How Settling For Less Can Lead to More When It Comes to Career Satisfaction

At the beginning of our careers, we are often not afforded the luxury of landing a co-called ‘dream job’, if such a thing even exists. In a season of high turnover matched with strong demand for talent, it’s easy to get lost in the concept of chasing the next great role or company. The adage ‘the grass isn’t always greener’ seems rather antiquated when a person is staring at a job offer that provides a 50% compensation jump. Yet, should we allow compensation to be the sole driver of career satisfaction?

Determining personal and professional satisfaction within the context of one’s career can be broken down into three main areas of assessment:

  1. Role / Responsibilities
  2. Culture
  3. Compensation

These three categories can frame a current or future career opportunity for confirmation of, or challenge, whether it’s the right fit for you. What can be called a career trifecta is achieved when an individual assessment results in complete satisfaction across all three areas. However, we should challenge the notion that anyone can ever truly achieve a career trifecta. Can we get close? We can certainly try! Instead, however, we should use the career trifecta as an evaluation tool for our current professional situation to assist with tough decisions, such as whether career moves could, or even should, be made.

Role & Responsibilities

Every job posting will include a role and responsibilities section to highlight what candidates can expect when they land a role. Sometimes they are accurate and other times they are misleading or fail to adequately paint the full picture of a role, especially as it grows or morphs over time. As job seekers, we use this section of a job posting as a way to evaluate our own career goals and desires against what opportunities a job market may afford.

When exploring job satisfaction, it’s important to consider the scope of work you are performing consistently for your current role. Determine whether or not you are achieving professional growth, opening doors to new opportunities and experiences, or finding fulfillment in the projects or activities you perform. Or, perhaps you are building skills that you would be unable to develop if you took on a different role.

Your evaluation can also extend to whether or not the company or role is within an industry you desire to be working. For example, you may be passionate about digital marketing and the consumer’s journey with a brand. This type of role can exist within several industries, from healthcare to e-commerce to agriculture. Yet, you may desire to work within the entertainment industry because it more closely aligns with your personal passions.


There are many layers to the culture of an organization. Your work environment can be impacted by:

  • Corporate vision, goals, or purpose
  • Direct manager(s)
  • Co-workers (either on your team or those with which you are frequently cross-functionally collaborating)
  • Executive and/or senior leadership (top-down orders that have a major impact across the organization and at the individual contributor level)
  • Physical and/or virtual workplace environments
  • Corporate investment in its workforce

When it comes to employee turnover, corporate culture is 10 times more important as a predictor of turnover. It is often difficult to spot a toxic or otherwise undesirable work environment from the outside. If a company is large enough, reviews on Glassdoor may provide insight into the actual culture practiced daily by leaders and individual contributors. Or, scouting out former employees on LinkedIn to ask about their experiences and why they left can be helpful, assuming there hasn’t been a major cultural shift following their tenure.

In a post-pandemic world, culture can also mean understanding whether you desire a work environment that is completely remote, completely in-office, or a hybrid mix of the two. Our work environments often become one of the dominant social outlets in our lives, too. Understanding the investment by a company into employee relationship building, or the company’s focus on fostering an environment for such activities may be insightful to evaluate culture.


Our compensation offerings often rely heavily on our negotiation skills and ability to provide supportive data, yet still remain heavily dependent upon a number of external factors – such as department budget, market supply and demand for certain positions, or long-standing biases. At a foundational level, compensation is a decision driven by largely the needs an individual must meet for basic living requirements, layered with any additional financial goals or desires. Yet, it is an area that seems largely out of our control when we are on the receiving end of offers or negotiating for higher pay as part of a promotion or annual review. We’re left with a delicate dance between an individual worker’s financial needs or goals and the budget constraints (whether legitimate or not) of the employer. 

For example, accepting an offer for a highly compensated job knowing it involves entering into either a toxic culture or doing work you hate may be a decision made that is sustainable for the short-term with the promise of financial freedom or independence from money-driven decisions later in your career. On the other hand, it may be a trade-off when entering into an industry you love where financial rewards may come after years of lower pay, working your way up the ladder.

When assessing compensation as an area of satisfaction, data becomes key. Researching the range of salary a job market supports is an important first step in determining whether or not your current or future role will meet your desired compensation goals. If you find that your current role is already near or at the top of the market, it can allow you to focus on ways in which you can increase satisfaction in the other two areas of your career. However, if you are below what the market supports, reliable data can be a tool you use to negotiate with your current or future employer for a more fulfilling compensation structure. It may also be an opportunity to explore whether or not you want to pivot to an entirely different career path.

Finding the Right Mix

It’s important to take time throughout your career for reflection to determine an appropriate mix of role and responsibility, culture, and compensation. It’s quite possible to find yourself in moments along your professional journey where you feel that you have achieved the career trifecta. However, it may not last due to a variety of reasons – burnout or boredom, inflation, or change in management.

If you come away with an imbalance across the three areas, you are able to have a solid foundation for determining what, if any, next steps you are willing to take. Toxic work environments that impact our mental, emotional, or physical well-being often drive us to leave work we love doing or compensation that exceeds our current financial needs. Aside from these situations, there may be opportunities to negotiate for a higher salary or a development path towards a more rewarding workload.

It’s easy for an outsider to question your decision to not give as much weight to one or more of the three areas. I’d counterargue that some career milestones come about as the result of strategically settling for less. Strategically building out a long-term plan using the career trifecta framework can lead to greater overall satisfaction with your career in the short term and the decisions you make as you navigate your future.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash