Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of “The Power of Habit,” has written a fascinating piece for the New York Times about attending his 15th reunion where he learned that not only were many of his former classmates not overjoyed by their professional lives, they were miserable. After citing some examples, Duhigg noted:
But even among my more sanguine classmates, there was a lingering sense of professional disappointment. They talked about missed promotions, disaffected children and billable hours in divorce court. They complained about jobs that were unfulfilling, tedious or just plain bad.
Based on that, Duhigg began looking for data about the nation’s professional psyche. What he found out was that his classmates were hardly unique in their dissatisfaction. Even in a boom economy, a surprising portion of Americans are professionally miserable.
Nevertheless, Duhigg did uncover something interesting and well worth noting:
They tended to be the also-rans of the class, the ones who failed to get the jobs they wanted when they graduated. They had been passed over by McKinsey & Company and Google, Goldman Sachs and Apple, the big venture-capital firms and prestigious investment houses. Instead, they were forced to scramble for work — and thus to grapple, earlier in their careers, with the trade-offs that life inevitably demands. These late bloomers seemed to have learned the lessons about workplace meaning preached by people like Barry Schwartz. It wasn’t that their workplaces were enlightened or (as far as I could tell) that H.B.S. had taught them anything special. Rather, they had learned from their own setbacks. And often they wound up richer, more powerful and more content than everyone else.
The whole piece is well worth reading – especially if your professional career has not turned out the way you expected.