Does the Perfect Job exist?

“How do you deal with the existential angst that the perfect job doesn’t exist?”

I was asked this heavy question from a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed MBA student at a recent talk.

“You know there’s a company that pays you $1,000 to take the week off,” I responded.

“But there’s a rub,” I continued. “In order to collect the money you need to satisfy two conditions. You are not allowed to log onto Slack or check your email.”

In a lecture room where half the students were aspiring to be bankers or consultants – I could see their jaws hit the floor.

I wasn’t fibbing. The company is called ConvertKit and here’s a tweet about their “paid paid” vacation policy. (Full Disclosure: I have a small investment in the company, but they had zero influence on this article.)

While this didn’t necessarily alleviate the existential angst of these MBAs searching for a dream job, it provided an aha moment for many. They realized that there were jobs out there that gave you space to live your life, take care of your physical and mental health and spend time with your families – all while making a good living.

But it also fell short of answering the question: Does the perfect job exist?

It turns out that “job” (like “money” and “success”) is a container for many things we hold dear in our lives.

You can think of a job as a “container” for:

  • Financial security
  • Identity and status
  • Flexibility
  • Craftsmanship
  • Impact and meaning
  • Learning
  • Socialization

And if you evaluate a job – any job – through this lens, you’ll realize that the perfect job is in the eye of the beholder.

Let’s take Wall Street Wally:

For Wall Street Wally, in an industry with average compensation of $260,000 he’s probably not fretting about paying his rent (i.e. financial security).

His ability to get free court-side tickets to basketball games probably makes his Identity and Status feel quite secure.

And Wally’s grueling hours (and occasional all-nighters) give him a chance to socialize (or commiserate) with his fellow colleagues at the expense of being always tethered to his email (i.e. a complete renunciation of his flexibility).

Wally’s pride in putting his skills to work (craftsmanship), the impact it has on society (impact) and what he’s learning are all question marks. They’re highly dependent on what Wally wants out of his life.

So let’s pivot to our next candidate: Remote Rachel.

Remote Rachel has made an explicit trade-off: she wants full control of her time, no commute and the ability to see her kids throughout the day at the expense of socializing in an office. Yup, she’s willing to give up on the office happy hours, holiday parties and giant staff meetings.

But since remote-only companies tend to be less known, she might be giving up some status. It’s unlikely that she’s giving up any financial security (although relative to Wall Street Wally, aren’t we all?!?!). And Craft, Impact, and Meaning are once again personal questions to be answered.

Finally, let’s look at Phil-anthropist:

Now we all know that Phil-anthropist has explicitly decided to design a career around impact and meaning. Its likely (but not guaranteed) that he’s sacrificed some income in this pursuit. Yet all the other categories remain as question marks.

So does the perfect job exist?

By now, you’ve probably realized a few things.

First, each of us will prioritize the categories differently. Some categories, may bring zero value into your life. This is a very personal exercise.

Next, the categories themselves will have differing definitions to different people. Take the status that comes with a Wall Street career. If you move to a small town in Italy, it probably won’t carry over. (In fact, for many, Wall Street has negative status – a view I do not personally hold.)

Lastly, craftsmanship, learning, impact and meaning transcend all job types and are deeply personal.

A carpenter can take as much pride in their craft as a consultant.

Learning can be a lifelong pursuit, and not dictated by your boss’ agenda.

Even impact and meaning require deeper self-analysis. I often reference Charles Eisenstein’s concept of “big” versus “small” impact:

I began to understand that our concepts of big impact versus small impact are part of what needs to be healed. Our culture validates and celebrates those who are out there with big platforms speaking to millions of people, while ignoring those who do humble, quiet work, taking care of just one sick person, one child, or one small place on this earth.

When I meet one of these people, I know that their impact doesnโ€™t depend on their kind action going viral on the internet and reaching millions of people. Even if no one ever knows and no one ever thanks them for taking in that old woman with dementia and sacrificing a normal life to care for her, that choice sends ripples outward through the fabric of causality. On a five hundred or five thousand year timescale, the impact is no smaller than anything a President does.

So what about the $1,000 to not check your email? Pretty dope – yet pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

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