How Your Father’s Influence May Have Impacted Your Career

Our parents influence us in more ways than we know. You may think that your father’s influence hasn’t impacted your career very much (unless he’s your boss, of course, or worse – if you’re his).

You may be surprised to learn that nothing could be further from the truth! Biological or adopted, whether present or absent in our lives, the influences of our parents are crucial in determining how fulfilled we ultimately become in our working lives. So this blog post is dedicated to dads, and dads of dads – mine, and everyone else’s. Happy Father’s Day!


Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that we feel the relationship between personality and job satisfaction is mediated by fit – whether your personality matches your job, and the environment you do it in (we may have mentioned this notion once or twice before…wink). Our parents – both genetically and through the environment in which they raised us – determine the personalities we have as adults. In short, the people we become are shaped, through both nature and nurture, by our parents.

This means that we will likely share many traits with our fathers, and the types of job and work environment our fathers enjoy are likely to be similar to the ones we enjoy. This may not mean we enjoy the same specific job per se, but rather the deeper nature of the work and the culture in which it is carried out. For example, Joe’s dad may be a farmer, whereas Joe is software developer. Superficially, these two career paths sound very different, but there are similarities when you get right down to it. For example, both need attention to detail, patience, reliability, and a strong work ethic. Regardless of the specific jobs you both do, if your dad is/was happy in his work, you have a good chance of being the same – not least because you’ll have a similar personality.

Test it out – is your archetype blend similar to your dad’s? What about your Organizational Archetype? We bet there is a lot of overlap… maybe more than you might initially guess!  But similarity in personality isn’t the only way our dads can contribute to our happiness at work, and in life.

In his article The Heritability of Happiness, psychologist David Lykken puts forward evidence that happiness actually correlates very little with traditional markers of success – namely income, or professional and social prestige. Instead, Lykken’s study of twins in Minnesota led to the finding that happiness is largely innate: some of us are simply, by nature, happier than others! And because it’s heritable, if our fathers are happy, we’re more likely to be happy too! A number of other studies support the idea that job satisfaction, specifically, is genetically heritable .

But that’s not to say that happiness at work or in life is nothing more than a genetic lottery. Fathers contribute far more to our lives than a haphazard bit of genetic material – and besides, not all dads are biologically related to their children! What really matters is what fathers, biological or not, choose to give us – they are guides and teachers, role models for the people we aspire to be. As Alexander the Great said, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.” But a good father is ultimately a good teacher, too, whether directly, or indirectly just by virtue of being a good man.

So whether by nature, nurture, or both, our dads have a huge influence on our happiness – and one crucial way in which they can do this is by helping us to find what we love. In his article, Lykken cites the example of the wise father who, instead of forcing his car-obsessed son through college to obtain an ostensibly ‘better’ white-collar job, encouraged him to study auto mechanics and set up his own garage.

Of course, for many parents, the goal is for their children to achieve more than they did – to have better lives, where ‘better’ is often perceived as having more social status, prestige, and material wealth. Can it be true, as Lykken insists, that these things don’t really matter, when so many people value them instinctively?Was the kid happy and successful? Definitely. Was he more happy and successful than if he’d become a highly paid lawyer? Almost certainly, Lykken would argue, because ultimately it isn’t about money or power, it’s about finding where you fit. Find what you love and where you love to do it, and happiness will follow.

To understand the apparent contradiction, we may consider that the true gift money and prestige give us is freedom: the power to choose. Fortunately, we now live in a world where those kinds of choices are increasingly available to people. Instead of working our whole lives in the hope of gaining enough financial security to choose how we spend our retirement, we are lucky to have more and more opportunities to choose the environment in which we spend our working lives. We don’t have to wait to be happy; we can make the most of every second.

So perhaps the real aim for fathers (and mothers!) in the modern world should be to guide their children to seek out the opportunities which work for them as unique individuals, to enable them to choose happier lives, whether that happiness comes from being the CEO of a huge global company or a clerk in a family-run startup.

As John Lennon said: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Dr. Kerry Schofield is a chartered psychologist, statistician and researcher with over a decade of experience in experimental and organizational psychology.  She graduated from Oxford in 2003

Share with:


Career, job, skills