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Don't pick the job you love

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Recently, I wrote a lengthy post about how therapy is professional development. You should go read that and then get a therapist or a personal coach to work some things out before you pick your next job. Because if you don’t figure out how you (yes, you) contributed to situations that impacted you negatively, simply changing jobs is not going to allow you to escape that. Wherever you go, there you are. And whatever you haven’t resolved within you, will continue causing problems in the next job.

I am here to tell you that picking your new job based on doing work you love is for the birds.

Don’t choose the job you love.

You read that right.

Don’t choose the job you love. Instead, choose your next job based on the company culture AND ecosystem you are going to be living in day in and day out for the next five to eight years.

I know it sounds weird if you’re a millennial that grew up hearing that college was your golden ticket to success and that you should do work you love so you feel happy and fulfilled. We have already found out that a degree alone doesn’t result in a great job. And I think we are all figuring out that a job title won’t convince you of your self worth because that’s deep work you gotta do yourself. I even told a co-worker one time that I didn’t believe jobs made you happy. I believed that you were either a happy person with a fulfilling life and brought that over to work or that you were discontent and you also brought that to work with you. I don’t think she appreciated that strong unsolicited opinion I dished out because she didn’t have much going on outside of work, so work fulfilled a lot of deeper needs for meaning etc, etc. That’s a different topic. Closely related but different and I am trying not to get distracted. Anyway! I have changed my mind on that strong opinion.

I have found that work TOTALLY can make you happy or miserable. But almost always, it has nothing to do with the actual work you do or the job description. And it has EVERYTHING to do with your quality of life day in and day out. Work dominates most of our lives. That’s why I am telling you that you should put all your focus into the work culture because for the most part humans are happy when they have meaning, get to be good or excel at something and be recognized for it, and when people know their roles in their context.

Okay, tangent. Have you heard about the dopamine diet? Diet is really a misnomer because this concept is not only about food you eat, but about behaviors or stimuli you take out of your routine for the sake of increasing dopamine levels (or feel good endorphins in general) so you feel better overall. So really, it’s just an approach to life centered around the awareness of brain chemistry and what we can do to feel happy or miserable. So, you can be doing any activity but if you know how to hack your brain chemicals even grocery shopping or doing dishes can be turned into something that feels good. I am not going to nerd out on neuroscience right now, but you should totally understand Dopamine Theory and the science on motivation. They say knowledge is power and this bit of info has the power to radically change how you move through life. Apparently, we as people have a pretty set baseline for happiness that we return to. It’s influenced by genetics and personality. That’s why humans are bad at predicting what will make them happy. Usually what you thought would make you happy only lasts for a little bit and then you return to your happiness baseline. However, the power of knowing how to alter that baseline can totally change that. You hack your neurochemistry and adjust your mindset and watch!

All this to say, you think that a different job will make you happy but it won’t. However, if you create the conditions to thrive, you will be happier. That’s why I say let work culture be the deciding factor on which job you’ll pick. If you work surrounded by a team of people who practice acceptance, respect each other, are honest and candid in a way that builds you up not tears you down, you will be co-regulating together every day. And your body can begin to trust that you are safe. Being in a bad-for-you work environment puts you into fight or flight mode. And even if you earn a lot of money you end up with less money because you have to spend a lot more to cope with the daily misery. More money should mean a better quality of life. And I am telling you, better quality of life has everything to do with your work culture.

Okay, so we have agreed that good culture is where it’s at. Don’t pick the work you love, pick the environment where you can feel safe, trusting, connected, and working in your zone of genius. But how do you screen for that?? I really wish someone had spelled out for me how to screen for that in interviews. I would have done a better job at going to places where my values and their values aligned. I asked questions where you can fake a positive work environment. Now I have learned that there are questions that will really allow you to suss out what a day-in-the-life will be like.

When interviewing the leadership, you should focus on behavior based questions. When people are able to give examples of how they move through difficult things, you learn a lot about them.

Example of questions you can ask:

  1. Can you give me an example about a time when you had deep conflict among your colleagues or direct reports? What process do you use to resolve tension?

  2. Tell me about a time when a team member disagreed with your decision as a leader. How did you handle it and how did it turn out?

  3. Can you tell me about accommodations that you’ve made for employees in the past?

  4. Besides the responsibilities in the job description, what would it take for someone to be fired from this position?

  5. How do you celebrate your victories as a team?

  6. What do you do for fun?

If you have specific questions about how a team handles a situation, simply turn it into a behavior based question. In my experience, when the leadership is self-aware and proud of the culture they’ve built, they’ll answer those questions with enthusiasm and specificity. It has been very obvious to me when people don’t know how to handle conflict when I ask about their process and they are vague, sound lost, and give me canned answers or platitudes.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a system of how to surface what is important to you and turn it into a behavior-based question to learn more about their work culture and what your life will be like for the years to come. Even though it’s extremely common to switch jobs quickly to zigzag your way to a higher salary or resume growth (the bureau of labor statistics says that people aged 25-34 stay at jobs about 2.8 years). I am in full support of quitting fast if a job is not growing your wallet, your resume, or your holistic wellbeing. But I will be the first to tell you how good it is to be at a job for a significant amount of time. Usually the longer you stay, the deeper the understanding of your job and organization. Many organizations increase vacation time and other benefits with each year you have been in the job. There is less transition and upheaval, so you can enjoy stability and open up more emotional and mental bandwidth in your personal life.

If you carefully pick the work culture where you can thrive in the next 5 to 8 years, you will create the circumstances to thrive and be happier. And this is not about finding the perfect team or the perfect place to work. This is about choosing the environment that is most aligned with your values and personality. This is about choosing people that are willing to be uncomfortable when there is tension rather than cop out, shut down, shift blame. By the way, we totally understand that no one is born ready so we built public workshops that will level up your skills so you are not the weak link in the chain. As long as everyone in the team is committed to growing and being a little bit uncomfortable while navigating tension, you can advocate for what you think is right and feel safe to ask for the kind of support you need to bring your best to the table.

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