Do You Want a "Designer Job?"

First there were designer jeans. Now there are designer professions!

Posted Mar 27, 2013

When I tell people that my job is traveling the world and studying happiness I am met with raised eyebrows. It is an interesting and unusual career and people typically have questions for me. These include “how do you measure happiness?” as well as “how can I be happier?” Not the first question they ask—but certainly one that consistently ranks among the top 10—is “how can I get your job?” They are clearly attracted to the seeming creativity, adventure, and intellectual stimulation of my work. My routine answer to them is simple and, perhaps, off-putting. I tell them, “my job does not exist.”

To provide you with a little context it is true, my job does not actually exist. I have published nearly 50 academic articles and a half a dozen books but I have never held a full time university position, received a government grant, or supervised a graduate student. I have conducted a decade of research and editorial responsibilities pretty much as a hobby. In order to pay the bills I have to get creative: I take on part-time teaching gigs, have a small coaching practice, and occasionally consult for companies.

Indeed, when I was a child I did not tell my friends that I wanted to grow up to be a cross-cultural researcher with a specialty in positive affect. I think I told them that I wanted to be Harrison Ford, which was—at the time—as close as it came. Many people still cling to the notion that traditional jobs such as being a librarian, bus driver, or attorney are the only options available to us. Certainly the school system and parental guidance track us more easily toward those vocations for which there is infrastructure, training, and opportunity.

With the advent of sophisticated telecommunication technology and increasing social and geographic mobility it is easier to create a designer job than at any time in history. I am not a one-in-a-million case. Far from it. I know a guy who transformed his love of scuba diving into a full time position inspecting the bottoms of house boats. I know another person who makes a living teaching small children to track animals in the wild. Still another acquaintance has traveled the world several times over as a photographer. We live in an age in which increasing individualism—despite its apparent faults—is offering people the chance to march to the beat of their own drummer.

The peril in striking off the beaten professional path is that there is seldom secure money and rarely widespread support. Creating your own designer job is not for the timid, and requires several character strengths to succeed. These include, but are not necessarily limited to: the willingness to fail occasionally, a clear sense of purpose, creativity, and a desire to work hard. Really hard. Designer jobs are not a cure for boredom or an antidote to the rate race. Rather, they are single-minded struggles from artists, visionaries and other passionate people who will not let convention stand in their way!

Are you a designer? I would love to hear the story of how you cobbled together your job! Please share.