The 17 most fulfilling jobs

A bernese mountain dog looks at the veterinarian who pets its head while wearing green gloves while the dog's owner smiles in the background.Image: A bernese mountain dog looks at the veterinarian who pets its head while wearing green gloves while the dog's owner smiles in the background.
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There can be much to consider when facing dozens of potential career opportunities. Understanding what makes a job fulfilling in the first place might help you choose a fulfilling career. Several things might factor into creating a fulfilling job, from a good salary to your personal interests.

What makes up a fulfilling career?

With the average person working around 260 days per year, it’s understandable that workers want to enjoy their professions. The following aspects of your job might provide greater satisfaction and fulfillment in your career:

Sense of purpose

Having a sense of purpose is one element that might help you feel excited to go to work every day. What feels worthwhile can differ from person to person. Someone may feel purposeful while teaching small children to read, while another may feel truly satisfied working for a nonprofit that aids others.

Knowing what you do makes a significant difference might provide a sense of purpose and motivation that makes your job feel fulfilling.

Upsides outweigh the downsides

You may not enjoy every aspect of a job. Some parts may be frustrating — like longer commutes and limited parking spaces — but you might feel satisfied if the good aspects outweigh the bad.

If the job comes with unavoidable stressors, you may want to find out how management supports the team.

A 2023 survey by the American Psychological Association found that four out of 10  (42%) of employees feel micromanaged by their superiors. Suggesting a correlation between micromanagement and stress, the survey said 64% of micromanaged workers reported feeling tense or stressed during their workday, compared to only 36% of employees who don’t feel micromanaged.

The same study also found that 77% of workers are satisfied with the support for mental health and well-being offered by their employers.

Intellectual challenges

A job that challenges you intellectually can have psychological benefits like increasing your competency — if the challenges are within your ability to execute successfully.  

Healthy work-life balance

According to a 2021 survey by Limeade, 40% of employees left their previous jobs due to burnout — and 28% did so without first securing another position. A job that provides a healthy work-life balance seems to be a priority among today’s job seekers. 

Structured career growth

A 2022 study by the Pew Research Center found that not having opportunities to advance in their careers was the number one reason employees left their jobs — tied with low pay.

The 17 most fulfilling jobs

In no particular order, here are 17 of the most fulfilling jobs you may find rewarding, with 2022 median salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:  

1. Firefighter

  • Median salary: $51,680

Firefighters provide a necessary service to the public by responding to fires and other emergencies to help citizens. This profession, though dangerous, can be rewarding because of the sense of purpose one may feel after working with their crew to stop a potentially harmful situation.

The positive relationships you can form with your crew members might also make this job rewarding. Knowing you’re working with a team that has your back might make the difference in risky situations.

2. Dentist

  • Median salary: $159,530

Finding a job in dentistry could be the rewarding career you’re looking for. With the ability to diagnose and remedy problems related to the teeth and gums, you might find a sense of fulfillment while forming long-lasting relationships with your clientele.

You could start by becoming a dental hygienist to see if you enjoy the industry. As a bonus, it’s one of the highest-paying trade jobs

3. Physician

  • Median salary: $229,300

With the ability to accompany people through some of the best and worst times in their lives, becoming a physician could be incredibly satisfying for those interested in the medical field.

From assisting sick loved ones to helping prepare younger couples for the birth of a newborn, physicians act as a valuable resource for those seeking medical assistance and advice.

4. Surgeon

  • Median salary: $229,300

Having the task of saving and transforming lives on a near-daily basis, surgeons might feel gratified knowing the work they do makes a difference to those in need.  For some, the bonds formed with patients who hand over their trust could be the thing that makes all the years of hard work and dedication pay off.

5. Physical therapist

  • Median salary: $97,720

Professionals may view physical therapy as rewarding if patients make significant progress in improving their mobility. After forming meaningful relationships with clients, physical therapists have the pleasure and responsibility to help those injured reach the recovery goals they set for themselves. 

6. Teacher

  • Median salary:
    • Postsecondary teacher: $80,840
    • High school teacher: $62,360
    • Middle school teacher: $61,810
    • Kindergarten/elementary school teacher: $61,620

In addition to helping students receive a well-rounded education, teachers can sometimes become mentors — someone students may feel comfortable turning to for help in everyday situations.

Some may also find a love for the work-life balance that may come with the role, as some might get the option of taking summers off to rejuvenate their mind for the next school year.

7. Mechanical engineer

  • Median salary: $96,310

Mechanical engineers might find their jobs satisfying because of the near-daily intellectual stimulation. They analyze and solve problems by building machines or other devices. This may require them to expand their skills and acquire new knowledge.

8. Veterinarian

  • Median salary: $103,260

Those with a passion for animals may find becoming a veterinarian rewarding because of their consistent work with furry friends. Not only do you get to be there in case of an emergency, but you may also get to treat them for the span of their lives. Some pet owners may stick with vets they know and trust for years.

9. Paramedic

  • Median salary: $39,410

Paramedics might find value in their careers after discovering their genuine passion for medical care. As first responders in an emergency, paramedics work tirelessly to get those injured to hospitals that can provide the treatment they need.

10. Pilot

  • Median salary: $148,900

Those with a knack for adventure who love seeing new places might consider becoming a pilot a fulfilling career choice. Often paired with excellent upsides like free standby flights and six-figure pay, this job hits several elements of satisfying work. It’s even one of the highest-paying jobs without a degree

11. Top executive

  • Median salary: $100,090

Becoming a chief executive might be incredibly rewarding if you love business, excel at handling responsibilities and crave intellectual challenges.

With the task of coordinating and directing company operations, you’ll be responsible for keeping projects and other initiatives running smoothly and reaching the goals created for the coming quarters.

12. Psychiatrist

  • Median salary: $247,350

Psychiatrists do meaningful work by helping people with their mental health. This career comes with important responsibilities, as clients come looking for help to cope with personal and sensitive situations taking place in their lives.

Psychiatrists might get a picture of their true purpose once patients notice major strides in their progress.

13. Nurse practitioner

  • Median salary: $125,900

Requiring fewer educational requirements than physicians, becoming a nurse practitioner could be a fulfilling career for those with a passion for medicine and caring for others.

They provide direct care to patients trying to remain physically and mentally healthy.  It’s also one of the fastest-growing jobs.

14. Software developer

  • Median salary: $124,200

Software developer positions might be fulfilling for those with a passion for problem-solving, overcoming challenges and a love of independent work. Software development can also be one of the most flexible jobs.

15. Marketing manager

  • Median salary: $138,730

If you’re a creative individual who loves communicating with others and taking on complex projects, becoming a marketing manager may be the fulfilling career you’re looking for. It may also be one of the best jobs for introverts. As a marketing manager, you could analyze market trends, work on content development and help keep customers satisfied.

16. Chef

  • Median salary: $56,520

If you’re interested in the culinary arts, pursuing a career as a chef might be one of the most fulfilling jobs for you. As a chef, you can prepare and serve food in restaurants or other establishments. You may realize that being able to bring people together over a shared meal brings you a worthwhile sense of purpose.

17. Information technology manager

  • Median salary: $164,070

Many companies depend on information systems to keep their daily business operations running smoothly, and IT managers support that specific effort. They are responsible for troubleshooting systems and ensuring security is up to par. These professionals may get satisfaction from knowing their work is essential to their company’s success.

Additional fulfilling jobs

If you’d like more ideas than the 17 listed above, check out these potentially fulfilling jobs:

  • Hairstylist — Help others feel confident and beautiful as you cut and style hair.
  • Massage therapist — If you’d like to help people release stress as part of your job, you may enjoy becoming a massage therapist.
  • YouTuber — While this career might take some time, it could be a dream job since you can make whatever videos align with your interests. If you’re wondering how much YouTubers make, it’s around $18 per 1,000 ad views on average.
  • Pediatrician — In this career, you work to improve the health of infants, teenagers and young adults. If you like children, you may feel fulfilled as a pediatrician.
  • Career counselor — As a career counselor, you may be able to help young people find their dream careers — and find purpose and fulfillment along the way.  
  • Social worker — Social workers help people cope with the challenges of life. As a social worker, you may be able to help people facing hardships.
  • Photographer — Working as a photographer may be a great way to use your creativity. You may also feel fulfilled as you help clients capture important memories, like their wedding day.  

What’s next: Save for your future career

Whether you need to save up money for a bachelor’s degree, certification program or something else, it’s a good idea to start saving for your educational goals if you haven’t done so already.