True or false: The key to career contentment is finding work that matches your skills, interests, and values.

That would seem true. For example, if you think quickly on your feet, are an environmentalist, and care about status, it’s reasonable to be a lawyer for an environmental nonprofit.

That’s reasonable but may be wrong. (See, for example, this article that asserts that status is often the enemy of contentment.)

You may more likely find career contentment by identifying your career non-negotiables. Whether or not you’re looking for a new career, do you want to do more to obtain one or more of these?

  • A fine boss: someone who will give you the right level and quality of supervision, who treats you with respect, and mentors you.
  • Compatible coworkers: those that bring out the best in you and perhaps are similar to you in intelligence, drive, and ethics.
  • Job security. Some people welcome jumping from employer to employer but many others crave security. That can yield not only a reliable paycheck but give you time to become more expert at your job and to negotiate your workplace’s culture and politics, and to develop long-term relationships with coworkers and customers. Many people enjoy growing older with a group of people, sharing their life’s major life events, joys, and even sorrows.
  • Learning opportunities. Examples: the aforementioned supervision, projects that enable you to learn desired skills and acquire interesting knowledge, and frequent employer-sponsored trainings--especially those retreats in Hawaii.
  • Work that isn’t too difficult. Surprisingly, many people don’t mind if some of their work is too easy. But if much is too hard, career contentment is impossible.
  • Pleasant environment. Few people find frou frou décor key to career contentment. Far more people need a workplace that’s quiet enough. That’s a problem not just in clanging factories but in, for example, in a cube farm. Also, even if you enjoy the outdoors, inclement weather can dampen worklife contentment.
  • Support. In some jobs, it’s critical to have adequate IT and administrative support.
  • Reasonable commute. This isn’t just a matter of length. For example, you may tolerate an hour’s commute on a pleasant train but not driving in gridlock.
  • Reasonable compensation, but beyond a basic middle-class income, additional compensation, after taxes, may not make you more content. As John Ruskin said, "Every increased possession loads us with new weariness."
  • Ethical mission, or at least one that isn’t clearly unethical. For example, you may find career contentment outside of a “social justice” career. For example, even if you build homes for the wealthy, isn't an executive, doctor, or lawyer entitled to a nice home as compensation for all that schooling, hard work, and responsibility? After all, most successful people have usually been paid all that money because their payers believe the service they provide is worth it. But it’s almost impossible to find career contentment if you’re doing such clearly unethical work as preying on the ignorant.
  • Other. Is there anything else you’d find crucial to your career contentment? A few possible examples: self-employment, a cause, working at home, working with (or not with) your spouse?

So, is there something you want to do differently as the result of reading this article? I

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. Marty Nemko's  bio is on Wikipedia.

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