Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

4 Things People Who Truly Enjoy Their Work Do Differently

co-workers laughing courtesy Christopher Robbins/Getty Images

While it’s true that terrible jobs are often directly related to a horrible boss or boring, tedious work, things that can be hard to problem-solve, many people have found a way to enjoy what they do in spite of a few outstanding negatives. A recent study showed that 49.6% of people enjoy their jobs.

Even though almost half of employees like their jobs, if you’re part of the 50.4% of people who don’t, it can be hard not to see folks who love what they do as unicorns of the workplace. People who’ve been given access to the best jobs and opportunities and who have all the chips falling into place. The lucky ones.

But the truth is, more often than not, people who are satisfied with their jobs simply do a few things differently than everyone else—they don’t necessarily have the best managers or a to-do list full of very important items. Here’s what sets them apart:

1. They Don’t Seek Perfection

Although this may come as a shock—especially while scrolling through your social media feeds and seeing all those people bragging about their dream jobs—fulfillment is in large part about attitude. No one has a “perfect” work situation. If you were to take a peek behind the scenes of someone who likes their job, you’d probably find they still have to deal with the unavoidable challenges we all face (like recovering from a mistake or dealing with a condescending colleague), and that some days really aren’t so great.

Instead of obsessing over the mishaps though (or even the fact that their boss is super moody), they embrace the positive parts. They don’t attempt to love every moment of every day. They know that a certain amount of drudgery and politics is par for the course, and they relish the meaty assignments and opportunity to contribute their talents. Giving up the illusion of perfection separates them and ultimately makes them feel more satisfied.

2. They Set Career Goals

As a HR professional and career coach, I encounter individuals almost daily who are at varying levels of job satisfaction. What I’ve found is if you ask people who are unsatisfied what their professional goals are for the next three, six, or 12 months, most of them will likely tell you they’re not sure. Or if they do have goals, they tend to be non-specific and don’t get to the heart of what will help them appreciate their work more.

Setting career goals for yourself allows you to have a sense of direction, motivation, and accountability. People who love their jobs know this and are always striving toward something. Whether it’s getting a promotion, a title change, or more autonomy, there’s a constant desire to achieve. And because there’s always something else to look forward to (learning a new skill, finding a new mentor, becoming a mentor), there’s little time for things to feel stagnant.

3. They Play to Their Strengths

Although we’ve all been taught (and it may feel like a no-brainer) to focus on strengthening our weaknesses, people who enjoy their work generally spend most of their time on things they’re skilled in.

Continuing to excel at the things you do well—like solving complex problems for your team or presenting your ideas in front of large audiences—is much easier than trying to improve in the areas where you’re struggling (and perhaps have always struggled). Plus, the satisfaction you feel from doing a good job, will go a long way when it comes to overall fulfillment. Emphasizing your unique strengths will make you more confident and increase the likelihood that you’ll want to operate at your highest level, which is basically a prerequisite to enjoying what you do for work.

4. They Have Friends at Work

People who like their job, more often than not, also like their co-workers. When you’re comfortable with the people you work with every day, it’s easier to be your authentic self, there’s more space for your creativity to flow, and there’s also room for you to vent your frustrations (something we all need from time to time). This means you’re more likely to share your goals (no matter how ambitious or lofty) and to express your opinions (even if they’re different from everyone else’s).

You don’t have to force yourself to become BFFs with every single person in the office, but you should make an effort to build genuine relationships with your colleagues since it’s been shown to lead to more engagement and satisfaction at work.

If you’ve resigned yourself to being unhappy at your job, ask yourself if you’ve done everything you can to make your situation better. Have you tried to accept the parts you can’t change (like the open office set up or the shoddy internet)? Do you throw yourself into work you have a chance to make stand out? Do you give yourself a pat on the back when you complete a project or receive praise from your team? Do you approach each day with at least a neutral mindset, hopeful for good things to come as opposed to waiting for everything to crash and burn?

Obviously, there are certain situations that no amount of acceptance or willed positivity can fix, but dire scenarios aside, see if you can’t also be one of the lucky ones by following these ideas.