3 Things you Need for Long-Term Career Satisfaction

Career Progression

This post’s key takeaways:

  1. Passion for what you do is important, but it’s not the only ‘P’ to focus on if you want to ensure a continued progression of your career
  2. Having a sense of purpose about the work you do is the second core component for career success, but just believing you are providing value is not enough–that belief must be validated by your leadership
  3. A propensity to win means having good ideas and being able to execute on them; this is the third piece to the career happiness puzzle
  4. If you can focus and execute on all 3 Ps, you’ll put yourself in prime position for sustained career progression


P1: Career Happiness Starts with Passion

P2: Career Success Requires Purpose

P3: Career Gains Come from a Propensity to Win


Many moons ago, an early mentor gave me some good advice. While listening to my entry level salary woes (read: I was out of the Ramen woods, but just barely,) she stopped me and said, “Swarna, when you’re passionate about the work you do, the money will come. Trust me.” I wanted to believe her—and in that moment, with my dollars dwindling daily, needed to believe her.

Well, it turns out she was onto something… but with some major caveats. Almost 15 years into my career, I have edited and amended her good advice, and have come up with my own message. The “money,” it turns out, is not only capital that can be quantified in economic terms, but also that which can be quantified in emotional ones. It’s not just about adding zeroes to your salary, but as you get further into your career, the level of happiness you feel about going to work each day becomes increasingly important… and when you’re really enlightened, possibly even more important than the paycheck itself.

In my estimation, to have a shot of getting to workplace utopia in terms of both money and happiness, there are three major boxes to check. And because I’m a sucker for alliteration, all three boxes start with a ‘P.’ Fire on 3Ps worth of cylinders, and you’ll be closer to feeling fulfilled at work… in your heart, your mind and, yes, even your bank account.

P1: Career Happiness Starts with Passion

The first ‘P’ is passion. Passion is the emotion you feel about the work you do; the excitement (whether moderate or intense) that fuels your drive and motivation to get your tasks and projects accomplished. Passion is the fire in your belly that comes from having interesting work, and just like excitement, that fire may burn brighter on some days versus others.

To have passion is to think about work in the off hours—a better way to do something, another idea for success, a potential solution for a challenging task; to have passion is to wake up early to get things done, to make one more call when sales are slow, to rally yourself to focus when times get tough. Imagine yourself in a cocoon, with no boss or outside forces to sway your opinion. When you’re in that separated state, do you enjoy the content of your job responsibilities? Do you feel compelled to do good work? If the answers are yes, then you have passion.

And while that’s a good place to start, it’s not enough. Passion is necessary and important, but it’s largely an internal orientation that guides personal satisfaction about the actual work you’re doing without a clear focus on the results. To clarify–you might love the work you’re doing, but if that work is not producing value that can be seen and felt, the passion you feel is at risk of being extinguished by forces outside of your control. So while passion is the first necessary component of career satisfaction, career success means that you’ve found a way to connect that passion with a sense of purpose.

P2: Career Success Requires Purpose

Where passion is the emotion you feel about your work, purpose is the value you know your work to deliver. There is an internal and external component to purpose. On the internal side, purpose is believing that the work you are doing is driving achievement against departmental or organizational objectives. On the external side, purpose is the acknowledgement that the work you are doing is in fact driving achievement against departmental or organizational objectives.

Often times, there is a disconnect between the belief and acknowledgement perspectives, meaning that while you believe you are doing value-driving work, your boss or customers don’t seem to co-sign. This is not an uncommon problem. It could be because you’re fixing broken processes that are not high enough visibility, doing work that is above the expertise of your management or simply not communicating your project list adequately.

Regardless of the reason, however, it’s nothing short of demoralizing to work hard without validation of your efforts. If you’re in this position, please don’t waste time lamenting on how insane it is that your boss, peers or customers can’t see the fabulosity of what you’re bringing to the table, because that’s all it is–a waste of time. Instead, if you have passion for your work, then it’s your responsibility to see this gap between belief and acknowledgment as an opportunity, and not as a deficiency.

If you become demotivated because you feel your value is not being recognized, you are at risk of losing your passion… and entering a self-fulfilling prophecy. If, however, you can rise above and see the disconnect as an opportunity to bring more visibility to your work, then you have a chance to not only stand out from the pack, but also to strengthen your relationships with management and customers alike. So what does it look like to resolve the disconnect between belief and acknowledgement? Well, that is all about responsible self-promotion, and you can bone up on that topic here.

P3: Career Gains Come from a Propensity to Win

The third ‘P’ is all about your tendency or inclination to win, and for the context of this post, I’ll propose a narrow definition of what that means. To win at work is to not only have ideas that advance organizational objectives, but to also execute on those ideas and drive them to completion. The combination of ideation and execution can be very hard to attain, but if you can do it in a meaningful and visible way a few times per year, you are on your way to making a real and irrefutable mark within your department and company. There are a couple of items that predicate a successful ideation/execution strategy; namely:

  • A firm understanding of what your departmental and organizational goals are. Make sure you understand the objectives your management team is driving toward so that you can conceptualize ideas and efforts that support accordingly. If you don’t feel you know what those objectives are, there’s only one way to resolve that deficiency—ask! During 1-on-1s with your boss, inquire about the broader objectives that your department is working toward, understand what your manager’s own personal goals are and propose thoughts and ideas on things you can do within your sphere to advance them. If your company holds town hall meetings, attend them and listen in earnest. Form relationships with peers in other departments to get a more holistic view of the tactical implementations that the broader organization is working on so that you can better understand how your piece fits into the larger puzzle. The intention here is to really understand the business you, your department and your company are in so that you can effectuate ideas that create positive, incremental steps toward achievement of organizational goals.
  • The ability to gain endorsement and buy-in for ideas before you execute. Earlier in my career, I learned (the hard way) that even if you know in your brain and heart that you have a seriously sick idea, the best way to kill it is to not do the due diligence of getting your boss enrolled in the concept first. Make sure you put a proposal together, in writing, and present this proposal to your boss before you begin doing any real execution. Think about questions your boss might throw at you and objections they may have, and incorporate those points into your proposal so you can address their potential concerns proactively. As far as what the actual proposal looks like, it can be anything from basic bullets to a few PowerPoint slides, but the important thing is to put pen to paper so that your idea looks well thought out and based in logic.

Focusing on and increasing your propensity to win will deliver future career opportunities in spades. As the propensity increases, there tends to be a directly proportionate increase in passion and purpose. And relationships with management and leadership also tend to grow in a positive and productive manner. Think about regular reporting you have to do to your upline management to keep them abreast of your work. It might be monthly bullets they ask for, a project tracker that you need to always update or a phone call from the boss asking what’s new, but in any case, the bottom line is this: throughout your career, you will be asked to give *someone* highlights of the work you are doing. And if that’s the not the case—if you’re reading this, and saying, “Ha, suckers; I don’t have to do that,” my advice to you is that you need to start doing it proactively! If none of the powers that be know how you’re spending your 9-5, I promise you will be one of the names that come up when times get tough and the chopping block comes out.

But I digress; back to the question at hand. When that *someone* comes to you and asks what you’ve been up to, rest assured that an answer like, “You know, the usual,” or “Status quo around here,” is NOT going to get them excited. What will get them excited, however, is a discussion on how the work you’re doing is mapping into their broader objectives, and what will get them to really remember you for future opportunities is your ability to communicate ideas that you have conceived and executed to achieve incremental steps toward those objectives. Your propensity to win will significantly affect the trajectory of your career. Delivering ideas is good, but executing on them is great, and will put you a cut above your competition.

So, there you have it—those are the 3Ps. In my experience, I’ve found that having engagement with one of them will produce short-term happiness, but that happiness is always at risk of subsiding or giving way to resentment once the immediate gratification of success with one P is overshadowed by a lack of activity in another. Having a more pronounced state of sustained and enduring happiness necessitates that all three Ps are activated at the same time.

There is also an increasing level of importance with respect to career growth as you move from Passion to Purpose to Propensity to Win. Having passion is important to your personal happiness in a position, but to leverage that passion for continued growth means having an internal sense of purpose that is validated by external forces, such as management and customers. Having passion and purpose will often be enough to justify growth and promotion. But to really accelerate that growth, and to really position yourself for a coveted senior level position later in your career, you must be focused on increasing your propensity to win. Between purpose and propensity to win lies the chasm that separates a good employee from a great employee. If ideas are the spark of organizational productivity, execution is the accelerant, but it takes a special person to fund both sides of the coin. And if you have aspirations for reaching the upper echelons of organizational management one day, that person should be you.

If you like this post, don’t like it, can think of 1-2 ways I could have made it better or just have questions, leave a comment below.


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