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Are you unhappy at work?
Don't just settle for a paycheck – design the career of your dreams
This article was contributed by entrepreneur and human capital expert Elatia Abate – see full bio below.
Year over year, the statistics are staggering. Most people (currently 66% in the U.S. and over 80% globally) are disengaged or highly disengaged at work. This disengagement can be translated to boredom or misery – or worse!
For companies, the costs of employees being unhappy at work are heavy and equates to billions of dollars in lost productivity. For the people who are disengaged and not happy at work, this is nothing short of life stifling. Most of us spend more than half of our waking hours working or doing work-related activities. That we are anything less than fulfilled is championing mediocrity and cheating ourselves out of our best possible lives.
Although this might sound like doom and gloom, don’t fret! If you constantly find yourself saying, “I am so unhappy at work,” there are solutions. In fact, there is a simple strategy and accompanying framework that can get you out of the doldrums and into the career you’ve always wanted.
Many factors feed into the high levels of people being unhappy at work, but the most critical is a flawed strategic approach to career design.
The way that most of us are taught to think about careers can be called a “building block” or a “logic-ing” strategy. We go to school. We study something that we have some interest in. We have an internship or two. Then, it is time to get a job. We scan the market and ask ourselves what can we logically do with the knowledge and experience we have. We lock in on a solution, and we begin working without ever really taking into consideration that we may be unhappy at work.
A couple of years pass, we amass more skills and experiences and we ask ourselves what we can logically do with the new knowledge and abilities. We scan the market, lock in on a logical solution and repeat the cycle. The problem with this strategy is that if you are like most and made any decisions about your career early on that weren’t particularly good or are no longer in line with your values, all you’re doing is compounding bad decisions on top of bad decisions. By never really thinking about your passions or what you love to do, you’re dooming yourself to be perpetually unhappy at work.
A much more effective strategy is planting your flag. This requires taking a few steps back and asking some critical questions including, “How do I want to be in the world?” “What do I want to create?” “How do I want to use my life?” “What kind of impact do I want to have?” You also need to take a look at what drives you. When you have a true purpose behind your decisions, you can align them with your values and ensure that you are always moving in a direction that will fulfill you.
You then design these items out by hand, in Powerpoint oron whiteboards and then align your skills, resources and talents behind creating THIS destination.
How do you build what you’ve designed and how do you use this to ensure you will never be unhappy at work?
The three-part moonshot strategy to creating a fulfilling career is the same every single time you decide to embark on the journey. It works whether you’d like a promotion at your current job, would like to do the same thing at a different company down the road or if you want to quit investment banking and go sell baskets in the rainforest. Basically, it can be recreated to fit any purpose and is the perfect solution to being not happy at work.
Truly committing to creating a more fulfilling career is the crucial first step. Commitment can come proactively by listening to that quiet voice in your head that asks, “Is this all there is? Could there be something more?” Once you’ve identified your purpose and drive, these decisions usually come much easier. If your current job does not align with your values, you’ll always be unhappy at work. Identifying this as the reason will help you commit to something new.
This is what happened when I quit the corporate world just over five years ago. I knew that there was something else waiting for me and that my feelings of “I am so unhappy at work” did not need to continue. To increase my commitment, I explored both what I, the world and my family would gain by me creating the change and what I would lose out on if I didn’t make the move. Tony often says that humans are motivated by pleasure and pain. Putting the two together can be a powerful commitment strengthener.
Commitment can also be forced by a lay-off, downsizing, firing or family move. Either way, commitment is the first critical piece.
Once one has committed to making a change, then comes the real fun – getting into action and creating a new career based on your values that drive you.This is when you can truly start feeling the possibility of never being unhappy at work again.
The first component of this is self-discovery. More than knowing the “what” one wants to build, it is understanding the “why.” A great place to begin to clarify the things we value most is the design of your moonshot. Are you looking for adventure, freedom, security, teamwork or impact? Creating an extraordinary life means doing it on your terms and no one else’s. What does your design tell you? These values are then used as filters to rank potential new opportunities and ensure your new career is in line with your values.
Next comes community building. We reach out to people, whether we know them directly or not, who can help us gather the information and insights we need to determine if a potential career path is aligned with the things we value most.
Then comes the part of creating a fulfilling career that people usually don’t like to talk about. These are the fears we have about stepping into the unknown and the assumptions we have about what is or isn’t possible. Assumptions, which are all rooted in fear, probably play the biggest role in keeping us from the career we want to have. Assumptions are the precursors to those limiting beliefs that kept us unhappy at work for all those years. I’m too young. I’m too old. I’ve never done it before. I don’t know the right people. I don’t have access to capital.
Overcoming limiting beliefs
The thing about assumptions is that they are either wholly untrue or simply parameters that we need to consider in building our next steps. One of the big assumptions I hear goes something like, “I couldn’t leave this job. I have a mortgage to pay (or kids’ education to pay for… or both).” Do you really believe that being unhappy at work is worth the paycheck? Or are you willing to take a risk to have it all?
Is the job you have today the only job in the world that pays whatever you’re earning or more? We often assume a false dichotomy – either I will be happy and living in a park on hopes and dreams OR I will be unhappy at work but financially secure. There are infinite ways to create anything, including happiness and financial security (or freedom). In this scenario, you simply define your minimum workable number and know that you won’t make a leap for any less than what will give you the financial security and freedom you want.
Finally, there are the tactical components of creating a new opportunity – the community building conversations, résuméand LinkedIn profiles. Google can be a great source for the “how to” on tactics. With that said, the most important distinction to help you frame your tactics is understanding the importance of telling the story of who you are becoming and not who you were before. If you continue to act as the person you were before, you will almost guarantee that you will remain unhappy at work no matter what new career you choose.
I worked with a successful entrepreneur who was having trouble getting the funding and partnerships she was looking for. When I asked her to tell me about herself, she shared what a great school she had attended, how she was the youngest person to achieve as much as she had in her prior job and the many accolades she had won. She mentioned nothing about the company she was now running or the powerful impact and potential financial return of the new endeavor. As soon as she flipped her story, her success skyrocketed.
Once you’ve created the next new and fulfilling career move for yourself there is one more critical step, which is to contribute.No good story ends when the hero or heroine wins the war or slays the dragon. It ends when the protagonist goes back to the community from whence they came to share the bounty of what they’ve won. This is what will truly ensure that being not happy at work will never be part of your new endeavor and that your career will be full of purpose and meaning.
So, in this case, ask yourself how and to whom you can contribute. Can you mentor someone who is on a similar journey to help them shorten their path? Can you provide critical insights and information to others who are looking to enter your industry? How can you strengthen the community that helped you create the opportunity you now have?
Once you have committed, created and found a way to contribute, you have truly created a dream career and will never again utter the phrase “I am so unhappy at work.”
About Elatia Abate:
Elatia Abate is an entrepreneur, human capital expert and thought leader on the topic of the future of work. Having devoted her life to creating solutions to the future of work its global challenges, she consults with companies, governments and educational institutions to create pathways to economic empowerment in the face of the disruption that technology creates in our world. She currently serves as a Partner and Futurist in Residence with FESA Group Miami, an executive search and human capital consulting firm headquartered out of Sao Paulo, Brazil.