Know what you need
Much research shows that well-being, fulfillment, and success are all closely related to needs being met. Obviously, we need food, water, sleep, and warmth. Yet, we also need to feel loved, like we belong, that we can succeed, that we are worthwhile and important, and that we are safe in all corners of our universe. As humans, we also have needs that are unique and specific to our own conditions. Some of us value independence while others seek collaboration. Some of us need directions while others prefer to start with a blank slate. Some of us are dreamers, some of us are doers, and some of us thrive in the middle. Some of us need to be busy and others of us need to build ample free-time into our lives. We usually think about these needs in the context of our homes and relationships, and sometimes we think about what we need in terms of a work environment or supervisor. Yet, when looking for a job, we often focus on titles and responsibilities rather than our specific needs in the context of a living, breathing, changing organization that existed before we got there.
To increase the likelihood of job satisfaction, we must become aware of and subsequently name what it is that we need from a workplace, supervisor, organization leadership, coworkers, colleagues in other departments, job responsibilities, and even a job in general. What brings you the most joy? Do you need to feel joyful at work? What causes you the most frustration and angst? Can you survive if you regularly feel frustrated or angsty at your job? What are the must-haves and what are the nice-to-haves? What are your non-negotiables? Is money, job title, prestige, or ego driving you? Do you need the big paycheck, title, or recognition? Are you pursuing work that uses your gifts, meets your needs, and enriches your soul? Do you need to feel purposeful and enriched every day?
Knowing what we need matters. And we must be honest with ourselves when our “dream job” on paper doesn’t check the necessary boxes. Recently, I was offered a big position that would have increased my salary by 40% and given me a level of influence that I have been dreaming about for years. For a while, I was hypnotized by the opportunity and perhaps more dangerously, I was prideful and feeling quite good about myself. Yet, when I looked at my life, my must-haves, my non-negotiables, and what I need out of my next role, this “dream job” was reduced to a list of responsibilities that felt burdensome, exhausting, and suffocating. While I would have been able to do good and important work, and certainly create change on a larger scale, the needs that are not being met in my currently place of employment would not have been met in this new place either. What a frustrating revelation! But also, what an important one! Trapped on a disgusting train surrounded by sweaty anonymous faces, I scribbled the following in my notebook— “what’s the point of having money and influence if your soul is dying?” In hindsight, this sentiment was perhaps a bit melodramatic; the first draft of my epiphanies usually is. However, the subtext was spot on. In the end, there were a lot of reasons to turn down the job—timing and location being huge factors—but the most important reason was that this role wasn’t going to give me what I needed to be the best version of myself personally or professionally. How lucky I am to know myself well enough (most of the time) to hear that message over the potentially-deafening and echoing cheers of my ego.
Of course, I do not yet have this science perfected, but I am committed to practicing and helping others become more attuned to what they need and to also believe that they deserve their needs to be met in the first place. As a part of our weekly supervision, my current intern and I are looking at job descriptions and dissecting them from the lens of her needs and what she is looking for in her first job out of graduate school. I’m asking her to look beyond the job responsibilities unto themselves and to instead focus on the language of the posting, the values expressed in the mission, and how the culture of the agency is portrayed in the agency description. I ask her what pieces of the descriptions excite her and what scares her, what inspires her and what fills her with dread. I also make it a point to ask what she needs from me and our organization in the next few months to help her prepare for a job like the one we are looking at. While job descriptions are not close to a perfect indicator of what a job will actually be like, we are practicing a skill that I think is frequently overlooked. No first job is going to be perfect, but when the time comes, I want her to know that her needs matter. I want her, and all of us, to be able to make informed decisions not based solely on salary or opportunity, but based on who we are and how we want to live and work in the world. Knowing and naming our needs is one of the first steps.