HOW OUR CAREERS MAKE OR BREAK US & WHAT TO DO WHEN WE STILL NEED OUR JOBS
I watched Les Miserables last night. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it but as I write this, it saddens me to think of Fantine. She starts off by working at a crappy job with toxic coworkers and an even worse foreman. She gets fired and in order to send money to her little girl, she prostitutes herself and endures heartbreaking hardship. Pride, self-esteem, confidence gone; she loses her hope in humanity. And when she starts to sing “I Dreamed A Dreamed”, you feel for her.
You can watch it here
In no way should I compare our lives to that of Fantine’s but I’m going to because this song translates to so many parts of our lives, but more specifically, I’m going to talk about how our careers and the work we do either make or break us.
We all have hopes and dreams.
There’s no denying that. When we graduate, we have a vision of what our careers will look like, the impact we want to make, the type of work we want to be doing.
And then something happens:
- We graduate with huge student loans
- We take the first job that’s offered to us that relates to what we studied
- We buy a house (and a mortgage), get married, have a family
- We live the “dream” and yet we’re still completely unhappy with what we’ve built
We let our careers define us. We spend every day at work and when we do something every day, it’s hard to identify ourselves as anything else.
Our jobs will either be the death of us or the reason we (want to) wake up in the morning. But what happens when we work at a job that completely destroys us, our confidence and our pride. What happens to our dreams then as the days go by?
Our careers can:
BREAK US DOWN OR BUILD US UP
It’s easy to believe that our job is just a way to make a living, that it’s a necessary evil that everyone needs to endure in this lifetime.
But if we’re working at a job that doesn’t fulfill us, doesn’t align with our values or challenge us, the job will slowly break us down emotionally, mentally and physically.
A job can do the following:
- Energize us or leave us completely depleted;
- Give us confidence or batter our self-esteem;
- Make us feel like we matter in this world or create the illusion that we have nothing more to offer;
- Help us reach our potential or stifle us
We spend at least 8 hours a day at our jobs. Imagine feeling depleted, frustrated, and like the last 8 hours of your life didn’t matter? We begin to think we’re just not good at our jobs, that we make bad decisions. Every thought that goes through our heads during the day stays with us and those thoughts compound to the point where we no longer believe in ourselves.
“Belief defines the limits of your possibility” — Unknown
- A day where you wake up with excitement and ready to tackle the day
- Becoming lost in your work and enjoying every minute of it
- Know that you’re using your talents to the best of your abilities and continually growing
- Feeling and knowing you’re making an impact, big and small ones
How does that make you feel?
Or maybe a better question is do you even know how that feels?
If you’ve never felt any of the above in all your years of working, what does that say about the work you’re doing?
IMPRISON US OR GIVE US FREEDOM
Our careers can either make us feel like we’re serving a 40 year sentence or give us true freedom. If you don’t know which of the two you belong in, you can get a pretty good idea if you’ve ever thought, “I can’t wait to retire”; it’s the equivalent of “When I get out”.
It’s not like you robbed a bank or murdered anyone; yet you’re serving a 40 year sentence just because you decided to apply, interview and accept a job.
A career is a life sentence of our choosing.
On the flip, if you’ve found a job you like or even more rare, you love, that’s a step towards getting yourself out of those chains. Freedom, to me, is very simple. It’s not quitting your job and throwing caution to the wind; it’s simply a feeling of spending your day doing something you like to do without having to worry about the basic necessities. That’s it. That might seem overly simplistic but it’s a hard battle against what we’ve been doing for years.
BE THE CAUSE OF DEATH OR BE A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
This sounds morbid but it’s very true. We are either living or dying in this world, there’s really no middle ground unless you count walking around like zombies middle ground. Do you feel invigorated every day or do you feel like you’re slowly dying mentally and emotionally?
Everyday, we feel stressed and anxious about going to work but we muster up our will and push through another day. And another day will go by just like the day before and just like the days of the last 10 years. And with every day that passes by, we feel more stressed and more anxious about:
- Having just endured another day of a soul sucking job
- Letting another day go by
The Japanese coined this term for death by overwork. In some cases, medically speaking, the cause of death is suicide, heart attack or stroke. But if we look at the real underlying cause, it’s the stress of working long hours in high pressure environments.
You may not be pulling in 159 hours of overtime a month but how often do you come home exhausted, lying awake and dreading the next day?
If we are constantly in a state of stress and anxiety over our job, is that not just a slow death we’re putting ourselves through?
When you look at your career and your career trajectory, is the work you’re doing going to be celebrated and remembered or soon forgotten?
We spend 40 years of our lives working. We need to decide whether those 40 years are worth celebrating or if they will be forgotten the moment we retire.
“Those who do not move do not notice their chains” — Unknown
WE STILL NEED TO WORK!!!
We don’t all have keys to the golden handcuffs yet. We need to work! Take care of the basic necessities and our families.
Although it seems like it, this is not a get up and quit your job kind of post; it’s one to help us really look at what we’re doing with our lives and ask ourselves if it’s worth it. I know it’s a long process, not a snap your fingers kind of decision. So in order to help move us along the path of career discovery, here are 4 tips:
1. Stop bringing work home
We need to stop bringing work home. I used to bring work home with me all the time and it would just sit there untouched. Guilt, stress, anxiety would wash over me as I look at those files. If you’ve worked a 12 hour shift, how much energy do you really think you’ll have when you come home?
We may have the very best intentions when we bring work home but there needs to be a separation between your office and your home, even if you work from home. We leave no room for ourselves to explore other opportunities or interests when both our office and our house is filled with to do lists from work. Leave the files at the office.
2. Stop thinking about work when you get home
Made a mistake at work?
Messed up on a presentation?
Have a big project to finish?
We are constantly thinking about work from when we wake up to when we go to sleep; we even sometimes dream about it! That means work fills our mind 24/7. What are some ways to overcome that?
- Read a book
- Watch a movie
- Make plans to hang out with friends
- Join a class
Do something, anything that occupies your mind and takes it away from work. It may be hard at first but we need to remember that these will benefit us physically, socially and intellectually. Remember, all work and no play means a very stressful day.
3. Say no
We need to start setting boundaries at work. This can be hard to do. We’re so caught up in moving up the ladder that we no longer know how to say no to requests. Saying no frees up your time and mind to do other things. Next time someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, try this:
“I’m sorry, I can’t. I really need to focus on XYZ.”
Let them know what your priorities are. I’m still working on this one so I know how hard it can be. But figure out what your priorities are and explicitly state them. This becomes easier with practice.
4. Rediscover your values
This is a never ending process but we can start by asking ourselves:
What gets my blood boiling?
What can I talk about for hours?
What do I read about and spend countless hours researching on?
We’ve been running this rat race for so long that we’ve internalized external values as our own. It takes a lot of soul searching and mindfulness to rediscover what we truly prioritize over everything else.
When we know our values and priorities, we can start setting goals both professionally and personally. We can start looking for (and start seeing) opportunities outside and even within our organization. We can finally set goals that will allow us to grow as an individual.
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices — today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” — Kevyn Aucoin
We shouldn’t have to make a choice between working to live or living to work. The two should be symbiotic.
So often we associate a job as a means to simply put food on the table and to pay our bills but it does so much more than that. It drives our confidence, our emotional and physical well being.
A job is what we wake up for.
If we wake up filled with dread, can we call that living when we’d rather not face the day?
How much living are we doing if we’re just pushing ourselves through the drudgery of the next hour until 5pm hits?
We shouldn’t have to give up our lives in order to make a living.
PS: If you liked this article, you can find more like it on www.possiblepursuits.com.