already covered at point 4). Here are the results:

  • Work/life balance 28%
  • Opportunity to grow 27% (see point 3)
  • Ability to accomplish your goals 20% (see point 2)
  • Camaraderie with coworkers 13% (see point 5)
  • Good relationship with your boss 11% (see point 5)
  • Don’t know 1%

The ideal job shouldn’t drain you of all energy and should leave you with enough free time to enjoy other things you love. You won’t know how important this is until you experience it for yourself.

7. No major drawbacks. These vary from one person to the next. Some common ones, which I can confirm, are unfair pay, long commuting time, and lots of overtime. Or maybe the company’s aim doesn’t align with your world view. Or maybe your dealbreaker is a lack of free m&m’s in the common kitchen. I will leave this one up to you.

Now you know what to look for during your next job interview. Or perhaps you have found out why your current job isn’t giving you any pleasure. It has nothing to do with passion or calling or talent. It all boils down to 7 key ingredients. They are the ones that make us happy at our jobs.

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work


PS: I can already hear some of you objecting with an indignant tone:

This doesn’t apply to everyone! I’ve known for a long time what I want to do and I don’t care about your stupid ingredients. For me this is not just a job — it’s my passion and it brings me loads of joy, satisfaction, and respect.

My dear reader, if this is truly the case then I congratulate you. You have my utmost respect and I can only beg of you to let me in on your secret in the comments below.

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