How to find fulfillment at work?

By Dr.Panch Paul, MD

Many patients coming to my psychiatric clinic suffer from work related stress, anxiety and depression. Studies have found that only 50 percent of Americans are happy at their work. On average most people spend around 30 to 60 hours a week at work, or work-related tasks like commute, phones and emails. This is a significant chunk of our daily life. We spend one third to half of our adult productive life at work. How we spend the work hours plays a vital role in our mental and physical wellbeing. A fulfilling work, and a harmonious family are the keys a happy life. The common advice about finding and following your passion as a carrier is often inadequate. Here, I will discuss the key elements that will provide work place happiness:

1. Competence & Skill: In work, you will be judged by your performance. Invest time, energy and resources to acquire the skills. Researchers after studying experts in different fields have found that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach a level of mastery. Make sure to invest the time and resources to acquire the expertise your job demands. When you are good at what you do, you can be more relaxed at your work. This will help you cope with work related stress, and you will garner praise and appreciation which makes work gratifying.

2. Control and autonomy:

Nobody wants to be told what to do. Working for a micromanager can make work a hellish experience. Unless you are self-employed, the higher up you are in the corporate totem pole, the more control and autonomy you get. However, getting control before gaining competence can backfire. For example, when in my training, I hated seeing patients at night in the emergencies, and then again working the next sleep deprived. Many times, I had to work 48 hours without sleep in the process of becoming a medical doctor. I did it as I had no control over the situation, and it was a mandatory training requirement for the doctors. When I look back now, I realize, that I learned a lot from the experience. My lack of control as a student and a trainee on my work flow was a good thing as it forced me to go and learn outside my comfort zones. Many students drop out of college and school with the plan to be their own boss. Except a few rare successes, most end up worse. Because they wanted control and autonomy, before they had acquired the skill, most failed. Identify, which stage of carrier you are. Ask for more control and autonomy, only when you have mastered the crafts. Till then look it as a learning experience and a stepping stool.

3. Creativity and innovation: Human are creative by nature. Just observe a child, they are exploring their environment, manipulating objects, trying new ways to do things. However, over time we loose touch with our creative side. In most regular job, the room for creativity is limited to only a few at the top or in certain niche fields. If you cannot find a creative outlet in your job, don't worry. You can pursue a hobby, do volunteer work, arts, sports- whatever you enjoy. Everything we do, does not ned to generate money. But working with new ideas, innovating, creating - all keep our mind sharp. And, when a creative job opens up, you are ready. Many find creative job more fulfilling over a higher paying job.

4. Comradeship and work environment: Many high paying jobs also come with a stressful environment. Stress is bad for health and will rob one of their health and happiness. Work is enjoyable when you like your co-workers and get along well with them. I see patients developing anxiety, depression, and panic attacks working under a harsh supervisor, or in a hostile work environment. Also different offices have different culture, and many times it's a matter of weather you fit in or not. When we are surrounded by positive people, and are appreciated for our work, we perform better, and are happier at work.

5. Commute & Travel: On average people spend one hour or more in daily commute. This can become a big drain from your happiness. Higher commute time has been associated with more stress, fatigue and lower job satisfaction. I realized this more when I treated Dina. She was always sad and tired despite the best treatment. She had a job that she liked and lived in a neighborhood she enjoyed. But she was commuting 3 hours total for her job daily. Instead of having a 40-hour work week, she was having a 60-hour work week when all travel time was added. When she came home she was too tired for exercise, hobbies, cooking, or any fun activity. On weekends she was busy to keep up with all the chores. On my advice, she changed her department which allowed her to go to local office, and work from home on the rest of the days. Within a month, she felt more energetic, happier, and passionate about life.

6. Compensation & Benefits: Money is an important motivator for work and is linked to job satisfaction. But do not judge a job prospect by money only. Studies have also shown that once your annual income exceeds 80,000 for a single household, and 120,000 for family- any further increase in earning do not contribute to greater happiness. On the contrary, if you overwork to earn more money, then you will have less time and energy to spend with family and friends. In addition, exercise, nutrition, and sleep suffers. Overwork for extra money in the long run will lead to burn out, chronic stress, and sickness. A healthy work life balance will keep you healthy and happy, and also prolong your work life.

Finally, we are human, and not machines. We all come with our strengths and weakness, along with personality quirks. The key to job satisfaction is the ability to do the job well. When you become a master at what you do, people will overlook some of your weakness and give you breathing room to improve. You can then leverage your superior skill to gain greater control, higher autonomy, better compensation, creative freedom, flexible schedule which all contributes to a fulfilling job. In words of Cal Newport, just following your passion when choosing or doing work is a bad idea. Do not ask what value the job can add to your life, but the right question is - what value you can bring to the job. If you like this article, you may also enjoy the book by Cal Newport- 'So Good They Can't Ignore You & Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love'. Good luck for the good work.

Dr. Panchajanya 'Panch' Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA - is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. Call 7704541252 or email to schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul at Georgia Behavioral Health Professionals. He is also the author of 2 books- Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon.