What’s to Love in a Job? (Part 1 of 2)

by Shana Montesol Johnson

heart-in-binderSome people are die-hard romantics, making reservations for Valentine’s dinner months in advance, or crafting hand-made cards for loved ones.  Others ascribe to my brother-in-law’s philosophy that “Valentine’s Day is for amateurs.”  Regardless of where you stand, the holiday is around the corner and it’s a good time to think not only about the people we love, but what there is to love in a job.

After all, we spend about 38% of our waking hours working.  We might as well devote our time and energy to work that we like, enjoy, or even, love. Wouldn’t that make life a lot sweeter?

I asked blog readers, friends, and acquaintances – most of who work in international development – to share one thing they love about their job. I enjoyed reading their answers, and found their enthusiasm contagious.  Some requested I keep their comments anonymous, while others were happy to share names, job titles, and organizations.

The responses fell into four general categories of what’s to love in a job. In order to share as many responses as possible, I’ve divided them into two blog posts – today’s post will cover the first two categories, and another post, to be published on Valentine’s Day, will address the last two categories.

Impact + Making a Difference

Many of the responses had something to do with making a difference through one’s job. As Laurel MacLaren, The Asia Foundation’s Deputy Country Representative for Indonesia, said, “The thing I love most about my job is meeting the heroes of Indonesia’s democratization: activists promoting transparency and participation, government insiders making the system more responsive to the people, elected officials pushing to hold government accountable. Sitting in Jakarta and reading the news, one can’t help but feel pessimistic about Indonesia’s future. But by getting out and meeting the real movers-and-shakers, we hear a different story, one that is dynamic and full of hope. At the end of the day, that’s what motivates me, knowing that my up-stream work is channeling resources and assistance to people who are making a difference. And knowing I make a difference is what I love about my job.

From Indonesia to Myanmar, having an impact is satisfying.  Says Chris Herink, National Director, World Vision Myanmar, “I love when I can see the impact of our work — farmers with increased rice yields, young children learning at early childhood centers, families with improved hygiene practices, child soldiers re-united with their families, and more.”

On a similar note, Lisa Kircher Lumbao, Chief of Party for the USAID Philippine Sanitation Alliance (run by AECOM International Development), shared, “I love implementing environmental projects with local government and water utility partners because I get to make a real difference on the ground….I also like the fact that the cities and water utilities are spending their own money to build the wastewater treatment facilities, so they are much more committed to the projects and most importantly, to operate and maintain them properly.”

Seeing concrete impact is rewarding.  Remarked a USAID employee in Indonesia, “One thing that I love about my job is being able to go into the field, and connect tangible improvements in people’s quality of life with some document that I had approved.  It really makes the time spent in the office at my desk pushing papers all worthwhile.  For example, I approved a sub-contract for construction to extend piped water connections in a village in Northern Sumatra….A few months later, I happened to visit the area during a monitoring visit. I walked through the village and saw piped water connections and faucets outside of every home in the village.  I was told that previously, families had to walk several blocks to the communal taps for water. One of the Indonesian staff on the project remembered that I had been involved, and pointed it out to me, that I helped to make this all possible.

Alanna Shaikh, health sector consultant and blogger at Blood and Milk, said what she loves about her job is “watching the news and feeling like I can affect it.

Related to making an impact is working for an organization whose mission is aligned with your own values.  “I think what has kept me here for 8+ years is that I strongly believe in the organization’s mission and objectives,” shared an economist at a multi-lateral development bank.

“I simply love the fact that we are helping other people realize their vision/goals.  We provide financing to “mom-and-pop”-type businesses, which allows them to grow their business,” said Wes Hawk, Vice President of Operations at ForwardLine Financial.

Autonomy & Flexibility

Having a job that gives us autonomy to do the work we like can make a huge difference.  An economist working at a European think tank remarked, “I love the freedom that my job affords me – I have near carte blanche to pursue the research interests that I enjoy.

An investment officer at a multi-lateral development bank said the best part of the job is “The ability to assess the needs of a developing market/sector and try to design an innovative finance mechanism to be responsive (and also be developmentally effective for the sector, the economy, the country).  I have the full autonomy and independence from my boss to do this.”

Flexibility can also be extremely important. An independent consultant to development organizations shared, “As a mom, I greatly appreciate the flexibility to set my own hours and work from home, which has been key to maintaining balance in my personal and professional pursuits. As an expat, such flexibility also allows me to travel for long periods of time to discover a new place or catch up with family back home without worrying about vacation time limits.”

How about you? Does your job afford you flexibility, autonomy, and/or the chance to make an impact?  What do you love about your job?  Please share in the comments below – and let me know if you’d like to be included in next week’s blog post.  And happy early Valentine’s Day to both the amateurs and the die-hard romantics!

Photo by aWee

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