Unhappiness and work don’t have to go together

A recent article in Inc Magazine titled “Ten Things Unhappy Workers Always Wind Up Doing” got me thinking.  The article took the perspective of the company – here is what happens to your company when you have unhappy workers.  In general, they are not good things.  No one “wins” – productivity is lower than it should be, no one is happy, and results suffer – when workers are unhappy.

Here is my perspective on it from the employee’s side.

We have all worked in unhappy jobs (if you haven’t, you are quite lucky!).  We “put up” with it for a while (maybe TOO LONG) for a variety of reasons.  “The job will get better once I know what I am doing”.  “I need the money”.  “I just need to put in my time”.  We are scared of what might be on the other side – not having a job.

In the original article, the one statement that grabbed me the most was this one:

“They’re more excited about leaving work at the end of the day than they are about arriving in the morning”

Think about that for a moment.  Doing something every day yet being more excited about being done with it than the anticipation of doing it.  This is a place where we probably spend a minimum of 8 hours a day.  Why dread it each of those days?

Think about it from a manager’s viewpoint (maybe that is you).  You “put up with” unhappy workers for a variety of reasons.  “I don’t want to have to go through the hiring process.” “I am too busy now, I’ll get to this person later.” “Maybe they will do a better job.”  Just like the employee, managers don’t want to look at the other side. It is human nature to avoid uncomfortable situations.  One of the topics we avoid at work is the idea that a person and a job might turn out to be a bad match. We don’t know how to say “You are a great person and this is a reasonable job for someone, but you and this job are not well-suited to one another.”

Some people might argue it is better to be working in an unhappy job than in no job at all.  What they really mean it is better to be getting paid (to put food on the table) than not getting paid.  True enough.  But that is not a long term healthy outlook.

I believe this is where a career plan can provide a way to avoid the “Ten Things Unhappy Workers Do”.   Just like saving money to buy a new car, sometimes it takes a while to get to where you want to be.  But knowing that you are slowly working your way to that better car, you might put up with the old one for a little more time.  You might actually brighten your mood a bit.  A career plan is that small bit of savings you put away over time.  It gets you closer to your goal state.  It defines a pathway out.  It overcomes the dreaded “what do I do now?” syndrome.  It is an investment in the future.

If you are unhappy at work, give this some thought.  If you know someone else who is unhappy, pass this post along to them.  There is no rule that says you must work in a place where you are unhappy.  There is a relatively simple way out.  And I would love to help.

Here is the link to the original Inc post – 10 Things Unhappy Workers . . .

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Boston. . . and a little lesson on planning

I just got back from watching my son, Nathan, run the Boston Marathon. That was an awesome experience and quite memorable.  I was reminded about how hard it is to run a marathon  – which gets to the point of this post.

So how does this apply to your life, and specifically your career plan?  What lessons can we learn from this?

You need a plan

To run a marathon, you must have a plan.  Most people will turn to one of numerous standard 16 week regimented running plans. These plans lay out how many miles to run, and how fast, each day. It is a schedule that clearly tells you what to do each and every day.  Some people thrive on that certainty and structure. For Nate, a less formulaic plan works. Nate had specific goals weekly and monthly.  He had specific targets to hit at milestone times.  He had some basic run plans in place.  But he did not have a schedule that told him what to do daily.  He craved the flexibility and trusted his milestones.  Different than the standard plans, but effective for him.  The point is, to run the marathon, your plan can be different based on what works best for you.

In life, including your career, you need a plan.  You decide how to create a plan that fits you. What works for you? A plan that is very structured and demands daily observance?  Or one that has some general parameters and milestones? There is no one-size-fits all. But you need to have a structure and something that will hold you accountable for making progress.

Expect something to go wrong – and be prepared to react

Nate had a mysterious foot injury pop up during one of his runs. Knowing this was a problem, he immediately stopped his run and got a ride home from his brother. He then started immediately taking care of the foot. He also called in his “team of experts” – Rose for treatment options and me for running strategy. After taking a few days off, he was back on the road, first taking it easy to make sure the foot was okay and then going full speed.  He recognized the problem, consider the options, called in experts and then tested a revision to his original plan.

Something similar will happen with you.  You have to know that things won’t go as planned every day. Something will come up at work. A family emergency will bubble up. The car (or the dishwasher or furnace) will stop working. Now is when you need to collect yourself and assess the situation. Your plan might need to be on hold for a few days. That’s okay. Do you have a “team of experts” (like Nate did) to turn to? How can you take a few days off and then get back to your plan?

You must make a sacrifice that is hard, but attainable – and then celebrate the success

Nate gave up drinking any alcohol for the two months before the Boston Marathon. It is hard for a 26 year old to give up beer, etc. when you are still going out with friends who are drinking. Is it impossible? No.  Is it hard to do? Probably yes. Is it a relatively short time period for sacrifice? Yes.   After the race, we hit a couple bars to celebrate the race (and his discipline to give up beer for two months).

If you are not making a sacrifice in your plan, you are kidding yourself.  You need to challenge yourself in your plan. There has to be a sacrifice of some type to change your behavior. Maybe it is dedicating an hour a day during the weekend to work on your career plan. Maybe it is reconnecting with one person once a week. Maybe it is setting a goal to have your resume and LinkedIn profile updated by the end of the month. Set it in stone. But have a near term deadline. Then you can tell yourself you only have “so much farther to go”.

So do you have a career plan?  Can you address the question, “What’s next?”  Might it be time to start your plan for a challenge that will come up some day (if it is not already here)?

Stress vs. passion

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion” – Simon Sinek

Another view on the same subject from Thomas Plummer:

“The difference between stress and passion is whether you like the work you are doing or not. Like the work, all those hours you put in is because you are passionate about what you do. Stressed beyond your breaking point? This usually means you are living a life that is not yours”

Interesting take on this subject.  We all witness people who work hard.  Some of them don’t seem to mind the long hours or the difficult work.  They seem energized and happy.  Others are literally falling apart from the effort they are putting in.  They look miserable.  Why does this difference seem to occur?  Some people might say it is due to the way people are built (some can handle hard work better than others).  The quotes above would say there is more to it than simply the self.

In the end, I believe stress is self-imposed.  The definition of stress is “a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium”.  The reaction is all yours – a choice YOU MAKE.  You might argue that external factors drive it.  But I really think it is because you allow the external stimulus to have an impact.  Just because your boss is setting crazy deadlines, do you have to allow his/her push to affect you?  Maybe your company is going through hard times.  Why take it all on personally?  Take some time to really ponder what is important. Recognize that someone else may be trying to exert their stress on you, but you get to choose if you want to take it on.  You have to get something done now – or else.  Or else what?  Have you put yourself in a stressful situation?  Is the “or else” really the only outcome?

Doing something you love negates stress?

I had never thought about the idea that doing something you love that negates the stress. If you do believe stress is self imposed, it does seem likely that your love or passion for the action might overcome the stress angle.  You decide you enjoy what your doing.  By making this decision, it simply becomes “hard work”, rather than “stressful work”.

But what about stress that comes from sources other than work? Students are stressed out for important tests. Unemployed people are stressed out from trying to find a job.  Parents are often “stressed” by the pressures of raising a family (which hopefully is something they are working hard at because of love).  Those are all true.  According to the American Psychological Association, “whether stress is “good” or “bad” has more to do with the amount of stress in your life and how you manage it”.

So next time you find yourself working hard on something and wondering if it is worth it, ask a couple questions.  Is this something I really love?  Is this someone else’s stress they are imposing on me?  Why am I doing this, because I enjoy it or because I “must” do it?  These might just help you get back to equilibrium.

Interest and Commitment

“There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” Kenneth Blanchard

Reading that quote stopped me in my tracks.  Look at what he said, one more time.  What am I really committed to versus what  am I really interested in? Hmm.  Looking at a list I developed, it brings more reflection to mind.

Is that it?

Are those enough items to be committed to?  Is it a true commitment or a strong interest?

Should there be something else?

Those are questions I ask myself.

How many of us ever sit down and really think about what we are TRULY committed to?  What would happen if we did that?  Sit and Think.  I firmly believe that kind of introspection will lead to new awareness.

Blogger Anne Bachrach talks about becoming a doer rather than a dreamer.  She says it is the word “commitment” that separates the dreamer from the doer.  As she says about a dreamer, “you don’t want it bad enough to commit to being a doer. ” In another recent post Better Question to ask, I mentioned Mark Manson, who wrote about asking the right question – NOT “what do I want” but rather “What pain am I willing to endure”?”  Perhaps it does come down to do you want it badly enough to endure?

I firmly believe we can only have a few areas of commitment.  You can only be really good at a few things.  It takes a lot of work to “accept no excuses”.  It requires a lot of self reflection.  It demands a lot of your time.  I think a happy life is one that has a healthy balance of a few commitments and a number of interests.

For me, I am committed to my family.  Enough said.   Certainly I am committed to my running and fitness.  I have a plan for the whole year – races I want to run.  I have my weeks planned out between running and fitness workouts.  I adapt the rest my personal schedule to make sure I get my exercise in.  I am also committed to making my Career Coach business a viable one.  Every day, I spend a few hours working and developing new ideas to expand my business.  There are probably some other things I am committed to, but that is about it.

On the other hand, I have a bunch of interests.  This blog is an interest.  I love writing it.  I have fun when I find a quote, a book, an incident that spurs me to write about it.  But in the end, it is a fun, convenient thing to do, not a “must do”.  I am interested in self development through reading, studying and networking with others.  I like to eat, so I like to cook – but I don’t spend hours looking at new recipes, looking for new ingredients or concerning myself with the presentation of food.  That’s what makes it an interest, not a commitment.  I have some other interests, but you get the idea.

How about you?  Could you make a list of commitments versus interests?  What do you only accept results for – not excuses?  Are the things on your list of commitments the right ones?