Work sucks. Universal truth. But why is something the majority of the planet does, for 8 to 12 hours per day (adding up to about two thirds of one's life) so oddly tenuous?
At least part of the answer is that many of us are engaged in doing work that bears no correlation to who we really are. Our unique talents and abilities are not matched to our jobs.
We are stuck in careers and lives chosen either when we were too young and/or too influenced by peers, parents, and society's narrow definitions of "success."
We go to school, we get good grades, we graduate and take up offers with prestigious organizations, and we work hard on our careers. Some years in we, collectively and universally, experience our work lives as, "Is this really it? I feel so blaagh." Add the ubiquitous bad boss/colleagues into the mix, and the experience rapidly goes south from vague dissatisfaction to downright traumatic.
Is this the best we can do - to be traumatized on a daily basis - and end up with a host of physical and mental health issues such as stress, back pain, depression, and addiction? Why is work something to be endured until you get home in the evenings to your real life? Why are weekends and vacations cherished as a break from this apparently terrible thing?
Some people, at an early age, end up predicting fairly accurately a career that fits. But most are not so lucky. And while job satisfaction or "doing work you love" is not a goal for everybody, for most the luxury of choice automatically imposes that pressure. Back in the day when choices were limited, people chose a job or trade and stayed in it for life. Fortunately or unfortunately, more choices and options do exist today, and their existence has changed the game. More questioning and discernment on the fundamental issue of how we choose to work and live is now required.
So what are some of things you can do to choose work you like? To make this one thing you do every day for 8 to 12 hours suck less?
1. MATCH YOUR SKILLS AND TALENTS TO THE RIGHT WORK
If I had to pick the most common reason for job dissatisfaction and work malaise among my clients, it would not be compensation. Or job security. Or lack of promotions and career progression. It's not even the bad boss or crazy co-corkers (though that would be in second place!). In first place is a mismatch between skills/talent and the actual work, leading to lack of motivation, boredom, and anxiety.
So the first order of business is, figure out what your natural talents and strengths are. Remember that these are different from learned skills through formal education and work experience, though these play a part in honing your natural abilities. Over the years you may have learned to be a decent presenter but are you a true blue "I love being on stage!" public speaker? I can bitterly make my way through a financial model because of my formal training but that is the furthest thing from a natural skill. Meanwhile my client Natalie who cannot string two words together but is an excel magic worker is stuck in a PR role where she simply cannot thrive.
The second order of business, then, is to match your natural talents and strengths to appropriate career paths. Some useful career assessment tools that may assist you in this area include Strengths Finder, the Motivated Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP), and LiveCareer. These all help match identified strengths to specific career paths.
2. UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN (LONG-TERM) AMBITION
The first thing is to understand your own ambition (not your peer's, parent's, or partner's), and use your gifts to achieve what you really want in the long run, not what others tell you to want.
Many people's sensibilities about work and accomplishment are ingrained from very early on, and have served them well. I am not saying you have to suddenly see the error of your 9-5 work life and make a sudden U-turn. What I am saying is that many of us learn a lot of stuff that does not serve us well, stuff that keeps us trapped and unable to thrive in this world.
The views and values of our society, the times and communities we were born into, the early education systems we participate in mold us like clay. Play us like violins. Enslaved by the expectations of others from about the age of 4, we quickly learnt to identify what the world valued, relentlessly pursue those things, and nail down our personal and financial security as fast as possible.
In our eagerness to do so, however, we also nailed ourselves into coffins made of tight structures and inflexible paths. Places you can't get out of voluntarily without everyone looking at you askance as if you just grew a second head. But have courage. Take comfort in the fact that as hard as it is to change things now and get into something more in alignment with your own talents and ambitions it is better to do so now, and sooner rather than later. You still probably have 2 to 4 decades of working life. Consider the longer arc.
3. DON'T ASSUME THAT EVERYONE ELSE HAS IT FIGURED OUT
When we are struggling it is natural to think that our situation is unique- that somehow everyone else has it figured out and only "I didn't get the memo on how to be happy".
Mainstream work life is made of hundreds if not thousands of similar cogs in the wheel. This leads to the illusion that all this is 'normal'. But remember this- just because everyone is doing something does not make it right (in general, or for you specifically). We have to think for ourselves. Especially if we are not entirely resource-poor, and have some level of access to information and support networks.
So you made your career choices at a time of relative naiveté and inexperience. You graduated and embarked on a promising career, and now have hit that famous little wall - 'why does my great job just not feel that great?' You are scared there's no real explanation. You think you are being ungrateful. Or, alternatively, that others are 'getting' something you are not.
No, no, and no. We are all in the same boat. Some of it (perhaps a lot of it) is changeable; some of it is just life.
4. RECOGNIZE THE GOOD
Accept what is good enough. Your job/situation just may not suck as much as you think it does. There are trade-offs in life no matter what you do.
Perhaps the situation simply requires a minor adjustment to make it satisfactory. Or several small incremental changes may do the trick.
Even looking for something new doesn't have to be the mountain it's sometimes made out to be. Finding work you like may be achieved by taking up a new role at your current company or organization. Or switching to a new job at another company in the same industry.
Meanwhile, be careful not to eternally and aimlessly be on the "finding your passion" bandwagon. Just because you like woodworking or beekeeping doesn't mean it's a career. When you work with a coach to find work you like, they must understand your specific circumstances and make your 'life constraints' a critical part of the plan. If you have a mortgage, that's important to note. If you have kids, ditto. And yes, it's a tough job market. That's a constraint on virtually everyone I know.
You can also find this Article as published on Business Insider
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