Our work and our emotional life are tied together more than we may realize. Satisfaction at work helps us feel good about ourselves, and the way we feel about ourselves influences our success at work. We can improve our overall feelings and success by looking more closely at what we want and need from our career.
The reason most of us would cite for going to work is to earn a paycheck. A paycheck pays the bills and contributes to our personal comfort. In addition, many of us measure our worth by the size of our paycheck. However, if we equate quantity of money with quantity of appreciation, we may be sent off on a wild goose chase, looking for more and more money and never finding the sense of appreciation, purpose and satisfaction we crave.
Fully dimensional human needs on and off the job
As we look more carefully at what we want from work, we find the whole spectrum of human needs. We want to feel connected with people, want to express ourselves creatively, and even want to fulfill our spiritual dimension. Instead of letting these needs simmer under the surface, we could increase our awareness of them by writing a mission statement and becoming more conscious of the many dimensions of our life goals.
Our multidimensional goals span our lives from our family life to our professional ambitions. While we need to fulfill our many dimensions so we can be a rounded person, we ought not keep them compartmentalized. The most obvious overlap is that our paycheck supports our family. However, there are many other overlaps. If we gain creative satisfaction at work, we come home energized. And if our home life is nurturing and supportive, we go to work light hearted and ready to focus on accomplishing our tasks. We can even satisfy some of our spiritual needs at work, by honoring our value system, by seeing our work as a contribution to the world, or by spreading joy to everyone with whom we come in contact.
Our social life seems to be a separate universe from our work life, but the fact is we bring our social needs and habits with us to work. Our friendships at work form part of our support network. And our skill at getting along with people may have an enormous influence on our success as well as satisfaction. For example a waitress who makes everyone feel good will be more successful than one who does not. On the other hand if we feel alienated from people our emotional satisfaction suffers, and it will reduce our effectiveness. An office worker who is cranky may do his job but no one enjoys working with him.
Teamwork requires an enormous spectrum of skills. We must communicate our needs and understand theirs, even if they are very different from ours. We must follow rules while maintaining flexibility, and so on. If we aren’t good at these skills we might feel overwhelmed by other people and try to avoid them.
If our social skills or mood interfere with our success or enjoyment at work, instead of trying to fix our job, we could try to improve ourselves. When we learn how to work with others, we’ll improve our business success, and also our personal satisfaction.
We learned these interpersonal skills in our family
We first learned how to fit into an organization by fitting into our family. And to a surprising extent the lessons we learned at home carry over into our work as adults. For example, if our parents were too preoccupied to listen we may tend to press ourselves on others, without feeling confident that they are hearing us. If our parents felt victimized in organizations, and their table talk gave us the impression that organizations are unsafe, we will tend to be suspicious of our boss’s intentions. We may feel our boss treats us like a child, similar to the way we felt treated in our family.
One valuable place to start understanding our role in the organization is to explore our role in our family. Once we get a better understanding of where we’re coming from, we can learn how to improve our relationships to authority and to coworkers. We can also use self-help and other agents of change to replace old approaches with more empowering ones.
What draws us to a career
Complex forces draw us towards some careers and away from others. We may even feel we know what career we want before we know much about what we would do in that career. For example, we may proudly imagine ourselves becoming a police officer or doctor, but may not embrace the duties involved in actually being one. Or we might avoid law because we don’t like the image of lawyers, even though we are fascinated by the process of legal debate and advocacy. To navigate accurately, it’s best to get in touch with our dreams, and evaluate the direction we want to go.
When we plumb the depths of our dreams we discover that we have been piecing them together since childhood. Often, hidden within our dreams are remnants of our childhood desire to please our parents. Now, as we try to understand where we’re headed, we may need to tease apart their dreams from ours. If we’re blindly following their dreams we may be trying to scratch their itch.
We can gain insights before we take the plunge by talking to a seasoned participant in that career. Consulting with a career counselor can help us sort out our dreams, explain where we might fit in and coach us in the art of selling ourselves. We can also learn by trial and error. As we take our first position we learn what we like and what we don’t and correct our course accordingly.
Once we are situated in a job, we may not like it, or we may not excel. Instead of jumping ship, we can learn from our dissatisfaction by digging deeper and understanding more about our relationship to our work. Overcoming obstacles is a life skill in its own right. Exercising our coping skills provides valuable experience that can benefit us for life.
Instead of focusing exclusively on the frustrating situation we could learn more about what makes us frustrated and learn how to handle more frustration. We can gain clarity and poise by taking a step back, breathing deeply and considering new ways to look at old problems. The flip side of frustration is patience. We may be expecting too much too fast. By accepting a longer time frame, we may realize that this situation will change as we apply effort. Instead of passively being disgruntled with our work, we could proactively do things to make it more satisfying. We could learn new skills or learn how to do a different aspect of the work and qualify for a more satisfying position.
Instead of complaining about our coworkers or bosses, we could learn how our self-concept within the organization affects the way other people see us and the way we see ourselves.
At times, we may find ourselves in an unproductive situation, and realize that this position doesn’t and never will allow us the full expression of our skills and energy.
Stress and burnout
Starting a new job, we feel fresh and full of energy. Without realizing when it happens, we later may find ourselves wishing we were somewhere else. Burnout creeps up on us and before we know what hit us, we’re bored and cynical. These feelings can suck the joy out of life. We shouldn’t accept this state lying down. Once we recognize we’re burned out we need to get to higher ground. But how? We can start by taking a look at our personal life. Are we tired because we’re not getting enough sleep, preoccupied by problems in our relationships, or recovering from recreational substances we used the night or weekend before? We might also experience burnout from working too hard without down-time. All work and no play makes us dull.
Throwing ourselves into pressures of work we may be neglecting our intimate relationships and our spirit. Over time, these starved areas begin to hurt, cause stress and eventually force us to pay attention or pay the price. To avoid the collapse of marriage and of mental and physical health, we should do our best to balance all our needs.
Mid-life career challenges
Another form of burn-out strikes at mid-life, when we have been performing the same tasks for decades. We may feel that life is passing us by, and we’re running out of time. These feelings are part of the normal cycle of human experience. Rather than pretending they don’t exist, or allowing these feelings to push us into actions we regret later, we can bring the most wisdom to middle age by squarely facing our life cycle and needs.
To learn about these powerful feelings, we may need to evaluate our belief system, especially as it relates to our own mortality. In addition, we may need to get in touch with unresolved dreams and desires. If we didn’t learn about our identity when we were teenagers, we may now try to catch up by acting out, indulging and in general ignoring the consequences of our actions. We would benefit ourselves and the people in our lives by taking these pulls seriously and doing our best to understand them rather than to be blindly driven by them.
If we feel limited in our work we could take a number of steps:
· Look for a new slant to our work gradually transforming our career in a more satisfying direction.
· Go back to school to learn new skills or deepen our existing ones.
· Unleash our creative passion by increasing our focus on creative arts and hobbies.
· Volunteer in community and other organizations to find fulfillment through service.
· Develop a personal mission and then work towards fulfilling our deep values and dreams.
By focusing on the values that we want to satisfy, developing our dreams into real goals, and then fulfilling those goals, we can re-author those aspects of our lives that have been lacking light and air.
Losing or leaving a job
When we leave a job our daily routine changes dramatically. By exiting a role, we have left a part of us behind, and as in any loss, we face complex emotions. We bonded with people and invested our self-esteem in performing certain tasks. All that is finished, and we enter the next phase. Now, instead of healing from our emotional shock, we must search for a job, a difficult task that makes us feel even more vulnerable.
Despite the importance of this huge change in our lives, our society has no rituals or celebrations that help us integrate our many emotions. In the absence of routine social supports, we need to invest time in our own healing. We could talk about our loss and vulnerability with respected members of our community. We can meditate, pray and become more involved with our religious and spiritual convictions. We could heal through creative expression or journaling, or invoke other agents of healing.
Loyalty, quality and other values
With loyalty out of fashion, workers tend to focus on personal survival rather than on the success of the organization. This creates an atmosphere in which workers feel uninvolved, a condition that ultimately leads to cynicism and loss of motivation.
The diminished sense of loyalty, pride in quality and other old-fashioned values makes us feel split from our work. To restore enthusiasm, we must buck the trend, and find these timeless values within ourselves. Our values are the expression of our soul, and by staying in touch with our values we can feel more whole.
Focus through service and leadership
Even when we perform humble tasks, we could increase the emotional payoff from our job by challenging ourselves to serve each person we contact. Through the attitude of service we can bring our full attention to the job and can integrate our deepest spiritual values with our work.
Leadership is another state of mind that fully engages our attention. With the attitude of leadership, we approach our work as if everything we do affects the feelings of many people. Embracing this attitude gives us a profound reason to do it well and cheerfully, no matter what the job description.
Creativity and learning
We can draw great satisfaction from the creative aspects of our work. Creativity is not limited to traditional artistic expression. Any time we use our individual, unique talents, accompanied by a sense of awakened awareness of our soulful source, we can satisfy our urge to create. Variety, learning and creativity bring freshness and make us feel more alive.
When we get to the end of a long road, we want to take a breather and put down our burden. But if we stop altogether, our relaxation turns into stagnation. As long as we want to stay alive and energized we must continue to pursue some purpose. All play and no work could end up making us just as dull as the other way around. If we don’t exercise the many dimensions of our mission, we wither. By re-authoring our mission to fit in with our new circumstances, we can find a renewed purpose to keep us actively committed to the game of life. Whether we re-tool ourselves to serve our community, develop creative skills, or dig deeper into the meaning of life, to get the most out of life at any age, we must provide ourselves with challenges that stimulate us to learn and grow.
If we hate our work, we hate half our life. Dissatisfaction with a poorly fitted career can darken our days. By recognizing the importance of this significant dimension of life, and applying ourselves to reviewing and renewing our career, we can boost our freshness and energy.
We can also use work as a vehicle for caring for people. By serving others passionately, by caring about the impact we have on the people we serve, and the quality of our work, we can contribute to our community and ourselves.
As we review our work, we imagine how it fits in with our whole life. We can integrate our work with the rest of our life by developing a mission that includes our work as one component of who we want to become.
See also: Identity, Leadership, Meaning, Mid-life and beyond, Service
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