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Unhappy in your job? This is for you.

As a manager and a mentor,  I have a lot of conversations with people that start with the other person’s desire to change jobs. My approach to helping isn’t as straightforward as some would like. I don’t believe that changing roles is always the answer to someone’s unrest in their current situation.

I treat these conversations like a doctor’s visit. The unhappiness in their job is just a symptom.

To the frustration of some of those who come to me for advice, I never use a cookie-cutter method on how to pivot a career. Because a lot of the time, if people are dissatisfied in any area of their life, there is some deep personal changes that need to happen in order to transform this situation. Instead, I use the opportunity arising from this discomfort, as fuel to start an investigation of the root cause.

I take my mentees through a journey of self-discovery.

If you feel like you have hit a wall,  that you are not satisfied with the job you have today, and you are considering changing roles, it can be tempting to just jump into the internal job board or LinkedIn and see what open roles pique your interest. But if you do that, without deep consideration of what is causing your languish today, what are the chances that you will find yourself in the same role somewhere else and ultimately in the same situation in the next 12-18 months?

For that reason, I invite you to think about this situation differently.

There are a few key principles that I believe are important to consider if you are trying to build a fulfilling career:

  1. Know your purpose
  2. Control your mindset
  3. Close the gap between whom you project to be and who you are

Let’s explore those!

Knowing your purpose

Growth is something I am personally excited about. But one of the biggest lessons I have learned in my career so far is that direction is far more important than speed. A lot of people are going nowhere, very fast. Personally, I don’t want to be one of those people. Do you?

Let’s assume you already work smart and focus on value creation. With those skills, you can climb most ladders if you put your head to it. But what about when you do that only to find out you have been going up the wrong wall? That can be a source of unhappiness.

I don’t mean there is no value in meandering to learn skills and discover what interests you. I am definitely not implying that by climbing one tree one must go down all the way and start from zero elsewhere.  What I am saying is that you need to be intentional.

If you move between industries and areas to acquire the skills that will prepare you to fulfil your mission, you will feel energised by these roles. If you find yourself in a role without knowing why you are there, at some point, you will question your journey.

I often use the tale of the 3 bricklayers to illustrate this.

3 bricklayers worked in building a church, when asked what their job was the first said he laid bricks, the second that he was building a church, the third man answered that he was building a temple to worship his God and to serve as a home to his community.

Which one do you think was the most satisfied?

You are unlikely to be happy in one job and one company for the rest of your life. The need to grow is natural to all living things. But, if you are ambitious and want to build a great career, each role needs to act as a building block towards your purpose.

Finding your mission is hard work.It requires going deep and finding what really matters to you.  It’s easier to just go from job to job and see where it leads you. It’s easier to buy into whatever mission your next employer is selling to you. Don’t get me wrong, this might even take you to a highly paid position in a great company. Just don’t count on it bringing you happiness and fulfilment.

If you are starting the exploration of your purpose, I recommend you get brutally honest with yourself. Look inwardly. Find the things that you truly care about in life. Discover the areas of work that really get you excited. This exercise might help you to connect to your purpose

Personally, I am on a mission to use science and technology to enable people to let go of brainless work and focus on creating value. Today, I head up a Customer Success team that helps companies grow their business using technology so that they don’t have to do all of their marketing, sales and services manually. Call me geeky, but that really excites me. I work happily because what I do directly relates to my purpose.

Are there things I dislike in my job? Of course. No job is 100% made of things that you love doing. The important thing is that I believe the overall job is furthering my purpose.  My next job? One where the value I create has an even bigger impact on my mission.

A mission is a north-star. It helps you assess if you are in the right direction. It allows you to recallibrate. But most importantly, it gives your everyday meaning.

Controlling your Mindset

Once you find your purpose, it’s not all roses.

It is possible to know exactly where you are going and why you are doing what you are doing and still be unhappy in your current role. This usually happens when you feel stuck. You have outgrown your current assignment and what started as a little boredom, has become demotivation. It can also happen when you are overworked.

Your career is only one piece of the larger puzzle that is your life, and if it is taking over time with family, friends, hobbies etc, you can start to resent it. So how can you avoid this?

Famously Lao Tzu said: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

Everything that is happening in your life is being experienced inside your own head. So if you want to fulfil your vision of ‘destiny’, you need to start with mastering your thoughts.

When you are in the weeds of a problem, feeling demotivated, exhausted, stressed, hopeless etc, you might think about these issues all the time and it can become all-consuming. It’s easy to get into vicious cycles. But, going back to Lao, if you think that way, you speak that way,  you behave that way and so on and so forth.  If you say you are unhappy in your job all the time, you talk about being unhappy at your job all the time, then you become an unhappy person, and if you are not careful, in 35 years you will feel like you led an unhappy life.

It all starts with the brain. And the scientist in me thinks a lot about the brain. After all, mindset is all but chemical reactions and electrical pulses.
There are 5 non-negotiables in my life that I use to help me have a healthy brain that is capable of a positive mindset:

  • Rest: An 8-hour night of sleep and at least one day every week where I do not do any work/studying, no matter how busy things are.
  • Meditation: I try to start every day with 10-15 minutes where I am just being. It’s incredible how much benefit bringing awareness to your breath can do. I use Headspace to help me but you can use any other aid, the important thing is that you pause and bring awareness to the now.
  • Journaling: I write about what is happening in my life, putting pen on paper helps with gaining perspective and getting thoughts out of my head.
  • Exercising: Nothing like breaking a sweat to bring you to the now. I vary between cycling, running, yoga, weights training. Anything goes!
  • Spending time with people that love me for me: Family and friends have a way of lighting the load and reminding you that whatever is stressing you, is not that big of a deal.

For you, this little formula might be different. It’s worth thinking about what ‘great’ looks like for you (eg. what were you doing when you felt most rested, most at peace, most on ‘flow’?). Try to replicate that on a regular basis.

And remember, what matters is what you do consistently, not that one week where you did 100 amazing things for your brain.

Closing the gap between whom you project to the world and who you are

We talked about your mission and your mindset, both things are completely about YOU. They are intrinsic. However, sometimes you have your purpose and your mindset nailed but the environment you are in requires you to create a persona.

Let’s say you work at a company where there is fierce internal competition for promotions and everyone is always portraying their A-Game, nobody talks about challenges they might be having in balancing their workload; nobody mentions how they need the flexibility to manage kids and a career; nobody shares mistakes or areas of personal growth for fear of not being seen as a good fit for the next job; people barely take holidays and always want to be seen as being ‘on’…

Initially bending to fit into this culture might feel like a small concession to make for a limited time to get to the next level. But over time you create a persona so different to who you are in your personal life, that you will feel inauthentic.

When the gap between yourself and your work-self becomes a chasm and you feel isolated, suddenly you are not happy at work anymore. If this lasts for a long time, it might lead to languish and in some cases depression.

My tip here is simple: find a company that has a culture that you identify with. You can try to change the environment, and if you have autonomy and enough leadership capital to do it, you might be able to succeed. But it will take a lot of calories to be able to do this. So, I ask you: is it worth it?

Maybe! If your mission is to help organisations transition to a more holistic culture, this might just be for you. But for the other 99.98% of us, it’s probably best if you find a new environment. 

People spend a lot of time thinking about the job and the ladder, but not enough time thinking about the environment. Do you want to pitch your ladder in a swamp? I don’t think anyone INTENTIONALLY does.

So if you are trying to find a new job, once you know your mission, I invite you to consider the culture you want to be part of You can do that by researching the companies you are applying for and crafting questions for the recruiters that allow you to uncover the culture beyond what is written on the ‘Welcome’ pack. Remember, the interview process is not a one-way avenue, it is there for you and the company to assess mutual fit.

If you have a purpose, you move with intention, you maintain a positive mindset and place yourself in the right environment, you will flourish!

Do you want to wake up one day, age 70, look back, and feel like you wasted your life?
I know I don’t!
Reading this article is not enough, go practice it and feel free to reach out and tell me how it is working for you!

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