Oliver Segovia wrote a piece on the subject of finding happiness. He argues that instead of following our passions, we should focus on finding big problems:
Like myself, today’s twentysomethings were raised to find our dreams and follow them. But it’s a different world. And as the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? I propose a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems.
Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. You stop dwelling. You become less self-absorbed. Ironically, we become happier if we worry less about what makes us happy.
I think he hits the nail on the head. Humans are hard-wired problem solvers. Further, we get satisfaction from tending to the needs of others. A clear line of sight to the customer is important for job satisfaction and feeling passionate about what we do. Steve Denning expresses it well in The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management:
The meaning that we see in work resides in the responses of the people for whom we are doing the work.
And my personal favorite:
The meaning of the software we’re coding doesn’t lie in bits and bytes; it’s in the cool things that users can do with the software.