What is a Fulfilling Career?

In a recent post, I discussed what I learned from PhDs with fulfilling careers, but I failed to define what a fulfilling career is in the first place. If you don’t know what you want from your career, it’s going to be hard to be happy in the first place. I created a Career Fulfillment Survey to answer to help define what a fulfilling career to most people.

According to most responses from PhDs (n=14), a fulfilling career has three primary traits.

After Your PhD found that a fulfilling career provides some sort of social interaction, helps with financial support, and interests the person.

It seems simple to say ” I want a job that pays money I don’t hate,” but with so many career options out there it can be difficult to find a fulfilling career path. We often go through several jobs to truly find a career that makes us happy.

If you’re currently looking for a new career path I strongly recommend checking out the After Your Interview Informational Interviews page.

Why Was Your Previous Career Unfulfilling?

I was a non-tenured faculty member at a large university for a number of years. I was underpaid, overlooked, underappreciated, and burnt-out. The satisfaction of teaching just did not outweigh all of the negatives.

Mundane and didn’t require any really thinking.
Primarily a lack of autonomy; also low pay (that didn’t allow me to live comfortably in a HCOL region).

Values conflict with organization/program, excessive oversight, serious conflict over what should have been inconsequential issues.

I had an unfulfilling job. I was taken for granted, did not received the deserved recognition, I was given tasks below my paycheck and skills set.

Racist, toxic, and micromanaging work culture
I felt that my contributions to the job were not valued, and that my boss tried to push me into an academic direction that was beneficial to her department, but not to my own research interests and career plans.

Not enough learning and progression.

Do You Have Any Advice for People Seeking a Fulfilling Career?

Below are quotes from folks who took the survey.

You might be really surprised at how much better it is “on the other side.” I’ve been out of the classroom for seven months or so, and I’m 100% happier in my work.

I realise this may be difficult but do what you love and not what pays the highest salary. If you do what you love then the financial rewards will follow.

I’m still searching myself.

“Prestige” doesn’t pay the bills, nor does it always necessarily mean that a job will be fulfilling. Trust your intuition and follow paths where you feel a sense of belonging and safety.

Consider (a) what kind of skills you enjoy using and/or tasks you like doing, (b) consider the values that drive your work, (c) spend some time thinking about working conditions (e.g., remote vs hybrid vs fully in person, regular vs flexible hours).

At the end of the day, it’s just a job. If you hate it, there are other jobs out there. You don’t have to define yourself by it, this is not a PhD anymore. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve.

Know who you are, what your values/morals are, and then tailor your job search to that.

Prioritize family and mental health.

Go with what you feel in your heart to be good for you, not with what other people see as the best opportunity for you.