How to Love Your Job in 3 Simple Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How Will You Measure Your Life?" by Clayton M. Christensen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know how to love your job? How can you make sure your career is fulfilling?

If you want to know how to love your job, you just need a helpful strategy. Figure out what motivates you, adjust your career as new opportunities come along, and learn how to manage your resources. 

Keep reading to find out how to love your job.

How to Love Your Job: Creating a Strategy

We all have ideas as kids about what will make us happy in life, but our dreams give way to compromises when we become adults. As a result, many people pick jobs and careers for the wrong reasons. As time goes on, you settle for what you have, accepting that doing what you love isn’t a realistic option. 

But you don’t have to settle—the key to finding happiness in your career is creating a strategy for where you want to go and how to get there. The following advice will show you how to love your job. 

What Makes a Strategy?

In business and life, several steps create a strategy:

  • Determining priorities
  • Balancing plans with opportunities and challenges
  • Allocating your resources

Your strategy is continuously evolving: As it takes shape, new information, problems, and opportunities come up that you need to incorporate. When you proactively manage this strategy process, you have a good chance of building a career you love. Here’s a closer look at this process:

Priorities: The starting point is setting priorities—identifying the factors or criteria most important to you in a career. This requires understanding motivational theory and how it applies to you, because people’s reasons for choosing a job often don’t align with what really makes them happy (what drives or motivates them). Often, you don’t realize this until you’re stuck.

Opportunities and Challenges: Next, you need an understanding of how to adjust your career plans when unexpected opportunities and challenges come up. Some people have a plan for the next five years, while others just play it by ear. Either way can work, but theory can guide you by indicating when you should be methodical and stick to your plan, and when you should be open to unexpected or emergent opportunities (covered in Chapter 2).

Resources: Finally, to implement your strategy you need an understanding of how to support it with your resources. You’ll have to decide among many demands—people often devote their time to whatever seems most urgent or what delivers the most-immediate rewards, but this gets them off track. You must use your resources in ways consistent with your intentions. 

With the right strategy, you don’t have to settle—you can find out how to love your job. Below we will focus on determining priorities, the first step of learning how to love your job. 

Priorities and Motivation

To set the right priorities, you need to understand the theories of motivation. When you feel unhappy and stuck in your career or life, it’s usually because what you’re doing isn’t what really motivates you. Whether you’re motivated (or not) at work affects how you interact with your boss and colleagues, as well as whether you’re happy.

If you want to find out how to love your job, you first need to understand what motivates you. 

Many people think incentives are the key to being satisfied at work, and they opt for jobs on the basis of the incentives they offer. But incentives don’t make people happy in their jobs. Knowing this will help you understand how to find a job that makes you happy 

Theory of motivation: Incentives (also known as hygiene factors), like compensation, job security, status, work environment, manager practices, and company policies, will leave you dissatisfied with your job if they’re not adequately addressed. But improved hygiene factors won’t make you happy (just less dissatisfied). What makes you happy are motivators, such as challenging work, responsibility, learning, the chance to grow, and the chance to make a meaningful contribution. Motivating factors are mostly inherent in the work itself and in the person doing it, rather than external like hygiene factors.

Application: When seeking a job or career that will make you happy, look beyond whether a job meets basic hygiene factors and ask whether it meets motivational criteria. For instance, ask yourself:

  • Do I find this work meaningful?
  • Will I be able to learn and grow?
  • What are the opportunities to achieve and be recognized?
  • What kind of responsibility will I have?

Focus on the factors that really matter to you—those that make you love coming to work each day—and the hygiene factors, after a certain point, will take care of themselves.

Balance Plans With Opportunity

Understanding what motivates you is the first piece of a strategy for career happiness. The second is balancing your plans with unexpected opportunities that come up. You must understand this in order to find out how to love your job. 

If you want to discover how to find a job that makes you happy, the following advice will help:

Theory: Once formulated, every strategy continues to evolve in response to options that develop. There are two types of options:

1) Anticipated opportunities: These are opportunities you identify and choose to pursue as a deliberate strategy.

2) Unanticipated opportunities: These are a combination of problems and opportunities you run into while implementing your deliberate plan. When these unexpected things come up, you must decide whether to stick with the plan, adjust it, or replace it with one of the new options. You may make an outright decision, or an implicit one in which the cumulative impact of daily decisions evolves your strategy. A strategy that evolves this way is an emergent strategy.

Application: To decide when to pursue an option or to stay the course with your deliberate strategy, ask yourself: What assumptions have to be correct for this course of action to succeed? (Often plans are based on assumptions that are incorrect.) Specifically, when considering a job, ask yourself:

  • Why do you think you’d enjoy this job and how do you know this?
  • What would others have to do for you to succeed in the job? (For instance, the company would have to follow through on a promise to provide you with certain training.)
  • What assumptions do you have about the job that have to be right for you to succeed? Do you have control over these things? (For instance, you assume you would have a mentor, or the opportunity to work on new product development.)
  • What assumptions have to be right for you to be happy in the job? Are they hygiene or motivation factors? (For example, you’ll be able to work from home two days a week.)
  • How can you test your assumptions? (For example, if you’re assuming the company will keep its promise to provide training, ask for examples and dates of similar training the company has provided to employees.)

Align Resources With Priorities 

You can have a life strategy, understand your priorities and what motivates you, and adjust your plans for unexpected opportunities. But your stated strategy isn’t the one shaping your life unless it’s where you’re putting your resources—your energy, time, and money.

Resource allocation is the third component of your strategy: Where you spend your resources, intentionally or unintentionally, is your real strategy. It’s the accumulation of your daily decisions and actions. Follow the flow of your resources to determine whether you’re on track for where you say you want to go. This will help you figure out how to find a job that makes you happy. 

Theory: Many interests and priorities compete for resources. Where you spend your resources, intentionally or unintentionally, is your real strategy. It’s the accumulation of your daily decisions and actions. Follow the flow of your resources to determine whether you’re on track for where you say you want to go, or whether an unintended strategy has taken over.

Application: Your personal resources include your energy, time, talent, and wealth. You apply them to various enterprises in your life: your relationship with your spouse, parenting, relationships with others, succeeding in your career, health and personal interests, and contributing to your community. All of these things compete for your attention. In practice, many people allocate fewer resources to the things they say matter the most to them. Much unhappiness stems from prioritizing short-term goals, such as a bonus, promotion, or upscale lifestyle, rather than long-term objectives, such as a good marriage and raising children to be good people.

How to Love Your Job in 3 Simple Steps

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Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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