Seth Godin offers an interesting perspective on failure – It’s all about your attitude. Some successful people feel that they are failures. They are never happy with their work even when it is good. Such thinking is a trap. People lost in feelings of failure keep looking for an ever elusive success.
Godin is not saying we should be happy with failure, but that we should know how to work through failures and deliver. His books The Dip and Poke the Box are necessary reads for anyone who’s caught up in the failure trap. Successful people fail before they find a way to succeed. Or, as Godin puts in The Dip, they know how to quit the right things. If you’re doing the right kind of work for the right reason, the feelings of failure will still come now and then. But they won’t be how you define yourself. Take joy in your work and your life.
The founder of McDonald's Ray Kroc showed deep wisdom when he said, "If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours."
Love what you do, and serve your customer. It's easy to say those words, but often hard to follow up on them. Money pushes us to occupations that we really don't want to do. Over the last 13 years, several of my clients have told me they don't want to be in sales or management, but: "That's where the money is." Some polls I've read say that a third of doctors would change careers if they could. The problem? Income.
What can you do if you're in such a position? Forget about the money and focus on your customer. If you are doing a service to someone else (which includes internal customers like students, co-workers, and even bosses), you will find some meaning and satisfaction in your work -- and you get to keep the money. However, if you don't get satisfaction from serving your customer, it is time to think about changing careers. As Ray Kroc said, money in itself is never enough. Success is not the ability to buy things. It is the ability to be excited in doing your work and taking pride in how it helps others.
The Internet is a wonderful tool for learning more about any topic. It’s also the greatest megaphone in history for repeating and magnifying bad ideas. One of these bad ideas in the field of career planning has been “follow your passion.” Don’t get me wrong, I want my clients to find work that is meaningful and makes them happy (and provides a good living). I don’t like the “passion” plan because it’s very hard to define and turn into a realistic job search strategy.
I’m not alone in this belief. Cal Newport takes the passion-driven career apart in a Huffington Post essay. Newport cites a TED talk by TV host Mike Rowe that looks at dirty jobs, hard work that still makes people happy. Few of the people Rowe profiles went into their jobs with a sense of passion. They do work others don’t want to do. Still they find a way to happy. Rather than look for passion, these people found value in their work through what Newport calls “competence, autonomy, and impact.” In other words, they feel they are doing work that has value in the world (impact), work they are good at (competence), and work that they can do their own way (autonomy).
When you have a minute, read Newport’s article and watch the video of Mike Rowe’s talk. Happiness at work is never found through an easy formula like “find your passion.” I tell my clients that you have to be doing the right thing at the right place with the right people. That’s a very tricky combination. You can find the right kind of work and may even be working at the right company, but if you are working for a bad boss or stuck with a group of the wrong kind of co-workers, your job will not be passion. It will be misery.
Find the job that is right for you. Start with what you like to do, the kinds of action and thinking you will perform on the job. Then it gets harder because you have to land a job at the right kind of company where you will work for the right kind of boss with co-workers that fit with you. It’s not easy. But, if you have the right goals in mind, you can find the kind of job – even a dirty job – that makes you happy.
According to a Gallup Poll cited in today’s Redeye, workers across the world are not engaged in their jobs. Only one in six people polled claimed to find meaning in their work. Results were slightly better in the U.S. and Canada where a whopping 29% called themselves engaged.
What do these numbers mean for us as individual workers? First, it indicates that much work available today is not stimulating or challenging. I would add as a second point that the people on the job help make it good or bad. When we work for a bad company or a tyrant boss, the type of work doesn’t matter. The job will suck, and we hate going to work. I’ve been there, and so has everyone I know.
Many workers in the U.S., especially those with higher education or specialized training, at least have some choices and options. I recommend that clients try to align the type of work they do to their gifts, the type of skills they most like to use. It’s not always easy to find such jobs, but the pay off is worth the effort. Here’s a first step: Don’t stay in a job that makes you feel miserable. According to Gallup, about one in three Americans are happy in their jobs. Do everything you can to be part of that group.
Are you happy at your job? If not, the problem might not be your job, but the way you are approaching it mentally. In a TED presentation, Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Thinking, Inc., explores how the “lens” we use to look at life affects our attitude and our performance.
Achor is a very funny, engaging presenter. However, his science is serious, especially for those people who are cheating themselves by focusing on negativity. Achor’s discipline is called “positive psychology,” which shouldn’t be confused with any kind of simple self-help program. It is a new and growing specialty in psychology that focuses on how our attitude can be readjusted through exercises that emphasize gratitude and helping others. Achor’s studies have found that a person with a positive outlook is 31% more productive at work. More importantly, positive people are focusing on what they have, not what they lack.
I strongly recommend this 12 minute video. It’s fun and insightful.
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.