Joy, Money, and Flow: The Three Qualities of Purposeful Work


*My book, Born for This, is all about helping you find the work you were meant to do. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: There’s more than one possible path. Use the Joy-Money-Flow model to find the best one.

There are plenty of things you could do with your career, but the people who are most successful have found the perfect combination of joy, money, and flow. They’ve won the career lottery by finding this combination—and they don’t have to choose between their money and their life.

Above all else, finding the work you were meant to do should be your number one career goal.

Take a look at this image to see more about why each quality is important:


Let’s break this down a bit more.

Joy: what you like to do.

“Do what you love” may be a tired phrase, but there’s hardly a better aspiration for a set of activities that take up to forty hours a week (or more) from the rest of our lives. It’s hard to be truly happy if you don’t fundamentally enjoy how you spend most of your time.

This doesn’t mean that every moment has to be amazing—even career lottery winners occasionally have to make photocopies and file expense reports. No one can do everything they love 100% of the time, but that’s not really the goal. Generally speaking, we want our work to “spark joy.” We want to be excited about it!

Money: what supports and sustains you.

In the search for your dream job or career, money is hardly a secondary concern. You have to make a living. If you have a family, you need to provide for them. In the career lottery, that ideal scenario we’re looking for, the work you do provides all the money you need to live comfortably. If it makes you rich, so much the better—there’s nothing wrong with being rich. But even if it doesn’t lead to a bulging bank account, it also shouldn’t lead to the poorhouse.

Money isn’t everything, in other words, but it’s hard to love your life if you’re constantly stressed about paying the bills on time.

Flow: what you’re really good at.

Have you ever lost track of time when immersed in a project you love? Have you ever taken on a role that was paid—but you liked it so much, you would have gladly done it for free? We’ll call this condition flow: the art of maximizing skill and getting lost in something you’re really good at. This condition, like joy and money, is essential to our equation of “the work you were meant to do.”

There are lots of things we all could do somewhat well, or even pretty well. Flow work is different. You don’t do it somewhat well or even pretty well; you do it really well. It comes naturally and easy to you. Other people are impressed or even amazed by how effortlessly you seem to achieve great results. How does she do that? they wonder.

As is the case with joy, you don’t always need to be in flow mode. More likely, you’ll have periods of flow work interspersed throughout more regular periods of work. But just as you want work that “sparks joy” most of the time, you want to position yourself to be in the place of flow as much as possible.

When you’ve found your ideal combination, you’ll know it. It will feel like it was right there waiting for you all along. That’s the beauty of finding the work you were born to do.

Born for This is available from or your favorite local bookseller. You can also take the free quiz or join me on tour in your choice of more than 30 cities.


Image: Foam

Subscribe now and you’ll get the best posts of all time.