What I Learned About Job Satisfaction From 5 Jobs In 5 Years

What I Learned From 5 Jobs In 5 Years


Mar. 9 2017, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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I’ve had many jobs in my life — starting way back with McDonald’s as a drive-through attendant. Up until recently, this was the best job I ever had. It hit all the marks that I now realize are critical to my job satisfaction, including respect from management and autonomy.

I did not realize those were the reasons I loved that job until a career shake-up in spring of 2016, followed by a 2-week long stint not-right-for-me job that I started to realize what makes me most happy in my career. 

Now I’ve had five jobs in five years, and with each one, I learned a little more about what job fulfillment means to me.

Being Challenged Is Vital

I left my first full-time writing gig after a year and a half, where I learned how to manage a blog, grow a social media presence, and run a guest posting program — always consistently challenged.

I left because I was unhappy with management, and felt my new job would be a step-up in my career. Unfortunately, I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. With more people and a corporate organization, I was using fewer skills and had much less responsibility. Instead of managing writers and social media growth, I was simply writing — a lot; 10 to 15 articles a week.

This was the first time I equated being challenged with job satisfaction and was ultimately the reason why I left my second job.

Autonomy Is Important

Autonomy is regularly referenced as a way to improve employee satisfaction and reduce burnout. In a recent survey, 53 percent of respondents said that they were totally satisfied when they had complete control in their job.

When referencing my favorite past jobs, I now always reference my third job, as Director of Social Outreach where I experienced a great deal of autonomy. While I was truly passionate about the work we were doing in the education field, I was hired as and treated as an expert. My higher ups (the CEOs and co-founders of the business) trusted that I knew what I was doing and how to do it.

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I flourished in this environment. Rather than being stifled, as I was in job number two, I was empowered. More importantly, it was up to me to be successful — I had no one else to fall back on because I was a one-woman team.

My current job, which is a mix of freelance and contract work, provides me complete autonomy. This style of work appeals to me because I know how I work best. Without someone managing my time or requiring meeting after meeting, I can schedule my work to reflect the way I prefer to work, increasing job satisfaction by leaps and bounds.

Being Respected Is More Important Than Being Successful

In the 2016 SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report, 67 percent of respondents reported respectful treatment of employees at all levels as being “very important.”

This respect translates in a variety of ways in the workplace. For me, being heard and getting feedback are two of the most important factors in feeling respected. In many cases, I found this to be more important to my overall job satisfaction than being successful in my work. 

I realize now that this was the reason why I left jobs number one and two and loved jobs number three and five. 

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Sometimes A Job Just Isn’t Right

As I recently wrote in, 5 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Job Satisfaction, thanks to job number four, I know job satisfaction is not always possible. There was nothing wrong with my fourth job. I was set up to do the things I was good at, in an industry where I wanted to be working, but it still wasn’t right. 

From day one, I found that I was disengaged and anxious to go to the office. I spent a little less than two weeks pushing through before finally deciding it was not going to get better. 

The factors that dictate job satisfaction are different for everyone and recognizing them for yourself will allow you to find a job that is fulfilling, both mentally and financially. If you’re not satisfied with your job now, ask yourself why. Look back on past positions and do the same. Reflect on why you did or did not like them. Refer to this mental list when job searching and interviewing to find something you’ll be the most satisfied with. 

It took me five jobs to find one that best satisfied me. Get in tune with what you want and need in a career now, don’t wait. 

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