Do What You Love

As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog on the same topic, Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, executive director of product development for Kuder, weighs in on the importance of doing what you love.

In her article In the Name of Love, Miya Tokumitsu seems to divide workers into two categories: those who have found occupations or jobs that are related to their interests, knowledge, and values and are enjoying job satisfaction, and those who have not. She also seems to divide occupations into two groups: those that she views as pleasurable self-fulfillment activities and those that she views as drudgery-based activities.

I would like to provide a different perspective. First, we can divide people into broad categories: those who have spent time and energy figuring out what their interests, skills, and values are and how to implement them in work, and those who have not. People in the first group had to pursue and complete the preparatory course work, education or training needed to enter the occupations they identified as compatible ones. For some, the struggle to finance and complete the needed education was more difficult than for others, but this had nothing to do with whether or not they selfishly wanted to have a pleasurable job.

The approximately 1,000 occupations described in U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET database are not organized by pleasurable and non-pleasurable. Rather, they are organized by six different kinds of work environments (Technical, Science and Mathematics, Arts, Social Services, Business Administration, and Business Operations) and by six levels of education or training, ranging from high school graduation through graduate work. Formal career assessments that measure interests, skills, and work values can help individuals focus on one or perhaps two of these six work environments. School achievement and motivation will plot individuals on one or perhaps two of the six levels of education or training. These are the dimensions – interests and educational motivation – that will determine where a person is positioned in the world of work, not social class or self-love.

I have spent my professional life – almost 50 years – in the study of theory about how individuals make career choices and in the development of print-based and technology-based tools to help them do so.

Career Development Theories

Traditional career choice and development theories, such as those of Drs. Donald E. Super and John L. Holland, tell us that one's choice of an occupation is a complex mix of internal characteristics and external influences. The primary internal characteristics are one's interests, abilities/skills, and values. The primary external influences are parents, peers, the economy, and the labor market. Super proposed that the choice of an occupation is the implementation of a self-concept. Holland proposed that the choice of an occupation is an attempt by an individual to find an environment where one's interests and skills can be used and where one's values can be reinforced. These concepts are highly related, and both theorists proposed that a person's job satisfaction is enhanced when these conditions are met.

A more recent theory, like one developed by Dr. Mark Savickas, proposes the concept that people, due to the impact of their environment, develop deep-seated life themes – such as helping others, contributing to society, or achieving a high level of perfection in all that they do. According to Savickas, individuals choose work-related activities through which they can play out these themes, thus giving meaning to their lives. And, Maslow's hierarchy of needs also relates to this concept because many people must address basic needs such as food, shelter and safety while others have the luxury to address needs related to self-fulfillment and self-concept implementation.

Application of Theories in the Real World

So, where do these theories lead us as we attempt to help youth and adults with career decisions? First, we should help individuals gain a clear self-concept, which includes a clear understanding of their interests, current skills (or those they can develop), and values. In this mix, some will lead with interests and seek to do only those work tasks for which they have passion. Others will lead with skills or talents and perform work tasks for which they sense great self-efficacy. Still others will lead with values, perhaps even to the exclusion of their interests, because satisfying their values gives meaning to their lives.

jobs in demand

Second, when (and this is typical), work cannot be found that satisfies all three of the personal characteristics – interests, skills/abilities, and values – we need to help individuals determine how to distribute these across various life roles. Super defined career as the combination of all activities being performed at a given point in time across life roles. He identified the following primary life roles: son/daughter, student, worker, spouse/partner, homemaker, parent, citizen, and leisurite. According to Super, the roles a person plays and the amount of time and intensity allocated to each is an individual choice. Thus, one person may seek and gain much or most life satisfaction through the worker role while another performs work tasks that appear to be boring and meaningless, but derives life satisfaction and meaning through citizen (volunteer) or homemaker roles.

I learned a long time ago – when I was a junior in college – not to impose my value system on the choices of others. At the time, I was a chemistry major and had a summer job in the lab of a company that made ink and paste. When I had spare time, I would leave the lab and go down and work on the assembly line where workers placed a cap on bottles of ink or paste before a machine tightened the caps. I found this to be a very boring job, and I wondered how people who had to do it every day could stand it. As I engaged in conversation with the others on the assembly line, however, they expressed their pity that I had so much responsibility for the company's products (children eat a lot of paste!) and that I “took my job home with me each day.” They were pleased that at the end of their shift, they could go home to their families without being concerned about work. In other words, their value system was different from mine, and we were each implementing our own value system through the work that we chose.

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About The Author

Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey

Since joining Kuder in 2005, Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, Executive Director of Product Development, has worked extensively with state departments of education and labor in the conceptualization and implementation of education and career planning websites that serve as a virtual center for stu ... read more