Career dissatisfaction is something we’ve all experience, and a major roadblock to productivity, health, and professional success. So why are we all so unhappy in a market where arguably, economic conditions and job opportunities are on the uptick?
“Americans hate their jobs, even with perks,” blasts USA today, citing a recent Gallup report revealing that just 30% of US employees are engaged and inspired at work. The good news? That’s up from 28% in 2010. The bad news? Aside from the obvious, at this rate most of us will be lucky to be part of a fully-engaged, happy American workforce in our lifetimes.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that simple. But the figures around our paltry rate of career satisfaction don’t lie, and here’s why:
We don’t know what we want.
A lot of things factor into how satisfied we are with our jobs, and we aren’t even aware sometimes of what those things are. How much of that is influenced by the information, messaging, and cultures around us, versus our own values and interests?
The grass is always greener.
We’re constantly barraged by romanticized images of what our careers could look like, whether it’s founding the latest, greatest startup, being self-employed, telecommuting from an island in the South Pacific, or making a living saving the world in some never-before-conceptualized capacity. We’re looking outward for inspiration, instead of inward towards what we find personally interesting and fulfilling.
Dream jobs are not black and white; They’re grayscale.
Maybe your dream job exists in New York City working for an exciting, young company on the cutting edge of some major social good. But your dream life doesn’t exist in New York City, and your suburban paradise isn’t exactly Silicon Valley. While the online world makes it look simple, not everyone can just up and move in the interest of their dream job, especially when there are families involved. In other words – it’s complicated.
We’re often the last ones to dictate what success actually means to us personally.
We all follow thought leaders within our industries, and the mere phrase in itself suggests that these folks are the end-all-be-all in terms of conceptualization, idea sharing, and innovation. And if that’s the case, what room is there for any of us to exercise our own talent and creative vision if every industry already has it’s go-to Chief Idea Officer? The world is constantly shifting, and people become irrelevant as quickly as they become popular. Beyond that, we all have fresh, innovative, interesting ideas that we bring to the table in many different capacities that can potentially change the face of a business or industry for the better. Or perhaps, just make a positive contribution, which in my book, is just as important.
When we’re constantly focused on where we’re going next, where we perceive we should be at this stage in our careers, or how we’ll feel more happy/settled/successful/fulfilled/accomplished once we’ve reached point B, we’re essentially living between jobs. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t look ahead and aspire to something greater. But if you’re overly-engulfed by the vision of your future self, you are missing valuable opportunities to refine skills, build connections, and learn lessons that are integral to your professional success today.
I stopped calling myself a “career consultant” or a “career coach” awhile ago, not because I can’t serve in those capacities in addition to being a writer, but because there is a generalized preconception of what those titles mean, and how success is defined for someone who describes themselves as such. There’s a grandiose idea out there that successful career coaches go from virtual nobody to having a fully-booked client roster overnight. They write a book about reinventing yourself in the millennial age (many of whom have never done so), and then have it mentioned and cross-promoted by industry thought leaders. Sales pour in by the 100s. They have testimonials from Anthony Robbins, and hell, even Dale Carnegie arose from the grave to applaud such an innovative approach to career satisfaction.
For 99% of people, this is not the course of things. Let’s stop shooting for the wrong idea of success, and instead focus on defining it on an individual level. It’s like doing the limbo – it’s not about hitting the bar so much as it’s about how you position yourself in relation to it. The more original your approach, the better.
Fact: The average person will spend 30-40% of their lives working. So here’s what I suggest the next time you start to feel overwhelmed by or lost in your job search, your career change, or simply carving your own path towards professional accomplishment:
Find a middle ground between what you know you’re good at, and what you enjoy.
The world needs people at all levels and specializations. It doesn’t have to be your absolute passion, or manifest in its most ideal form. Sometimes the goal is simply to meet your own personal needs while making a positive contribution in a way that feels satisfying. Where do your strengths lie, and can you see yourself 1) monetizing that, and 2) enjoying the process of monetizing that? Not every artist wants to be told what to create.
Approach compensation from a standpoint of what you’re worth, but also what you need.
Do some competitive research around pay, but also look at what kind of non-monetary aspects you might need in order to thrive in a position. Is the extra $10K a year worth 2 weeks less of vacation time and a stringent corporate time off policy when you know you have 6 weddings to go to next year… including your own?
Make a list of your non-negotiables to help you cut through the clutter and noise.
What 5 (or 10) aspects do you know you need to have in your next role in order to be happy there, whether it’s a certain base salary, a hands-off manager, 4 weeks of vacation time, or client-facing responsibility? Similarly, what 5 things are you not willing to tolerate, either because you have in the past, or know that they detract from your ability to do your best work? Maybe it’s working on commission, commuting more than 30 minutes per day, or having to use PowerPoint in any way, shape, or form. This will help you sift through the plethora of options out there and get a sense of where you’ll be most happy and successful.
Finding the right job or career is a balancing act that requires us to tune out the noise and listen to our own internal voices. Because balance comes from within, from understanding what you bring to the table, to whom that has value, and in what capacity can that value be optimized – both for you, and your employer.