Not happy at work? Take control and create your ideal experience.
Years ago, I was in a job I absolutely hated. The CEO was a raging narcissist and those who reported to her (one of whom I reported to) followed suit. The tone in any organization comes from the top, and their toxicity spread thoroughly and completely. In the midst of it, I took a much needed vacation – a Caribbean cruise. Stuck in the middle of the ocean with no Internet to distract me, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the situation I found myself in and what I had done to create it.
Yes, you read that correctly – what I had done to create it.
We create our experiences at work.
The world is a perfect place. That doesn’t mean that we get everything we want the minute we want it – it means we get what we deserve based on our behaviors.
I might say I want a great work experience, where I can make a meaningful contribution and find personal fulfillment. But how am I contributing to that every day?
Here’s how I was sabotaging myself:
- I ignored the voice in my head that told me something was wrong when I accepted the position. Our instincts come from somewhere – it’s our brain processing more information than we are conscious of and giving us an answer, even if it doesn’t tell us how it arrived at it.
- I started each day, from the minute I got out of bed, telling myself it was going to be a horrible day. We’re great at creating self-fulfilling prophecies.
- I stopped trying with my co-workers, even the ones that were just doing their best to get through the day in a less-than-ideal situation.
- I had let the entire affair destroy my confidence, instead of reminding myself that I was not the cause.
No, I wasn’t solely responsible for the environment – the CEO had that weight to bear. And I couldn’t control the behaviors of other people. But I was in complete control of my perspective and my daily contributions, and in that I was failing.
In the months that followed, I focused on the things I could control by setting a new standard for my success based on acting with integrity, showing compassion and empathy to others, and being of service to the people around me. If I met that standard, it was a good day. Nothing else mattered – not my boss throwing me under the bus or my co-workers spreading gossip and lies. And because I had such laser-focus, I had enough energy at the end of the day to create my exit strategy.
If you’re not happy at work, it’s time to take control of your professional experience.
First, let’s make sure we know what we mean by happy. You don’t have to be in a toxic situation like I was to take a second look at your work experience. The reality is that most people are not happy at work. Perhaps it’s because so many of us have had an awful job experience (or several), but all too often we confuse not being miserable in our job with being happy. That’s not happiness – that’s satisfaction. You can do better.
Your first step is taking an honest look at what would make you happy. Don’t put any restrictions on yourself for this exercise – if you could do anything, what would you do? How do you want to spend your days? What things do you love doing at work? What do you hate? Make a list, journal it out. Paint a crystal clear vision.
Next, analyze the gap between where you are right now, and where you want to be. For some people, the gap may not be that big – they’ll be able to make improvements in their current organization and get pretty close to their ideal. Think about the things you’re doing (or not doing) at work every day that have gotten you where you are, and what you need to change to do things differently. Write a personal mantra as your measure of success, and strive for it every single day. Some days you’ll make it, others you won’t. But every day is a new day to begin again.
Some of you might love your organization, but not like your job. That doesn’t mean you have to leave! Even if you’re shooting for a different job function, don’t underestimate your ability to get your organization to craft a position for you. If your organization values you, it’s in their best interest to keep you happy. I’ve walked countless clients through the process of literally crafting a job where one didn’t exist before. It is possible!
Don’t be discouraged if this assignment makes you realize that you’re in the completely wrong job in the completely wrong industry. That just means it’s going to take a little longer for you to make a change. Consider your options: You’re going to be working until you retire, probably decades from now. You can spend that time in the wrong type of job, or you can put the time and effort in to making the transition and get to the right type of one, even if it takes a few years. Your hard work will pay off.
What are you afraid of?
You would think that someone who’s not happy at work would be ready to do what it takes to end up in a better experience. However, lots of times I find that people are more comfortable in a less-than-ideal work experience than they are in chasing something that they will love.
It all comes down to fear. You’ve probably spent a lifetime on the “shoulds.” You should do this, or you should want that. Few people have dared consider that what they really want is an achievable possibility and when you put it in front of them and say “you can have it”, they freak out. It’s overwhelming! But it is possible. The people who get there are the ones that push past the fear and make little changes every day to move themselves in the direction they want to go.
Ready to create your ideal work experience?
If you’re not happy at work and are looking for a better way, join my program Work Reboot.