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Fulfillment in our day job has been gone from a desire to a demand. Many people speculate why, but whatever the reason, research backs up the claim that happy employees are more productive employees. This belief has shined a spotlight on work-life balance for employers and employees alike and begs the question, “How do we find the right job or create a work environment that will leave us feeling fulfilled and meet our most important needs?” This may mean taking responsibility for our own skills development rather than expecting our employers to do it for us. Let’s look at three different stages of work and how fulfillment of work-life balance fits into each.

Phase I: Landing a Job

Finding a job is where it all starts and often depends more on making ends meet and what’s available while you are looking than what you want to do to satisfy your biggest dreams. When your 9-5 is a necessity and not a dream, fulfillment can be difficult. You can maximize your opportunity to feel satisfied by identifying job skills you can learn and apply to your career progression. In this stage, you refine your ability to work with others and navigate the expectations of the work world while building your employability skills and learning how complete benefit forms and taxes and for the first time. Work-life balance in this stage can be stressful because you are giving your employer 40 hours or more and going home to study and learn after work while balancing other things in life that require your attention. You may be using your personal time off to attend seminars or training opportunities that have nothing to do with your job but everything to do with your long-term goals. While sometimes stressful, this period can still be a fulfilling time in your career if you can identify the value in self-study and how your personal sacrifices for professional development can launch you into your career.

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Phase II: Planning Your Career

It pays to be strategic about the time you use developing your skills and matching them to a realistic career path.  When HR became my career, my job evolved into something beyond a necessity. I ended up on a path that started with administrative work and, after skills testing, gave me the opportunity to fast track to a talent management career. I realized that recruiting and talent management was fulfilling for me, so I looked for ways to grow in that aspect of my work on my own time. To start the process of setting myself apart to transform my 9-5 job into a fulfilling career, I made a decision to pay for my education on my own and use my own time to study for a certification in my field. When you invest your own time in skills training, people take notice and networking naturally follows. When people see you take initiative to become better, they become a key factor in connecting you with opportunities to transition from job to career. In this phase, even though it takes time to invest in yourself outside of your workday, you will become more empowered to strike a work-life balance and define the sweet spot for your training goals.

Phase III: Working for Yourself

This phase of work is the point in your career when you’ve become a subject matter expert in your area and you’ve built your professional network and potential customer base. It’s the point where you transfer the skills training you’ve accumulated throughout your career into an option where you determine your own your schedule. With instant access to continuous development and the many ways consumers are accustomed to looking for products and services, it makes sense that people would be drawn to entrepreneurship as a fulfilling work option, but, surprisingly, this can be the most challenging phase for juggling your work-life balance. If you are not intentional and do not set boundaries between your work and personal life, the lines can become blurred and you can find yourself less fulfilled with no time for professional development.

Wherever you are in your work phases, the best way to ensure your happiness is to invest in yourself and continue to learn and develop your skills. Don’t be afraid to seek your own personal development if you are in a place where your employer won’t. You own your work-life balance, and managing that and your skills development well is the key to avoiding an unfulfilling job.


  • Kamy says:

    I believe employees should go through all these phases in order to find their true fulfillment.

  • Lisa says:

    Great article. However, some people are stuck in one phase without even realizing there is something better ahead of them.

  • Corey says:

    I loved the way you emphasized that skills training is the key to personal and professional development, no matter which phase you find yourself in.

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