Finding happiness at work may feel like a tall order.
We’ve all been in jobs that weren’t satisfying. Heck, we’ve probably all faced work that was downright tedious at times!
The truth is, you can find happiness in absolutely any job. I’ve known trash collectors who were satisfied every single day. I’ve known teachers, law enforcement, and social workers who faced difficult, even dangerous situations with a smile on their face.
There are ways to find happiness at work, even if you’re not in your dream job. If you’re hoping for more satisfaction in the 9-5, here’s how to find it.
I didn’t think of a career when I was growing up. I lived in a town where everyone had jobs; they might work at the bank, as a firefighter, or in a factory. I was working my first job when someone asked me, “what do you want to do for your career?” I remember it was the first time I’d really thought about the difference between a career path I could choose, and a job.
Not everyone has a predetermined career path. Some people don’t know what they want to do for a job until much later in life—well-past their college years. Others waffle back and forth, never feeling fulfilled because they don’t feel settled on their career path.
In reality, there are many jobs and careers we could feel satisfied in. It’s not about the perfect job or the ideal career path, but about the quality of the work you do. You can engage in any task and find satisfaction, meaning, and fulfillment.
If you’re lamenting the idea that you didn’t “follow your passion” or fulfill your dream career, take a pause and think about it. Maybe you’d find creative or intellectual fulfillment in your dream profession, or perhaps you wouldn’t. Maybe the same people and situations that get under your skin at your current job would exist in any setting. It’s not the work, but our approach to the work that makes all the difference.
Many of us covet the corner office. We think if we got the promotion, we’d really show our boss our mettle. We’re waiting for a leadership position to appear so we can finally be in charge.
I’ve seen many entrepreneurs who quit their “day jobs” only to learn they’re in over their heads. This idea that we can’t answer to anyone, so we want to become our own boss, is a falsehood. Even as an entrepreneur, you have a boss—your clients, your customers, and your stakeholders. If you forget about them, you’re not going to find success.
Instead of looking at authority as a situation to buck against, what if we shift to viewing administration as something to model? Instead of feeling bossed around in meetings and shutting down defiantly, what if you spoke up and shared your thoughts?
I’ve seen many of the best ideas come from people in the lowest positions in the company. Often, these people have boots on the ground. They’re in the trenches, and they see what happens in the day-to-day action. If you’re at the bottom rung of the ladder, your voice could still turn the company around and head off major issues, otherwise overlooked.
Look at your boss as a mentor. Dress for your next position. Walk into meetings ready to speak up, engage, and lead. Lead from any position, and you’ll start to move up the ranks.
The vital key to happiness at work (and in life) is purpose. Purpose and meaning should drive every interaction.
I’ve worked with plenty of professionals who earn high incomes. They may hold an MBA from an Ivy League school. They may own a big house, luxury cars, and designer clothing, but they’re scratching their heads, wondering why they still aren’t happy.
If we want to find happiness at work, we need to focus on the ways we’re working to be net givers to the world. How are we providing the world with more than we’re gaining? How are we giving to those around us and bringing out the best in our peers?
Purpose is like a switch. Once we discover it, we’re turned on and engaged. Suddenly our burdens become lighter. Work no longer feels like work because it’s meaningful. We know we’re working FOR something, rather than going through the motions.
The truth is happy people are happy people. If you want a great career, focus on being a great person. Be a trustworthy person. Be someone other people count on. As you become the person you want to be, your job and career path will align.
You can develop yourself in any environment. People have transformed themselves in dire circumstances. They’ve learned and grown in prison, in concentration camps, and other unthinkable situations. Development comes from rising to the challenges.
If you find your job isn’t sparking your happiness, consider that it might be too easy. When we enter a new job, we feel challenged right away. We’re learning to adapt to a new environment. We’re discovering new ways to carry out tasks. We’re meeting new people and adapting to the situation.
After a few years, we may find we’re not as excited about our job anymore. It feels routine. Instead of going on autopilot and zoning out, this is a sure sign you need to zone in. I was working with a lawyer who was going through these feelings of drudgery. He was even considering a career change because he wasn’t finding his career fulfilling anymore.
I challenged him to prepare for his next case like it was his very first. I told him to go all in—cram in as much information and study as possible. He followed my advice and came back the next week on a high. He said it was the most significant week of work he’d had in a long time.
Humans want new challenges and stimulation. We want to be engaged and turned on to new ideas and activities. If you feel unfulfilled by your job, take on a big challenge. If you can’t think of a challenging project to undertake, ask your boss. I guarantee he or she will offer an idea to push you further.
We often think of networking as a crucial part of growing our role at work. Our network is how we engage with new clients, new leads, and new customers. But networking over lunch or happy hour isn’t really building our essential connections.
Our connections with others become stronger when we become net givers instead of net takers. Do we give to our network? Do we provide leadership, mentorship, and advice? Do we invite new connections to share, not because we’re waiting to close a deal or warm up a lead, but because we’re genuinely interested in engaging with them as human beings?
Instead of thinking of our customers and clients and people who are there to give us money, what if we thought of them as people who need to receive our service? How will we tell them about a product or service that will change their lives for the better?
We don’t always need to think of giving in tangible ways, either. Offering appreciation, warmth, and encouragement is also part of giving to others. When we engage with others, we’re helping fulfill their yearning to be respected, listened to, to see and be seen. Fulfilling a yearning is powerful stuff that fortifies our connections.
We all make mistakes. Many of us make big, huge, epic mistakes. Some errors feel like the end of the world, and we wonder how we will ever recover. This is especially true when our mistakes affect our work (and even worse when our boss, team, or customers were relying on us).
Mistakes are opportunities for learning. As researcher Angela Duckworth writes in her book, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success:
“…Grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.”
In other words, making mistakes and getting rejected helps us determine our path and strengthen our resolve. As we test what approaches work and what approaches don’t work, we narrow our aim. We get better at our job.
It’s tough when we’ve made a blunder. We may have a hard time righting the ship and correcting our path, but when we do, we’re much more aware of the proper direction. In each mistake is an opportunity to refine and home in on our approach.
If we watch kids when they learn, and even when they play, they make mistakes all the time. When a baby falls after taking a few steps, they don’t throw in the towel and give up. They get back up and keep going. Kids are resilient. As adults, we start to question our abilities to bounce back after mistakes.
Instead, keep moving forward and learning. If you want to find happiness at work, embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Celebrate your mistakes and keep going!
For more on discovering a life of purpose and satisfaction, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll connect with others on their transformation journey. We’re also offering many of our great courses for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to discover more about yourself!
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.