Career Hierarchy of Needs

If you’d asked me three months ago what I wanted in my career, I would have had an answer. Not a ten-step nor a ten-year plan, but an answer.

I don’t today. And, okay. This could be for any number of other reasons (pandemic that makes planning feel a bit futile aside). I have, in fact, become rather obsessed with trees, and therefore spend a little less time thinking about software. But I don’t think that’s it. Rather, I changed jobs recently, which has made it harder for me to see the (career) forest through the (metaphorical) trees.

Many people are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and perhaps there’s a corollary in careers. Something like this:

So the hierarchy of career needs and their corollary to more general human needs would be something like:

  1. Be employed with a living wage (physiological needs)
  2. Have physical and psychological safety (safety needs)
  3. Feel competent and like a contributing member of the team (belongingness & love)
  4. Have interesting and challenging problems to work on (esteem needs)
  5. ? - not sure what’s up here…can someone who’s made it let me know? (self-actualization)

This is purely a hypothesis on my part, of course, something that’s been bouncing around in my head, as I’ve been considering why I feel less clarity around my long-term career since changing jobs: doing so caused me to drop from “level 4” to “level 3.” That’s nothing against my new job — I have every reason to believe, and evidence to support it, that there are interesting and challenging problems, and growth opportunities here as well. But I’m learning a new programming language, a new problem space, new team processes and dynamics. So, yes, at the moment I’m working toward consistently feeling competent and useful. And then I’ll figure out what’s next.