If you want to be happy at work, you need to align your work with skills you like to use. I call these gifts. We all have skills that let us do things that don’t make us happy. Such skills are needed to do any kind of work. However, gifts are those skills that bring us the most satisfaction and joy. For example, a surgeon enjoys the physical and mechanical skills that are involved in operations. Conversely, a psychologist's gifts are listening and motivating change.
Think about what you do that really makes you happy at work, the kind of activities that make you forget about quitting time or breaking for lunch. Once you have identified your gifts, you’ve taken the first big step to being happy at work.
[On Sundays, this blog looks at intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]
Mis-judging a Book by Its Cover
A few years ago I was in a bookstore browsing titles in the career section when I first saw The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. I found the title over the top, too cheeky. To make matters worse, the book was designed as a graphic novel, a sure marketing gimmick. I put the book back on the shelf and forgot about it.
Later I read a great book about motivation, Drive by Daniel Pink. Pink contrasts traditional theories of motivation which focused on extrinsic factors such as rewards with intrinsic motivation or what is more commonly called self-motivation. Pink argued that great work could only come from a person who was willing to put in the time and sacrifice to do it. I was so impressed by Drive that I looked up other titles by the author. To my surprise, Daniel Pink wrote Johnny Bunko, which made me give the book a second chance.
Pink gives his readers great career advice. He lays out six principles that everyone should follow (I won’t repeat them because you really should buy this book – or borrow it from a library.). What made the book come alive for me was the narrative and the drawings, the very things I initially dismissed about it. Pink creates real characters who make the same mistakes I have made in my career, the same mistakes many of my clients have made in their careers.
Johnny like many people today, especially young professionals just out of college, is not happy in his career. Through the help of a spirit named Diana, he discovers the secrets of career management. His path is not easy. Pink shows Johnny and his co-workers making mistakes and learning the wrong lessons. Diana mentors them while dishing out funny bits of sarcasm.
Johnny Bunko is a great complement to the classic What Color is Your Parachute. Both books are built around the premise that we can be happy at work if we make the effort to find the right kind of job, one that fits our strengths and gifts. Parachute is more of a classic, how-to career guide. It offers exercises and detailed explanations of its strategies. Johnny Bunko takes a different approach. It teaches by example and by making the reader laugh (though there is some humor in Parachute as well). It holds up a mirror and lets us see ourselves in the characters.
I made a mistake the first time I rejected this book. Anyone who is looking for a new job or questioning his or her career path should read it. Don’t be put off by the title. That was my mistake, judging a book by its cover.
The 16th President of the U.S. spoke these words:
“Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue. The latter performs a little imperfectly, looks at it in disgust, turns from it, and imagines himself exceedingly tired. The little he has done, comes to nothing, for want of finishing.”
Lincoln speaks the truth. Do what you love, and it won’t be work. You will be proud of what you produce. That’s a great job.
One of my clients asked if he should go to an interview with a company that requires a long commute. He doubted that he would take the job given the distance from his home. I recommended that he go to the interview. What if this job will offer something that makes the commute worth it or makes it worth it to move closer to the job?
I urge clients to follow this formula: If you are doing the right thing with the right people in the right place, the money will work itself out. Most people who are unhappy at work don’t talk about money as their main problem. They hate what they are doing. They can’t get along with their boss or co-workers. They don’t like the atmosphere of the workplace. People who are doing work they like and working with people they like usually call themselves happy.
The priority in an interview should always be to get an offer from the employer. However, job seekers also need to make a careful evaluation of their prospective employer, especially the person who will be their manager. Trust your gut. If you feel comfortable with the people interviewing you, that’s a good sign. If you see red flags waving before your eyes, don’t take the job (unless you absolutely need the income).
You never know what a potential employer will be like until you interview with that company. It’s a good bet to go to every interview. What’s the worst thing that could happen? If a company you don’t want to work for offers you a job, you can politely decline the offer. On the other hand, if the company is a perfect fit, you might have a good job for a long time.
I am a big fan of the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. . . and it’s all small stuff by Richard Carlson. It provides common sense tools to help us deal with life’s small and large challenges. One of Carlson’s lessons is: “If someone throws you the ball, you don’t have to catch it.”
Put another way, you can choose not to play the game. One example of this is when people push your buttons and try to make you angry. A less malicious but equally bad situation occurs when parents, friends, or neighbors give career advice that goes against a person’s gifts and interests. Usually this involves recommending that someone look for work where “all the jobs are”: sales, administrative reports, and health care. The motive behind the advice is good: the desire for a loved one to find work. The problem is that the person getting this advice has a different vision for her career. Too often people follow advice to take the “easy” path and end up in a job they hate, one they often lose quickly.
What’s the solution? Find and follow your path. Don’t catch the ball.
I ran into my postal carrier yesterday. It was an all too common day this spring – wet and cold. I made a joke about the weather, and he laughed and said it comes with the job. When I asked if he is ever bothered by weather being too hot or cold. He said, “No.” What bothers him? Working in the office, politics, and being stuck inside.
Everyone of us has a favorite working environment. Some people like an office where they interact constantly with other people. They like daily contact and being in the same place. Others like to work alone with little or no human contact. They like to be moving and outside. These people would be great postal carrier, UPS drivers, or delivery truck drivers.
The talk show host and author Thom Hartmann divides such personalities into the categories of hunters and farmers. Farmers work in the same place. They like routine and follow directions. Hunters like movement. They tend to work alone or in small groups. A hunter who takes a job meant for a farmer will be miserable. For example, someone who should be working in outside sales will not be happy working in an office. Conversely, a person who hates travel and doesn’t have the “killer instinct” will not be successful in sales.
Think back on your career. Assess what you activities you like to perform and the environment in which you like to work. Put yourself in a place where you will be successful and happy. That’s the real definition of career management.
Writing in the February issue of Psychology Today, Carlin Flora explores “slashers,” people who have two careers at the same time. For some people, working two jobs is a great way to get through hard economic times. For others, it’s a strategy to ease into a career change. Others use their slash careers as a way to balance the job that pays the bills with the kind of career that feeds their passions.
What does it takes to have two careers? Flora says that “hustler personalities” are best fit for this role, since it often involves marketing one’s skills. She also says that good time management and organizational skills are need to balance both responsibilities. The article profiles the following types of slashers: computer geek/comedian, corporate recruiter, water aerobics instructor, PR coordinator/horror writer, and investment banker/bird trainer. These combinations tell us that people can balance the 9-5 with some other interest that will feed their minds and, in some cases, help fill the wallet. Think about “slashing.” It might be a new way to manage your career.
Joseph Cech, a piano teacher, died recently at the age of 96. What is more interesting, he taught piano up to two weeks before he died. My friend Carl Easter runs an exterminator business. His mother keeps the business’ book, and she’s 97 years old. I’m making no scientific claims here, but it seems that one secret to a long vibrant life is obvious: Don’t stop working!
P.S. Better still – Find a job you love and never stop loving it.
Writing in Huffington Post’s new feature, Small Business America, Amanda Peyton, cofounder of Message Party, discusses her career path and some missteps she has taken over the years. She says that she found advice to “do what your passionate about” was “cheesy.” However, she eventually found that advice hit the mark.
For Peyton, the right answer was to start her own company. For most people, that option does not exist. They will find jobs and works for the “boss.” However, they can still pursue work that is meaningful, something that will make them get out of bed and go to work, not hit the snooze button and pull the covers over their head. Everyone can be like an entrepreneur – take the risk needed to be happy – find the kind of work that is right for you.
I was listening to Hal Sparks' program on WCPT this morning. Hal is an actor and comedian who is also a political activist. In an exchange with a caller, he talked about how he has managed his life and career.
First, he said that his success has been driven by not talking about his goals. People who talk about their goals often fail to pursue them. Hal’s advice was to spend your focus and energy working toward the goal. Do it – don’t talk about it.
His other point about career success was not to “spread your misery.” People talk about what is wrong and what is making them unhappy. Instead, they should be doing something to change their lives and make themselves happy. Again, action beats talk.
I was raised by a single father who grew up during the Depression and fought in WWII. He could complain sometimes, but when things were really bad, we never knew it as kids. He worked an extra job. He cut back on spending in a way that didn’t let us feel poor. He didn’t talk about things. He did them. My father would have understood Hal Sparks’ advice, especially the part about not “spreading your misery.” It pays to be stoic – and quiet.
- 1 of 4
- next ›