A behavioral economist explains why it’s okay that you’ll never find the perfect job

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A classmate of mine once asked a professor how and when she knew that academia was the right choice for her.

"I still don’t!" she responded.

I remember being shocked — like an adult is questioning her career choices? Not possible.

Maybe, though, she wasn’t second-guessing her decisions so much as acknowledging that any relatively similar role could have made her happy, as long as she worked at it.

Business Insider recently spoke with Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and the author of the new book "Payoff," and he talked about the myth of the ideal job.

"What people don’t understand is that we also have the capacity to bend the job to our will," he said.

"So if we see somebody being a good fit for their job, it’s not because this was them, this was the job, and there was a magical matching. It was probably a long process in which the person changed a little bit and the job changed a little bit."

Psychologists call this process "job crafting," or molding your job so that it becomes more meaningful to you. In one classic study on job crafting, some members of a cleaning crew at a university hospital regularly performed behaviors that weren’t listed in their job descriptions, like spending time with patients who seemed upset.

Research suggests that employees who engage in job crafting are happier and perform better than their coworkers who don’t go through this process.

In other words, it’s not that you find the ideal job; it’s that you create one. That might take time, in which you learn more about yourself and about what’s possible at your workplace.

Maybe you decide that what you’re really interested in is helping people develop, and so you move into a management role at your company. Or, maybe you realize that you love doing research, and so you have a conversation with your boss about making time for that task during the day.

Here’s Ariely:

"People have a view that they need to find their ideal job in the beginning, not realizing that we change over our lives. We learn new skills; we adapt; and also the job adapts as well."

He went on:

"It’s kind of a difficult observation because it says, ‘Don’t look for the perfect job.’ It means, ‘Look for a job that is in the general direction of your skills and passion and so on.’

"Don’t worry too much about the perfect fit because if you look for the perfect fit you’ll never find it."

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SEE ALSO: A Yale professor explains how to turn a boring job into a meaningful career

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5 ways great managers build amazing teams

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As a manager, asking this question scared me a little. I posed it to each of the engineers on my team last month in our one-on-one’s and I worried about how they would respond. Did they feel safe enough to answer honestly or would I get fluff answers that side-stepped the question? Imagine my surprise when I got more constructive feedback from this one question than I had in my entire first year of managing the engineering team at HelloSign, feedback about the happiness of my teammates, their thoughts on our technical direction, and ways I could improve both. Now…

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A Manager’s Guide to Self Managing Teams

An agile team that finds its groove is a precious thing. A group of smart diverse people, passionate about their shared purpose, openly collaborating and continually experimenting can do amazing things. They don’t need managing in the traditional sense so what can leaders/managers who work with these teams do to help them?

Don’t Tell, Ask

Questions are your most powerful tool. A strong team will thrive on them. Trying to tell an autonomous team what to do will be received with disdain, and they may use it as a scapegoat for any even vaguely related problems. What you can do is ask questions that will help them think in a rigourous way about their choices. Ask the awkward questions that they might be ignoring. What is the benefit to x related to its cost? By questioning in this way you can encourage them to think more critically and avoid becoming complacent.

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When Job Hopping Goes Wrong

While surfing a thread about a potential job change in Reddit’s /r/cscareerquestions (DISCLOSURE: I’m a mod), I read the following comment:

"There is no such thing as ruining a career by switching jobs too often"

At the time this was the most upvoted comment in the thread, which troubled me because it is rather poor advice. I’ve written about my appreciation for job hoppers in the past once or twice, but I would never suggest to a reader that unlimited job changes would have a positive impact on a career.

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Leave Work Unassigned and See Who Steps Forward

Early in my career, I noticed the project managers in my company drove nicer cars than we programmers did. (This was back before companies had learned to fully value their technical staff.) After a few years of noticing those nicer cars, I asked my boss what I needed to do to become a project manager. He told me, "When you start acting like a manager, I’ll make you a manager."
This advice wasn’t unique…

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How the happiest companies in America boost morale and the bottom line


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“Being able to be truly happy at work is one of the keys to being happy in life”, says Heidi Golledge, the CEO and cofounder of CareerBliss. However, happiness doesn’t just give employees the benefit of having a satisfied life as it also has economic benefits for the company. A recent study by the law school of Illinois regarding happiness and business profitability found that implementing workplace policies that foster happiness may increase productivity thereby increasing the company’s wealth. They also found policies designed to maximize profits such has having strict rules or output, may be counterintuitive as they displace employee happiness,…

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7 ways to make an employee happy without giving them a raise

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A high salary, large bonuses and frequent raises isn’t the silver bullet to employee happiness. Just look at the number of stories where people quit their lofty high-paying jobs for ones that might offer them more freedom, adventure or purpose. For example, Gravity Payments recently raised the minimum salary of their employees to $70,000 a year to be implemented over the next three years. Although the majority of employees were ecstatic upon hearing the announcement, not all employees were elated. This is reflected by two of their staff quitting shortly after the policy kicked into play which just goes to…

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