Examine Your Values to Find Career Happiness

Examine Your Values to Find Career Happiness

If you feel there's more to your career choice than the amount of money you'll make or how much advancement potential you'll have, you're not alone.

In a 2004 Northwestern Mutual survey of the college classes of 2001 and 2004, three-fourths of the 1,700-plus respondents said that how they spend their time on the job is more important than how much money they make. Most of these respondents were "Millennials," or members of Generation Y, aged 21 to 23 who said they want work that:

  • Helps others.
  • Allows them to have an impact on the world.
  • Surrounds them with idealistic and committed coworkers.
  • Requires creativity.

In another 2004 study conducted by Universum Communications, more than 40 percent of the college students surveyed said they were looking for jobs that offer increasingly challenging assignments. And in a 2003 study published in the Journal of the First-Year Experience, the 100 college seniors surveyed listed "not enjoying my job" and "finding a job where I will be able to make a difference" as among their most pressing career decision-making concerns.

"This is a ‘We Generation' and not a ‘Me Generation,'" says Harlan Wahrman, director of corporate and market research for Northwestern Mutual. "That they're concerned about the state of the world shows that Millennials are clearly in touch with their world. This is not a clueless bunch."

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Values

But you may feel clueless sometimes when it comes to choosing a career path that makes you happy. And be prepared for other students, family members or work colleagues who will admonish you for focusing too much on your idealism and not enough on practical matters like salary or climbing the corporate ladder.

The article "Work Values Checklist" discusses intrinsic values. According to the article, these differ from the more commonly cited extrinsic values (e.g., money, prestige, power) in that they provide the inner satisfaction and motivation that make people happy with their career path on a more intangible level.

You may have watched your own parents or other older adults put a high priority on more extrinsic career values during the '80s and '90s, only to wind up emotionally empty or without the high-paying, prestigious job they thought was so important. Is it really any wonder then that you might use a different standard to define your career happiness?

Here's a challenge for you: Make a list of the five intrinsic career values you feel are most important. Use the work values checklist to get started, or ask a counselor at your school's career center to show you another way to tackle this key task.

If you're looking for career satisfaction, you're not going to find it until you discover a path that meshes with what's inherently important to you. It's not easy, but you won't be the only one working to define career happiness your way.