Fulfillment is a big topic in the world today, especially in the realm of career.  From Quiet Quitting to the Great Resignation to the more affirming topics of purpose and values at work, an existential restlessness seems to be bubbling up to the surface of our collective consciousness in post-Pandemic life.   

Fulfillment can feel elusive.  But over the course of my career as a leader and coach, I have observed five enemies of career fulfillment: assumptions or behaviors that will kill your chances of career fulfillment if you don’t address them.  With awareness and shifts in your mindset, you can find fulfillment in your career right where you are.  

Can you relate to any of these 5 Enemies of Fulfillment?

  1. Arbitrary expectations around career path.  Many of us seek or presume we will find, a career path that we can follow in a steady line—with ever-increasing fulfillment and satisfaction as we march along it.  

Instead: Think of your career as a mosaic, rather than a ladder or even a path.  In today’s world of continual change, a career rarely follows a direct line.  Instead, what if it were a collection of experiences that, when looked at from a bird’s-eye view, uncovered who you are becoming?  What if each experience gave you an opportunity to contribute, make a difference, and explore?  And what if instead of predicting your career trajectory, you looked back on it to learn more about you: who you are becoming and what you want to leave behind?  Reframing the story of your career as a mosaic rather than a well-groomed path allows for surprise opportunities and a deeper connection between your career and yourself.

2. (Still) Saying “Yes” to Everything.  Early in your career, you learn who you are by saying “yes”.  And that is natural during a stage of expansion and experimentation.  But later in life, it may become a reflex rather than a fun or exciting thing to do. 

Instead: Later in your career, learn who you are by saying “no”.  Rather than a blank canvas on which you form a career by adding more, think of it as a sculpture.  Chip away at what doesn’t serve you in order to get clearer on who you are.  Ask yourself what no longer fits, and make moves in your job and career to release those things and uncover the masterpiece that is you.

3. Doing things out of obligation rather than by choice.    How often do you do something because you “should” rather than because you choose to?  We are always at choice, but sometimes our sense of obligation or fear leads us to believe we are not.  

Instead: Reduce-or better yet, eliminate altogether—the “should” in your day.  If you find yourself saying you “should” do something, ask yourself what you are afraid of.  

Find choice in everything you do.  And if you can’t find choice, then don’t do it.

4. Doubling down on “powering through” as a success strategy.  In the early days of our careers, we may have had some success resulting from intense bursts of work.  As a result, many of us try to have more of those bursts in order to attain more success.  But this approach results in diminishing returns.  As we age, our ability to focus sustainably declines sharply by our mid-40s.  This is why that hard-core approach that used to be energizing now is killing you.  

Instead: Find new ways of working and embrace the wisdom acquired through your years of experience.  Share that as your unique value rather than trying to compete with younger people who are naturally at a different stage of life, with different things to offer.  As we grow older, the nature of the intelligence we bring to the work equation changes.  

5. Success defined by milestones or by other people.  

How many milestones have you achieved that did not fill you with the satisfaction you thought they would?  No matter what milestone you reach, the satisfaction is always fleeting.  That likely leads you to chase more milestones, even though the reward promises to be just as fleeting as the previous one, if not more.  It sounds a lot like addiction, which it is.

Instead: Question your default terms for success.  Ask yourself, “what will I feel when I achieve this?” and then look for ways to feel that way throughout your career journey.   That way, you’re not holding your breath waiting for success to happen and then watching it slip away in the rearview mirror.

What Leads To Real Career Fulfillment

Career fulfillment comes when we let go of expectations put upon us by others or by versions of ourselves that we have since outgrown.   In doing so, we clear the way to find how our career is moving us closer to who we are becoming and even surprising ourselves with our true potential.  

Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps executive women get what they want from a career they love, so they can make their full impact on the world. Visit www.wendyhultmark.com to learn more.