When it Comes to Career Happiness, You Have Options

The noise and distraction of the open-plan office. The lack of growth and challenge. The long commute. 

It is remarkably easy to become hyper-focused on the negative aspects of your job. They can consume your thoughts and make you dread showing up to work. Quitting can start to feel like the only option you have. 

While quitting is sometimes the right answer, I want you to know that it’s most likely not your only option. 

The key is to first understand what’s causing you to want to quit your job. From there you can explore solutions to help you meet that specific need. Once you understand why you’re feeling unfulfilled, it may be easier to see your job in a more balanced way or make small changes that will have a big impact. 

I’ve been working with clients who have been aimless and unfulfilled by their jobs for a few years now. I’m continually surprised by how few people end up quitting their job so I recently crunched the numbers. Here’s the rough breakdown I typically see during my 3-month program:

  • 10% quit with the goal of taking time off and recharging

  • 25% find a new job (sometimes they’re not even looking, a job finds them!)

  • 15% stay and end up finding new appreciation, meaning and enjoyment in their job

  • 50% stay and work towards their eventual next step (this could be a new role, a new company, or a new field)

In the end, 65% of my clients are still in the same job after working with me for 3 months.

These clients may not stay in their positions for the long-term, but they’ve made enough of a mindset shift for now. They understand what their job means to them in the short-term and how it may help them accomplish various career goals.

The Mindset Shift

With a bit of effort, we have the power to change how we relate to our job -- even if absolutely none of our external circumstances change. Often this happens by shifting our mindset, gaining perspective, or by understanding our strengths better. 

Let me give you a few examples:

  • One client was feeling bored, disengaged and undervalued at his small company. His role wasn’t a particularly good fit for his strengths and he didn’t have as much responsibility as he wanted. Through exploring his interests, he proposed a change to his manager to take on more work related to the company finances. Despite feeling that he didn’t have the formal training necessary, this was an area where he wanted to grow. Based on that conversation, he started down a path that led him to taking over all financial aspects of the company. He absolutely loves his new role and responsibilities.

  • Another client had no energy or motivation and it was spilling over into her personal life. She discovered that she’s had a lifelong dream of becoming a concept artist and decided to start taking steps to move in that direction. She created a 6-month plan that allowed her to stay in her current role while building her portfolio. She focused on gaining the skills necessary to eventually make the jump.

  • A third client came to me concerned that her job wasn’t challenging her at all. Her family and friends kept commenting that she could do better. After clarifying her values, it became clear that although the job was less challenging, it was allowing her to fulfill her biggest value. Providing for her family was her number one priority. This job allowed her to do that and she was willing to accept the tradeoff of less challenge at that point in her life. She started seeing her job in a completely new light. 

Identifying Values, Strengths and Upsides

To think about your own situation, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. How does your role align with your values? What’s important to you and how is your current role prioritizing those things? Is it giving you financial stability or adventure or community or creativity?

  2. How does it align with your strengths? What are you good at? What skills do you have? What are your interests? Are there changes you can make to your current role to align more with your strengths, skills or interests?

  3. What are the potential upsides of your job that you don’t immediately come to mind? Do you have extra time or mental energy at the end of the day that you could put towards other goals or gaining new skills? Do you actually have a pretty flexible schedule? Does your long commute allow you to read or listen to podcasts or meditate? Are you able to completely disengage at the end of the day and have energy for friends and family?

After reviewing these three questions, are you able to see your job in a new way? Is quitting is the right next step for you?

“But isn’t that what everyone wants in a job?”

When you start to look at what’s important to you in a career, one little thought can stop you dead in your tracks. It can pop up in response to any answer you come up with -- “but isn’t that what everyone wants in a job?”

Doesn’t everyone want to feel challenged? Doesn’t everyone want to feel appreciated? Doesn’t everyone value financial security? Everything you uncover can feel so generic and useless to help you figure out what’s right for you. 

I do an exercise with my clients where we uncover their "Strength Statement" (a great exercise I learned at Google). We create a sentence or two that describes when they feel most energized or at their best. When they come up with their sentence, it can often trigger the “but isn’t that what everyone wants in a job?” sentiment but I get to see the incredible variety between clients. 

There are lots of nuances about what makes people feel energized and fulfilled at work. Here's a selection of statements from a variety of clients:

  • “I am energized when I get to solve and really understand complex and intimidating problems by stripping them down, tackling them from different angles, and analyzing them with tools to create feedback.”

  • “I’m at my best when I have ample time to prepare a compelling story that convinces people of the value of the work I’ve been championing”

  • “I am energized when I’m given an opportunity to be present and ask questions in order to learn from others and receive real-time feedback on how I’m doing”

  • “I love having ample time to research, read and mull over a situation in order to let my brain craft thought-provoking questions that will help someone think bigger, make a positive change in their life or feel appreciated.”

  • “I’m at my best when I have a clear understanding of the goals, autonomy over the direction the work goes and all necessary context at my disposal”

  • “I am energized when I get to learn new skills quickly in order to be able to design something from beginning to end.”

  • “I love presenting on topics I find exciting when I have ample time to prepare so I can deliver a well-executed and polished talk.”

There may be an element of challenge or appreciation in these sentences, but there’s also so much variety. Each sentence paints a completely different picture of what it looks like to them.

This question also comes up during an exercise we do around values and what’s important to you in life. To show you the spread of responses I see, here are a few examples of my client’s top values: 

  • Relationships, Adventure, Challenge, Humor, Health, Independence

  • Growth, Passion, Connection, Courage, Intuition

  • Leadership, Financial Security, Individuality, Community, Resilience, Learning

  • Family, Challenge, Career, Taking Risks/Doing Something Different, Having an Impact, Adventure

  • Family and Stability, Passion/Purpose, Growth

Of course there is some overlap but there’s also a lot of individuality. There are slightly different words used and in different orders of priority.

If you find yourself getting stuck on “but isn’t that what everyone wants in a job?” as you’re figuring out what’s right for you, start to look for the details. What is it about challenge or appreciation and how does that show up in your day-to-day? What are the specifics of what’s important to you? Once you get past the ambiguous career buzz-words, you’ll find your answers in the details.

What I learned from applying to my first job in 8 years

I did not expect to be saying this but… in November 2018 I applied for a job. (wait, what?)

I absolutely love my business and it’s not going anywhere but a job with an irresistible set of characteristics caught my eye and I decided it wasn’t 100% crazy to throw my hat in the ring.

(What in the world could be an irresistible set of characteristics that would have this business owner apply for a job, you say? Customer service - one of my FAVORITE things in this world, getting to support business owners, and something that is both part-time and short-term because I’m not looking for a full-time job)

Despite being a bit of a scary experience (it’s been 8 years since I formally applied for a job!) it was also incredibly empowering implement so much of the wisdom I’ve gained from working with clients over the past few years.

Here are 3 topics I talk to clients about almost every day that I got to experience first-hand as I applied for this job…

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What are you choosing to go big on?

One of my absolute favorite books is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less because it is filled with terrifying truths about how much we let other people dictate our time and energy. The author writes that “when we surrender our ability to choose [our priorities], something or someone else will step in to choose for us. […] We can either make the hard choices for ourselves or allow others—whether our colleagues, our boss, or our customers—to decide for us.”

Of course work will choose our priorities if we let it, of course other peoples’ requests will choose our priorities if we let them, of course personal life responsibilities will choose our priorities if we let them.

So the challenge is to start being intentional about what we say yes to and what we prioritize.

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FLOUR + BUTTER: Job or Hobby?

(I make no apologies for the volume of photos of delicious baked goods in this post)

If you ask my neighbors about the best part of living near me, you’ll get the same response - the volume of baked goods that comes from my place.

The most recent birthday cake I made for my husband.

I love baking. A lot.

When I was doing my coaching certificate, we had a homework assignment to plan a full day of something we loved and I chose to spend 14 hours making homemade croissants. (I’m also a bit insane.)

I love making birthday cakes, desserts when we have people over for dinner, sourdough bread, fiddly pastries, and everything in between.

To me, baking = engineering.

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The Terror of Leaving a Seemingly Perfect Job

We're terrified to leave a seemingly perfect job for fear of what other people will think.

“You’re crazy to be giving this up.”

“Why would you ever leave this job, it’s the best there is!”

“People would kill to be at this company.”

I've had so many conversations recently with people who have fancy jobs that look incredible on paper, have a great salary, don't even ask them to work too hard in some cases, and look like success to the outside world... but aren't what the person wants.

Something is missing, whether it's purpose, contribution, flexibility to focus less of their life on work, or something they can't put their finger on yet.

They've all known that it's not the right fit but they worry that they'll appear ungrateful if they leave the job. That they’ll crumble under the backlash they get from other people questioning their decision.

And then the inner voices kick in.

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Careers and Cooking Grease

Several months ago I participated in a fantastic leadership course where I did one of the most confronting yet rewarding tasks in recent memory - make a list of all the areas in my life where I've been "tolerating incompletion" and get them completed.

(If you're cringing right now just reading that suggestion, you know exactly how I felt.)

This could be chores, hobbies, things we told other people we'd do, etc, and from that list, we then had the challenge to complete five of the items by the end of the weekend.

I made a list of 5 things (which was uncomfortably easy to do) by walking around my house and seeing unfinished projects, unused cooking gadgets, household chores and more. Starting the list initially filled me with shame but by the end of the list I was filled with a new sense of freedom and determination. By acknowledging the things that I had been tolerating I could actually choose to do something about them.

But there was one item that I was horrified by how long I had left it incomplete.

The most embarrassing thing that I had been tolerating was... a jar of cooking grease.

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The Relationship Between Risk and Entrepreneurship

A few weeks ago my husband and I had dinner with another couple and the conversation turned to risk tolerance.

Our friends said they're solidly in the risk-averse category and my husband and I agreed that we are too - we're savers, we're not incredibly spontaneous and we love a good plan. 

It took our friend a minute, but it was clear that our answer wasn't fully computing. He looked at me and said "but clearly you're a risk-taker because you started your own business".

This was a really interesting point and I had to think about it for a minute.

The first answer that popped into my head was "it didn't feel like a risk".

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5 Ways To Support Someone Who Is Crushed By Their Job

When you’re crushed by an ill-fitting job, it can be hard to talk to your friends for fear of burdening them with your career problems.

But today, I actually want to talk to the people who know someone who is crushed and are watching the struggle without knowing how to support the person they care about. That can also be a really tough position to find yourself in.

What can you do to support someone who is crushed by their job?

Your friend/family member/colleague is clearly struggling. They don’t want to burden you with their challenge and yet you would do absolutely anything to support them. The question is what can you do?

I want to help relieve you of your feelings of helplessness with a couple resources and steps you can take…

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The Miracle Question and The Evidence Question

I recently read a fantastic book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and I was really struck by an interesting framework they shared that is used by Solutions-Focused Therapists. They use the Miracle Question and the Evidence Question to help patients resolve a particular problem they’re experiencing.

The therapist first poses The Miracle Question:

"Something must have happened! I look different!"

“Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think, ‘Well, something must have happened—the problem is gone!’?”

The book points out that the question “doesn’t ask you to describe the miracle itself but to identify the tangible signs that the miracle happened.”

I started thinking about this in the context of being crushed by your job.

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It's OK to Have a Boring Job.

It’s OK to have a boring job.

(Am I even allowed to say that?)

I don’t think anyone ever tells us that it’s OK to have a boring job. It definitely doesn’t work for everyone. And it definitely does work for some people.

I only just recently noticed how revolutionary this message seems to be. I’ve been sharing it more and more often, the most recent time was at a workshop I co-hosted a few weeks ago. Participants kept coming up to me afterward saying how grateful they were to hear someone say that it was OK to have a boring job.

So now I’m on a mission to tell people that it’s OK to have a boring job if it works for them.

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Believing the lie of "You Just Know"

Recently I read The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goines (a fantastic read, highly recommend) and one idea that he reinforces throughout the book is that 'the way to meaningful work doesn’t always look like a carefully crafted plan'. One part of this in particular really stood out to me, what he calls the myth of 'you just know':

“For the longest time, I believed a little lie about people who were fulfilling their purpose, and it prevented me from finding my own calling. What was it? One simple phrase: you just know. When we find someone doing what they love for a living, we tell ourselves a story. It’s a nice piece of fiction, a familiar fairy tale, and a downright lie. 

[...] This is what we hear from people who are too humble to admit how hard they worked or are uncomfortable with acknowledging how they got lucky. It sounds like how we often describe falling in love. You just know. The problem is that it isn’t true.”

They. Just. Knew.

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The 2-Hour Job Search: Adding Glorious Structure to a Chaotic Process

I love following rules. If there's a systematic and structured way for me to succeed at something, I will follow the rules to a T.

I recently stumbled across 'The 2-Hour Job Search' and I've never been so excited to think about a job search. If I were a job seeker, I would put it into practice immediately. I've never thought about a logical and structured way to approach finding a job - something that I usually see as a mysterious, uncomfortable, and inefficient thing I dread having to do.

To me, here are some of the most interesting points he makes within the first few chapters

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The Purpose of Interviews

I went to a tiny engineering school, Olin College, where part of the interview process is getting invited to 'Candidate's Weekend'. You get to see the campus, do an in-person interview, work with a group of other candidates on a design challenge and generally see what the environment is like.

At the beginning of my interview, my interviewer pointed out that not only is Olin evaluating whether I'm a good fit for them, but that I should be evaluating Olin to see if it's a good fit for me. It was something that they emphasized throughout the weekend and it's still present in their current marketing material:

"The weekends are designed to be fun, informal, and informational experiences. They are an opportunity for you to get to know us, and for us to get to know you."

This idea has stuck with me for 13+ years and I still see every interview as an opportunity for me to evaluate if the place is a good fit for me.

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