Why satisfaction and success in our jobs are more within our control than we think.
I receive a lot of rants and questions from people frustrated with their jobs and even more frustrated with their difficult or unfair managers. It appears that jobs are a bit like marriages; those who are in want out and those who are out want in. Every job is a mix of good and bad. So here are a few tips to help make things more bearable, or even joyous.
First, be grateful. Any job is better than being unemployed, and you have to be unemployed to appreciate this. Work is not just about income. Work provides identity, community and structure and is vital for our emotional wellbeing. The trick is not to let the negative parts of it overwhelm you. What I’ve found helpful is to see my job, not as a lifelong but as a finite project; and see myself, not as an employee but as a freelancer. Framing things this way is liberating. In the finite time you have, your mission is to do the best work possible, learn a lot, leave a small legacy and move on.
Second, job satisfaction, success and happiness are hugely determined by our mindset. The psychologist Carol Dweck has explored the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset in this context. A person with a fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and abilities are factors that we can’t change in any meaningful way, and that success is the affirmation of our inherent intelligence. People with a fixed mindset are critical of everyone and everything, pretend to know it all and avoid failure at all costs. When they do stumble, they are often crushed and look to blame someone for this. A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, is positive, thrives on challenge and sees failure as a springboard for growth. Out of these two mindsets stems a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in our professional and personal lives, and ultimately our capacity for happiness. The good news is that this growth mindset can be slowly cultivated through awareness, experiences and effort.
Third, try to infuse meaning into your work. Remember, the apocryphal story of the three masons? When asked what they were doing, the first replied that he was laying bricks, the second said he was building a wall while the third explained that he was helping build a cathedral. The same task can be viewed completely differently by different people. Good leaders are able to motivate their teams with an inspiring mission but you don’t have to wait for such leadership. Nothing stops you from framing a mission for your work. A software developer can feel inspired to create code that helps airplanes fly safely. An Uber driver may be able to make his job more joyful by thinking of it as enabling people to get to their destinations safely and comfortably, rather than as drudgery behind the wheel.
Fourth, use your job to learn voraciously. With the world around us changing rapidly, there is a very high risk that we will be left behind. Charles Darwin found that, in nature, the most adaptable species are most likely to survive. Learning agility is the key to adaptability. This is not just about learning new skills such as repairing a robot or a new programming language. Rather, it encapsulates a person’s ability to quickly size up a new situation or problem and decide what to do. Learning agile individuals are curious, have an open mind, enjoy taking on new and big challenges, and are able to grasp new concepts and complex issues. They thrive in ambiguous situations and are tenacious in the face of obstacles and setbacks. The good news is that developing learning agility is like building a muscle. The more you start observing, trying to understand why, reading, or taking courses online, the more curious and engaged you become. So rather than wait for your company to send you for training, explore every possible avenue to learn new things.
Finally, try to figure out what you’re really meant to do with your life because, more than likely, you were not born just to do this job. Mark Twain said that there are only two moments that really matter in your life. The first is when you were born; the second is when you understand why you were born. For a variety of reasons, too many of us allow the world to define our goals and metrics for success while we desperately cling to a job we don’t really enjoy.
How do you find what you are truly meant to do? The Japanese concept called ‘ikigai’, suggests that this lies at the intersection of your passion, your abilities and what the world asks of you.
Sometimes this is quite clear, other times it’s less so. If you find yourself in the latter situation, this is a time to try many things, meet many different people, and experiment your way to what you’re supposed to do next.
So the bottom line is this. It’s great if you love your job. But if you don’t, focus on making the most of it and viewing it as a temporary stop. Satisfaction and success in the job are more in your control than you might imagine.