Why It's Dangerous to Look to Your Career for Total Fulfillment

3 minute read

Within my first couple years out of college, I admit I had a career “crisis of faith.” I had pursued a business degree, majored in marketing, and gotten a job in content marketing and SEO at a growing software company. The seeds of a great marketing career had been planted.

So why wasn’t I happy?

I began to question whether I had made the right decision. Like many in my generation, I aspired to make a positive difference in the world. That idealism didn’t seem to gel with my day-to-day work. I asked myself, who am I helping? Is there a different career I could chose that would create a more positive impact?

I brought these concerns to my mentor at the time (someone I still consider among the smartest people I’ve ever met). The advice he gave me is something I’ll never forget: Don’t look to your career to fulfill every need in your life.

The concept completely changed my thinking. My ideas about what fulfillment my career would offer were most likely skewed by my parents’ professions in healthcare. As a physician and an RN, they spent their days healing people. By comparison, I spent my days trying to devise ways to rank our website and drive more leads. My mentor’s suggestion that I should turn to different places to fulfill different parts of my life flipped everything on its head.

This path of discovery helped me understand the source of my malaise: I was lacking a connection to a greater purpose in my work. My career was providing both creative and financial fulfillment, and my relationships took care of my needs for love and companionship, but this key element was missing.

How did I answer this need?

Another suggestion from the same mentor would lead me to find a meaningful way to contribute my unique skills to something bigger. In a discussion about building my resume, he asked whether I had any interest in joining the board of a non-profit. The idea had never occurred to me, but I began to ask around. I discovered a program sponsored by Cincinnati’s fine arts non-profit Artswave, called “Boardway Bound,” designed to prepare local professionals for board roles on the city’s myriad arts organizations. I signed up, and at the end of the course ended up matched with an organization I was involved in as a high school student: the Cappies.

The Critics and Awards Program (Cappies) is an international organization with more than a dozen chapters, Greater Cincinnati being among the largest, that celebrates and supports high school theatre. Turns out they needed a Communications and PR Director, and a chapter website. I was able to help on both fronts, and happy to give back to an organization that helped me as a student.

As a working board, we don’t have full-time staff; we do the work. This allows me to use the skills I’ve developed as a marketer to benefit a non-profit and create the positive community impact I was missing before I became involved.

What should you take away from this?

I won’t pretend that I have this whole thing figured out. But I believe more people, especially in today’s workaholic culture, would do well to branch out to find fulfillment beyond our jobs. I think it’s important to enjoy what you do 40+ hours a week and to get something out of it in addition to a paycheck, but it’s dangerous to let work be your whole life.

I hope this story can help others, especially my fellow marketers, realize that our skills and our passions can be put to use in ways that serve our communities and connect us to something greater.

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© 2020 by Natalie Adler Skarzynski.