Dimensions of Work

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I’m a data nerd.  Easy to admit…no shame…it is what it is.  You want proof?  This is what a data nerd does when he:

Given my proclivity for data-fying otherwise normal parts of my life, it should come as no surprise that I’ve put some thought into measuring my career over the last 20+ years of my life.  You know how someone casually asks you how your job is going and then you struggle to answer succinctly or truthfully, but you end up going off on some long overly-descriptive narrative of your career aspirations?  Been there.  So what I tried to do is to quantify my career.  This would allow me to have a much clearer picture of how things are going (at least for my own internal satisfaction…not sure if any other person would get it or care).

If we’re going to quantify, we need to agree on some dimensions first.  As I look back on my career, I found there to be four dimensions that I’ve used to measure the impact of what I do five days a week:

  • Compensation.  This is an easy one, especially since it’s already a number
  • Intellectual Stimulation.  How much does what I do on a week to week basis excite me? Is it new and creative or is it fairly monotonous?
  • Societal Impact.  Does what I do for a living help make the world a little bit of a better place?
  • Work/Life Balance.  Unlike others, I think work/life balance is vital.  That’s just me.  I’m a family guy and balance is a good thing for me

I looked back at my career, year by year, since I got out of business school in 1996.  I made simple spreadsheet and gave a 1-10 rating for each year and each dimension.  The result of this exercise is this simple chart:

You can see the year by year trajectory of my career and how I would rate it over time.  The most important thing here is that there is a lot of subjectivity in these numbers.  My assessment friends call it inter-rater reliability.  Let’s say I was making $75,000 a year at a job in 2005 and I rated that a 5 out of 10.  I guarantee you other people would rate it differently.  All four dimensions are subjective.  I might think I’m in a job that is a 7 out of 10 for societal impact, but how would someone who has worked for Doctors Without Borders rate their jobs?  Given the subjectivity, though, here are some observations:

  1. First and most importantly, I am one lucky son of a gun.  I was raised in a good family environment, my parents put a focus on education, I was able to afford college, I’m white, I’m male.  No matter how you slice things, I was given a leg up from Day One
  2. I like that there’s a nice upwards trajectory to my career.  I might be projecting/rationalizing, but I’d like to think I took steps to increase my overall satisfaction from time to time
  3. That pink area in 2000 was my Dot Com era.  I took a hit here in a couple of ways.  I dropped in Compensation (due to the touch-and-go nature of startups) and I also dropped in Societal Impact (working on new CRM tools wasn’t really world-changing)
  4. Notice I didn’t take a hit during the Great Recession of 2009.  I was lucky enough to be in a stable role and not be impacted like so many others at the time
  5. 2013 was my Blue Canary phase where I started my own analytics company.  The big tradeoff here was a drop in compensation for an increase in intellectual stimulation.  That was a fun trade, and it was one that I was able to make because of the stability of the previous years.  I could take a hit to my compensation because I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck.  I was fortunate for that bet to pay off with the acquisition of my company (see the Compensation bar in 2017)
  6. In my current role, I feel I’ve got a great balance of all of the dimensions of work.  It’s been my time doing higher ed analytics consulting over the last 18 months that triggered the creation of this blog post.  I’ve been able to build off of my experience, my domain expertise, and my network to get to a point where I’ve maximized most of these career dimensions.  Like I said…I’m one lucky son of a gun

This was a fun exercise, and my hope is that sharing it will allow others to take a more objective look at their careers.  In my experience, people who make moves to change their careers usually end up coming out with a positive impact.  Conversely, staying put and accepting a sub-optimal state because of golden handcuffs or fear of the unknown isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the stagnation can be tough.  If I can encourage one person to take a quantitative view of their career, assess what’s important, and make a move to improve, then that’ll make me a happy man.  Hey…maybe I should add that as a fifth dimension?


  • Singing the WHEN song brother! This is the 1-1 soul searching, dig deep, and am I finding (living) my WHEN? Wellness and Well- Being. Many are searching daily for ‘any glimmer of good data on themselves’….Too much to write and for here, just proud of you, especially open sharing! Awesome and glad I could be a part of. Journey rolls on. More to discuss…may the “shark” ways and data karma stay with you!
    YOU made my AM!

  • Josh J

    Love it, Mike, What about health and wellness as a 5th? I’m guessing it would between 6 and 8 every year, which is why it’s not on here. But if suddenly went to 2 or 3, everything else would change dramatically.

    • admin

      Health and happiness are the north stars of life…no doubt I look at health independently from my job. I think a poor work/life balance can have an impact on health, so I’d cover that part in the Work/life dimension. If, heaven forbid, I got hit with a health problem, that would cause me to adjust the weightings of these characteristics. I might be willing to trade off compensation or intellectual stimulation so I can increase work/life balance and take time to get better. I’m glad you brought up health, though. It’s not something to overlook.

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