I love Seth Godin’s blog. Seth writes about big issues, but he does so in simple clear language. In a post called Plenty More, he presents two options for early career professionals: work hard with a commitment to excellence or wait for success and do the least possible work. In Seth’s words, “The biggest cause of excellence is the story we tell ourselves about our work.” We become those stories.They also apply at all stages of our career, but are especially important for young people. Whenever we tell ourselves that we’ll do it later, that we’ll do it tomorrow, or that "I’m doing the best I can," we are writing the story of our own failure. Let’s change the script and find a way to make whatever we do better. Then we’ll tell stories about our work that will make us proud.
If you are looking for a new job, you might want to consider how a company is rated by its current employers. Last month, The Chicago Tribune published its annual list of best places to work in metro Chicago. This list offers great information on small, medium, and large employers. I recommend that you follow these companies and jobs they have available. Salary is always an important factor, but it’s just as important to be at a place where workers are happy. Check out the Tribune’s list, and you might find an employer who will make your new year very 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.
As newspaper business sections have shrunk or disappeared, I’ve taken to reading the website 24/7 Wall Street for news about the economy. Today the website features an interesting story on the top 10 states where people hate going to work. It’s also a national problem. The article cites a Gallup Poll which claims that less than a third of Americans are engaged in their work. So it seems that most American are unhappy at work.
Many clients come to me because they feel disengaged and want to find a new job or change careers. Being happy at work is usually not an accident. People who are happy at work know what they want to do and find a place where they can do it. This kind of job search takes time and patience. Too many people scramble to find any job. Then they are miserable. Be fair to yourself. Find a job that makes you happy.
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.
[Sabbath is Career Calling’s Sunday feature that looks at work and life beyond the job.]
Happiness at Work
In 2003, his Holiness the Dali Lama teamed with Psychiatrist Howard Cutler to write The Art of Happiness at Work. The book is a series of dialogues between the two men. They explore how our life centers on work in both personal and professional settings.
The Dali Lama defines good work through the Buddhist concept of “right livelihood.” In this philosophy, a beggar can be as satisfied with her work as a CEO so long as she is “free of clinging.” Satisfaction is not measured in salary or a title, but in a sense of pride in work done well or an accomplishment shared with people we like and respect.
What should be avoided if we want to be happy at our work? The Dali Lama identifies two major problems: stubbornness and an agitated mind. When we are stubborn, it is impossible to understand ourselves or others. We are not open to new possibilities or points of view. Similarly, when our mind is agitated, we cannot focus on our work or the needs of others. We are scattered.
One topic in this book that is especially relevant today is the Dali Lama’s views on unemployment. He understands that people will be angry and hurt when they lose a job. However, he says that our challenge is to control our emotions in how we respond to this situation. We should never confuse what we do with who we are. Our lives offer us more than that. He urges us to find work that lets us be fully human: “If your life becomes only a medium of production, then many of the good human values and characteristics will be lost – then you will not, you cannot, become a complete person” (146).
Real work, productive work – at home or an office or a factory – involves a sense of serving others. We take pride in such work and know it has meaning. The Dali Lama points out to Cutler at several times in the book that there is no formula for happiness in life or at work. What satisfies a man might make his twin brother miserable. A type of work that we find satisfying for ten or twenty years may becoming boring. We need to stay focused on our individual thoughts and feelings without becoming trapped by them.
Throughout the book, Cutler wrestles with a riddle. At one point, he asks the Dali Lama to describe what he does, and the holy man replies: “I do nothing.” This answer makes no sense to Culter. Finally, he puts the answer together. The Dali Lama does not recognize work as a separate part of life. “He had no pretense of acting a certain way in public. . . and another way in private, and could just be himself wherever he went. This made his work seem effortless” (204). That’s the magic when work and life are integrated – we can take joy in all of it.