RAF CROUGHTON, England --
Job satisfaction is an elusive beast. It has escaped me many times in my military career, especially in my early years. Prior to my commission, I built computers, installed networks and developed applications for small businesses. It was easy to find my sense of satisfaction. The efforts of my work immediately translated into not only monetary reward but also joy and gratitude from the customers that I served. I was excited to start and complete new projects. The more work I did the more pride I had doing it because I knew the sense of satisfaction I would have once the work was complete. This changed entirely when I joined the Air Force.
For those of us that have the opportunity to be at the “tip of the spear” it is easy to understand the importance and impact that our work has on achieving a goal. For many others, we end up so far removed that we are unable to comprehend the value of the menial or undesirable tasks we are asked to perform daily. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of undesirable tasks. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people desire recognition for their contributions. But let’s be realistic, we are not going to get an award for answering a phone on night shift, completing a CBT or closing a hot tasker. Additionally, you are not always going to hear “great or outstanding job today” from your supervisor or your leadership for the routine work you do every day. Now, this could be because you think your supervisor and/or your leadership failed to recognize your superior skills, but more than likely this is because doing a great or outstanding job is the standard. So how does one stay motivated and find job satisfaction?
I admit that I may not be as fast as others and it took me several years to realize that I needed to redefine what job satisfaction meant to me. Completing projects in the Air Force takes a lot longer than I was accustomed to before joining. Many projects I would start but never see them to completion due to PCSing. How am I supposed to get any satisfaction if I could never finish anything? How do I stay motivated to complete a project when it takes years to execute? This was when I realized that I was not going to be able to obtain the job satisfaction I needed. So I did what I think most people do. I contemplated separating from the Air Force. Admittedly, there are more satisfying jobs outside the Air Force, where I could get back to the level of job satisfaction I wanted.
The fact that I’m writing this article means that I did not separate. I attribute this more to my superior procrastination abilities than anything else. However, this did allow me the time I needed to reflect and redefine job satisfaction for myself. I realized that I no longer wanted to rely on anyone else for my own job satisfaction. I did not want to wait for someone in my leadership chain to tell me “great job” for me to feel good about what I was doing. Also, I did not want to wait two or three years to finish a project to finally get some satisfaction. I wanted job satisfaction all the time.
Job satisfaction became less about what it meant to others and more about what it meant to me. This isn’t to say that understanding the role I play in the overall mission isn’t important. It absolutely is. The more I’ve learned about the Air Force the more I understand and appreciate how my efforts support the overall mission. But this is not where I draw my job satisfaction. My job satisfaction stems from pride.
Pride in my work has been the constant throughout my career whenever there was a sense of satisfaction. In looking back, the times when I had the least job satisfaction I also had the least pride in the work I was doing. When I realized this, it revolutionized my world. I no longer had to rely on anyone else for my job satisfaction. I did not have to wait years to finish a project. I was in complete control of my own job satisfaction. If I wanted job satisfaction all I had to do was take pride in the work I was doing. It now did not matter what task I was given. If I did it with pride I knew there would be satisfaction. I continue to do this today. I may not always realize the impact of the tasks given to me, nor will I always receive recognition for my efforts. I will, however always try my best at every task and job because my pride is the source of my job satisfaction.
If you are struggling with job satisfaction I encourage you to look at what you are doing and ask yourself if you are taking pride in it. Have you done your very best in completing this task? Can you walk away after completing the task and say to yourself if you could not have done it any better? Become an expert in your job. Strive to be better at your job than anyone else and motivate those around you. If, after you do this, you feel that you want to show off what you have done like a child shows off their kindergarten art work, then that is all the job satisfaction you need for we do not serve for ourselves or glory. Aim high, Airmen.