Don’t Chase Career Fulfillment, Catch It

When I am writing (and in a creative groove), I have no concept of time. When I conduct statistical analysis for my research (and results are interesting), I forget to sleep. When I speak to a group (and really connect with the audience), I forget that I am introverted. Does this sound odd, or can you relate? Have you ever been so engaged with your task that you lose track of time, any sense of hunger or fatigue? If so, you have achieved a state of flow.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” to describe the state people achieve when they are so enjoying what they are doing that they become completely absorbed in an activity. Flow occurs when your skill-level and challenge-level are both high – and it is the key to happiness according to Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues.

If you’ve never reached this in your career, I want you to enjoy this heightened state of fulfillment. Many people do. You can too.

How do you get there? The keys to experiencing flow are opportunities to use your skills at a high level at a high-level challenge. Both of these, your skills and the challenge, are within your control. When considering your skills, try to identify your natural abilities. What are your talents? Your natural abilities, when leveraged and practiced over time, can become your high-level skills. When considering your level of challenge, you want to push yourself without setting unattainable goals. You want to maintain the efficacy and confidence that you can — and will — be successful. If your challenge is too low for your skill-level, you’ll be bored. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that at some point in our careers.

What income generating experience can you create for yourself that would leverage your skills on a stretch challenge? You can start a new career act (e.g., a new business or project, a profitable hobby ), one that leverages your skills at a high-level, to offer you a commensurate high-level challenge.

The greatest barrier holding us back from finding career acts that will bring us to this state of flow is the perception that we don’t have enough time to start something new. Time, however, is often embedded in perception rather than reality. How many hours per week do you work? Those who are most happy with their careers often have difficulty answering the question with accuracy or full confidence. They value their time but often don’t count the hours they work. Not surprisingly, many talk about enjoying themselves and losing track of time. AKA “flow”.

In researching the careers of many people who are both truly happy and financially-secure in their careers, they share this concept of flow across their income-generating career acts. They enjoy the emotional buzz of doing what they enjoy and continually shed the aspects of their multiple-act career they do not find fulfilling. Flow is a state you’ll experience, but the career that brings you to this state is a process.

Start today with a heightened self-awareness and willingness to keep moving closer to one’s ideal career acts. Building on your talents to create career acts that will offer multiple opportunities to achieve a state of flow is as close to a guarantee for career fulfillment as I can make.