The Secret to Finding a Fulfilling Career (or Three)

The Secret to Finding a Fulfilling Career (or Three)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Work

This is a guest post by Joanna Moore.

We’re taught to follow the specialist life plan by picking one thing to be: a schoolteacher, a midwife, a politician perhaps.

If we think about it, we can see that when someone decides to become one of these things, often they’re deciding what they want to do, and how they want to do it. For example, an aspiring teacher decides to educate children by explaining concepts in a classroom. An aspiring midwife chooses to deliver babies by working in a hospital.

We’ve got the what, and we’ve got the how, but, if you’ve heard of Simon Sinek, you’ll know that it’s the Why that’s most important.

The teacher who wants to pass on her love of learning to the next generation is more likely to have a fulfilling career than her colleague who picked teaching because he enjoyed giving presentations. And the politician who’s determined to achieve equality will be more passionate about his job than his rival who simply enjoys debating.

To pick a career then, it makes more sense focus on the Why than the What or the How.

Multipotentialites can use this approach to explore lots of different interests as part of one career path.

In December, Josh stressed the importance of expressing an idea before you choose a medium. And Emilie talks about finding your overarching theme – the idea that runs through or links everything you’re interested in – to build a business.

“Usually your overarching theme is very close to you. It’s less about a discrete topic, and more like a personal drive or value that you hold.”

Now why don’t we take that theme – that personal drive or value, that Why ­– and, instead of just applying it to individual projects or self-employment, apply it to more conventional employment? Rather than building a career around a What or a How, why not build one around a Why?

I found one overarching theme that links all of my career interests.

Once I hit the you’ve-got-to-be-realistic-about-your-career-now age, I decided I wanted to be a translator. I had my what – translating texts from another language into English -, and I had my how – working at a computer in an office, ideally one day for the European Union. I didn’t have a why.

You can probably guess that I didn’t become a translator. My frustration at not seeing any point to the texts I was translating during an internship, and the realization that my dream job basically meant copying debates about tomato sizes from Slovenian to English quickly put an end to that plan.

But, recently, I’ve started to think again about my career path, by looking at jobs I’ve enjoyed in the past, jobs I’m genuinely passionate about, and jobs that I don’t know much about but which appeal to me:

  • LGBT activist – encouraging people to accept other people the way they are
  • Author – writing young adult novels about accepting yourself, and going after the life you want
  • Teaching assistant – helping children find those ‘aha’ moments so that they believe in themselves
  • Personal trainer – helping people to become the way they want to be, and proud of themselves
  • Blogger – inspiring young people to live on purpose by working out who they are, and what they want

There’s a pretty obvious theme there of helping (young) people to feel good about themselves, and to improve their lives and self-esteem.

Once I noticed that theme – that Why – my jumbled collection of seemingly unrelated career interests made sense. I was also able to think of several more jobs that might give me the opportunity to help others feel good about themselves (beautician, counselor, child minder, tutor), which I think I’d enjoy.

Making your career about your Why – for example, helping others to feel good about themselves, or a How – for example, being a personal trainer, means that you can keep on achieving something you’re passionate about, whilst not getting fed up of doing the same things in the same industry forever. Once you’ve satisfied your interest in personal training, you can become a beautician, or start working on your novel.

Obviously there are drawbacks to hopping from one industry to another, but if you’re passionate enough about your Why, and enthusiastic enough about your latest interest, I think this approach has the potential to give rise to some very exciting careers.

Your Turn

What’s your Why? What draws you to your various pursuits?

Joanna Moore (Jo) runs Young Ambitions, a site which inspires and helps young people to figure out who they are and what they want in life, by living on purpose. Her free e-book, The Other Voice, explains how lifestyle design is letting down younger generations, and the ten things we all need to know about life. She also offers freelance design and illustration at


  1. Saul says:

    Great post! I like that your site is reaching out to a younger audience. I think we would all have had an easier time if we’d been introduced to these ideas when we were growing up!

  2. Lindy says:

    Thank you Jo, you brought back sense :-)
    The way you put it everything I would love to do at one point can indeed be smooshed together and still make sense. Love it.

    • Jo says:

      Lindy, I’m so glad this approach fits with your interests! I’d love to hear more about what you’d like to do, and how you see it fitting together.

      The good news is that society seems to be moving more towards multiple careers in one lifetime anyway, so this approach is becoming more commonplace and acceptable. When I heard of the phrase ‘portfolio career’ I felt so relieved and excited!

  3. Jo says:

    Thanks, Saul!

    Yeah, definitely! I think it’s awesome that lifestyle design exists to deal with midlife crises, but it could do with jumping in a bit earlier and preventing us from even having quarterlife crises. Really hope I can help with that.

  4. alicia-joy says:

    Hi Jo,

    Love this! Approaching career decisions and asking “why” can lead to more fulfilling experiences. Most people just come at it from the “what” -what are the tasks?-what does it pay?-etc..

    I also think that passion can be more of a “how” you do stuff, rather than so much “what” you do. Like you mentioned, passion and enthusiasm increase the chances of interesting career opportunities.

    Inspiring. Thank you.

    • Jo says:

      YES! Exactly! This week, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection, and so many things have come together. I’ve realised that the passions I’ve had throughout my life are the tools I’m going to use to get my message across. My hobbies are the hows, my message is the what, and my beliefs are the whys. I expect a lot of multipotentialites use their hobbies not as an end, but as a means to another end.

  5. Maricar says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

    It left a tear in my eyes after reading this. It just hit me that for a long time I‘ve been focusing only on the “what” and the “how” in choosing a career and never really thought about the “why”. I guess that‘s why I haven‘t found a fulfilling career up to now, plus the fact that I always tried to focus to only one of my passions as what the society dictates.

    I‘l take your advices as I figure out my own path.

    I‘m so glad i stumbled on this site. Thanks to you, and to Emilie, and all the people behind this.

    • Jo says:

      I’m SO glad this post was so useful and insightful for you. Even if it still takes a while to figure things out, I think you’re in a much better position if you can work out which different elements you’re looking for, like a what, a how, and a why.

      As Alicia-Joy said in her comment, I think a good way to combine things is to use the things you love doing as the means by which you achieve the thing you believe in.

      Good luck!

  6. Nicole Tilde says:

    I needed to read this today. I’ve done this, nailing myself down to a niche, because I thought I had to so many times. I’ve been referring to it as the elephant outgrowing its cage. Baby elephants are so cute and amazing, just like new life paths and fresh ideas. But we can’t cage ourselves into concepts. It doesn’t work that way. Knowing the why is like giving yourself safety without the cage – kind of – anyway that’s the only way I can think to explain it. Safety without confinement.

  7. Jo says:

    I love your baby elephant metaphor – new ideas and projects are just so exciting, but the excitement definitely wears off as they grow up. I hope you can find a way to play with all your baby elephants outside the cage!

  8. Rachel says:

    This is such great advice! It’s all about connecting the dots and seeing the patterns between your different interests. Thinking “why” instead of “what,” as you say. I also heard some great advice today: “Your passion is broader than how you express it. It doesn’t limit you to just one job.”

  9. Hong-Anh says:

    Thanks Jo for the nice writing. I did a similar thing recently – writing down a reflection on what I have been through in my career and why. I did it with an attempt to see what I should do next in my career. However, I did not come to a specific answer for my next career step but something else – my values in life – and decided that I would do anything that allows me to translate my values into action (human and environmental well-being, knowledge, positive social change).

    It was true that when looking back at what I have enjoyed doing in my life, I discovered that there was a missing question I forgot to ask myself, which I should have asked before asking what I want to do in my life. The question is “what is valuable in my life?”

    After that self-reflection I became very much clear with my desires in life. Now I am planning for my next steps with much less headache and much more confidence! I have just had a best job interview ever, simply because I answered the questions very quickly and straightforward because I understood myself really really well. Everything comes from your values (your why): your interests, your hobbies, your experiences, your achievements…

  10. Chris says:

    It absolutely baffles me how such a simple concept as this can be so easily glanced over by so many of us. The status quo of choosing careers based on income has gone on so long that it has embedded itself in the very fabric of our society with catastrophic results. Too many are living in poverty or relying on family because their passions don’t line up with what society dictates as valuable. We try to put that aside, suck it up and “play ball” by doing something just for the rent, etc.. With employers becoming more and more demanding of unconditional loyalty, faking such a thing is becoming harder and harder even with a hard work ethic. I am 40 and after a work injury I am now contemplating this very question. Thank you so much for simplifying the process for me. I only hope I can keep my hope and courage intact to fulfill my why.


  11. allgodsgomad says:

    Why isn’t this sort of thing taught in school? I remember so many interests being piqued throughout my education and nothing even close to this sort of approach was discussed. Not surprising considering the structure of classes (subject a from this period to this, subject b from then to then and so on). Also not surprising that I end up finding interdisciplinary studies classes have such a high allure for me whether I get a chance to take them or not.

14 Comments Trackbacks For This Post

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