At the Harvard Business blog , Gill Corkindale wonders whether it is realistic to expect work to make us happy:

According to Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, we are living in a unique era, when we are encouraged to seek happiness through work. The idea of work as a source of fulfillment has been around much longer (championed by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century), as has work as a source of meaning (articulated by Victor Frankl in the 1940s). Yet work as a source of happiness is something else. De Botton believes that while work has been important in all societies, it is now so closely tied up with our identity that the first question we ask new acquaintances is not where they come from, but what they do.

In his new book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work , de Botton interviews a range of workers, from rocket scientists to biscuit manufacturers to accountants to artists to find out what makes jobs fulfilling—or soul-destroying. One of the most disturbing discoveries he makes is that most of us are still working at jobs chosen for us by our sixteen-year-old selves.

My own sixteen-year-old self would have chosen for me to be a lawyer—a vocation which I would have been particularly ill-suited. Still, it was  a reasonable answer to the ever-present question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And in 1985 I could have never imagined where my career path would lead, since the technological changes that would pave the way were still in their infancy.

Which makes me wonder how I should advise my own sixteen-year-old daughter about her future plans for work. Should I emphasize the acquisition of certain marketable skills or should I encourage her to think about specific careers? The old cliche about doing work that you’d do even if you didn’t get paid worked out for me (eventually, though it was a long, circuitous route to get here). But is it realistic? Should young people now entering the workforce (and older folks who are looking for a change) tone down their expectations that their career will be a significant source of personal fulfillment?

Where does your job fit on the line between fulfilling and soul-destroying? And how would your teenage self feel about the work you do now?

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