What is it that keeps figuring out fulfillment from becoming self-indulgent and isolating? Seeking career fulfillment, after all, is fundamentally and literally a self-centered pursuit. It’s all about looking out for number one.
True, there can be elements that add some dimensionality to it. Those who find personal satisfaction in helping others often follow career paths that incorporate altruism or service. They might be teachers or ministers or doctors or counselors. Or they might be farmers or salesmen or engineers or mechanics who find or make ways to manifest their benevolence.
But even those folks, who surely are thinking of other people as they perform their work, are thinking of themselves as they settle upon what work to perform. At least they should be, if career fulfillment is any consideration – and if it is not, then the sustainability of such career choices is questionable. People who take career fulfillment seriously must eventually accept their own personal responsibility for their own personal satisfaction. What, then, can keep them from sliding down that slippery slope into cold-hearted objectivism, selfishness, or greed?
It all comes down to how you look at the fact that we all are, or should be, engaged in our own individual struggles for fulfillment. You could see it as “every man for himself” – a kind of uber-competition in which each of us must fight against the world and everyone else in it to attain whatever gain and satisfaction he or she can. But this approach focuses only on the goal. Worse yet, it presumes that that goal is somehow in limited supply – that one cannot afford to do anything that might facilitate someone else’s fulfillment, for fear that that would lessen one’s own.
Alternatively, you could recognize the beauty, comfort, and solidarity that comes from focusing on the struggle for fulfillment itself, and from recognizing that our shared struggles are what make us human. The people you work with, the people you know, your friends and family – everyone will face the same kinds of hope and anxiety that you are facing in your career, and in the scheme of things it is very rare that anyone else’s aims must conflict with your own. Even when two people are competing for the same position, it is not a competition for a sole source of career fulfillment. There is, in fact, no guarantee that that position will add to either competitor’s fulfillment; and in any case, there are always alternatives.
No single goal is more important than the pursuit, and the pursuit is something that drives all of us. So take responsibility for your own satisfaction, yes; but do not allow that to turn your focus only upon yourself. Use the common pursuit as a basis for connection – a jumping-off point for brainstorming, commiseration, networking, and, whenever possible, celebration – and you will enrich not only your experience of pursuing career fulfillment, but also the means by which you pursue it.