Friday, December 18, 2015
By Julie Cohen, Professional Certified Coach
Do you feel like you fell into your work? So many of us go to law school because it was expected, or we become doctors because it’s the family profession. Professional choices are made because it’s what we ‘should’ do, as opposed to pursuing what we want to do.
The results of making these decisions, or lack of decisions, can be varied. For some of us, this path is acceptable. The work may be interesting, challenging, or financially rewarding – which can be enough to keep us engaged most of the time even if its not ideal.
Alternatively, we may view work as a means to an end. Work is just something we do in order to ‘pay the bills’ and how we feel about our work and career isn’t relevant. It’s what the work provides outside of work time that is important.
However, we may want more from our work and careers, and feel dissatisfied by their lack of fulfillment from our current professional state.
The reasons for dissatisfaction are wide-ranging and can include:
The lack of:
Or, too much:
Are You Feeling Stuck?
You may feel stuck, along with dissatisfaction. You may have invested years of training and you can’t imagine starting over again in another field. Your career may have advanced and you are esteemed by colleagues and your community and don’t want to give that up. Or, you feel you can just ‘grin and bear it’ because everyone else does it.
Whatever the reason, many people choose to stay in situations that are less than ideal. This choice to stay does not have to doom you to a life of professional stagnation or misery. No matter what environment you’re working in, you can make improvements that work for you.
Are You Using Your Strengths?
People enjoy doing what they are good at doing. This may seem obvious, but often we work hard at fixing what we can’t or don’t do well – we try to improve our deficits, instead of enhancing our strengths. Unfortunately, most job evaluation processes focus on what an employee does not do well, instead what he/she does do well.
Do you know what you do well? Take fifteen minutes and develop a list of your strengths – things you do well and enjoy doing in your job. If you only come up with a few items, ask your boss, colleagues and friends for their input. Often others see our strengths when we cannot.
Now evaluate what percent of your overall work responsibilities involve your strengths? If it’s not at least 80%, you have significant room for improving your satisfaction AND you could be contributing significantly more to your employer. You have a business case for changing what and how you work, and a great starting point for a discussion with your boss.
Armed with your strengths, begin talking with your boss about how to better utilize your talents. Let your boss know that you’d like to take on more responsibilities in the areas of your strengths, which would also require you giving up some areas of work that are less appropriate for you. The ‘win-win’ of this situation is that you’ll be much more productive when using your strengths and you’ll provide more value to the organization.
This is not an instant fix; it is unlikely that your boss will immediately change your job description. This will likely be a process of conversations, small changes and evaluations. You’ll want to regularly show your progress and beneficial results, and continue to ask for more opportunities to use your strengths.
Are You Doing What Matters?
If it feels like something is ‘missing’ in your work, this is often a sign that you are not incorporating your values in to the work that you do. In order to see if it’s even possible to make this type of change in your current work situation, you need to be clear on what matters to you.
Take fifteen minutes, and develop a list of what you value and what has meaning to you. How do you want to impact your world and the people around you?
You may find some of the following on your list: ending poverty, sustainable business, justice for all, political activism, religious freedom, challenging the status quo, listening better, helping animals. This list is very personal to you and there is no right or wrong items that go on it. It’s about what matters to you and gives you more meaning.
Next, is to look creatively at how you can incorporate any of this in to the work you’re doing. It may not be immediately obvious how to help animals while consulting on IT projects or how to end poverty as a tax accountant, but this is where you apply creative thinking.
Seek out others with similar values and brainstorm possibilities. And, if it really doesn’t seem possible to bring what matters within your job responsibilities or your organization, find external outlets to make sure you’re nurturing what’s important to you in some other extra-professional manner.
Are You Enjoying the Environment?
We spend a significant part of our waking hours in our work place and work space. How do you like it? How does your office, cubicle or other work space make you feel? If any of the adjectives you used to describe your working environment include: depressed, drained, bored, agitated, uncomfortable, painful, or any other obviously negative descriptors, you need to make some tactical changes.
Take fifteen minutes to define what feelings you want from your professional environment. Do you want to feel creative, energized, calm, active, uninterrupted, or collaborative?
Once this is clear, evaluate whether you need to make cosmetic, ergonomic and/or structural changes to your environment. Also, are there new ways of operating with people that will help you enjoy your space more? For example, you might need to limit interruptions, engage in greater collaboration, or have more or less noise.
Working within the rules of your organization or asking for needed changes will allow you to feel more in control of your environment.
Are You Taking Care of Yourself?
How we take care of ourselves outside of work impacts how we feel during work. We do not live and work in a vacuum. We often hear the phase he/she ‘takes his/her work home.’ The opposite is also true. We take our life to work with us. If you are not feeling well or satisfied with things happening in your life it is likely to have an impact on your work.
Take fifteen minutes to evaluate your self-care practices. Do you eat well? Exercise enough? Get enough sleep? Do things that you enjoy? Spend time with family and friends who nurture you? If you are not satisfied with the life you are living it will likely impact your satisfaction with your work.
From the above evaluation, create one or two action steps that increase your self-care each week. This might include getting eight hours of sleep each night, going to the gym three times per week, meeting a friend once a week after work, going to a museum or taking a cooking class. Whatever feels like you are doing something for yourself and only you, give it a try.
An Hour to Work Satisfaction
The four 15 minute activities outlined above start you on the path to evaluating and making changes in how you work. Begin the process and see how you can impact your job satisfaction, career and future. An hour isn’t a huge time investment toward creating a more satisfying professional life.
This article is reprinted with permission from the September 13, 2007, issue of The Legal Intelligencer. Copyright 2007 ALM Properties Inc. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
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