The Beatle's song "Eleanor Rigby" can be viewed as a commentary
on the tragedy of living without personal fulfillment. I still
get tears when I hear this tune. Why did
her life turn out to be such a sad story?
In the factory town where I grew up as a boy, it seemed like everyone
was unhappy with their work. I ran away from there as soon as I could.
After college I found my way into corporate America, and there
they were again. All the lonely people, bored to death in their cubicles.
In the workplace it
seemed to me that very few people were pursuing much of anything,
just buying time at the salt mines. The phrase this is
as good as it gets was boldly stamped on people's foreheads.
I found that many people had set out to have their career
and lifestyle be just average on life's aliveness scale, a way of
living that was built into their success ideology. They never intended their work to make them happy.
Today's hyper-competitive global economy has dramatically increased demands on
people's time and commitment to their job. This is a wake up call,
mild discontents, once the status quo, have amplified into a major career mismatch problem.
hours start cutting into personal time, people begin
to see just how much they are compromising themselves. What was
once a normal way of life is no longer tolerable.
Unknowingly, and with good intentions, many people carry ideas
of success handed down to them from previous generations
who worked hard as newcomers to this country. This old survival wisdom is still driving important life
decisions such as career choices. Today, opportunities
and possibilities are more abundant, people can make choices
that satisfy their personal sense of meaning and fulfillment.
Habits die hard, having fulfillng work is easier said than done.
It's human nature to be hoodwinked by survival values and instincts. At the same time,
the world is different place. People are stuck between the old world and the new. It takes
an intentional and determined pursuit
to adapt your internal value system to the changing world. It's
more the norm than not that people willingly trap themselves in work they
don't enjoy. Even my youngest clients say their friends ridicule
them for trying to find work that fits them perfectly. It will take a lot of
courage to challenge the conventions to have fulfilling work. Be prepared to
face resistance, if not outright scorn from your friends and family.
Human beings are extremely adaptable, we learn to live with
discomfort. We rationalize our way up a tree like cats and work
really hard at fitting ourselves in ill-suited places. The squirrels
are laughing at us.
To make life in a mismatched job more tolerable, we design remedies
like flex-time, telecommuting, and child-care leave to temporarily
ease some of the longing to have more control of one's life,
but only you know what you'd rather be doing. No matter how well
you hide your lack of genuine enthusiasm for your work, others
see can sniff it out. The unmet desire to be elsewhere
will silently wither away at your health and well being, often
affecting your relationships and other areas of your life.
One way to move yourself into new possibilities is to look
at your notion of what success is. Is
it aligned with who you are today? This is an individual process, you'll find that
the most truly successful people created a unique road map to
follow. Like Captain Bacard of Star Trek, they resisted being assimilated into the Borg. If you
hear yourself saying or experiencing some of the work and life scenarios
below, your personal definition of success may need an overhaul.
- I feel trapped in a dead-end job. Going to work everyday
has become a real drag and I can't seem to find something better.
Long lunch breaks have become my escape from the horrible reality
of the lack of passion in my work life.
- My talents are wasting away and my brain may turn to mush
if I don't start using it soon. Pretending to enjoy my
work is getting harder and harder.
- I've got to keep busy somehow, who said work was supposed
to be fun anyway?
- I'm miserable, but I can't change. I need to ensure my financial
security and comfort.
- I make excellent money, but something is still missing and
I'm not sure what it is.
- I want to make a difference, only there's nothing in the
world that really interests me.
- I feel a great sense of freedom as I walk out the door everyday
to go home. Being at work feels like being in a prison cell.
- I never found my niche, I'm eager to be really good at something.
It's frustrating to know that deep down I've got some latent
talents that aren't being tapped. I feel so under utilized, but
I can't put my finger on what would make me happy.
True confessions like these are kept secret inside the workplace,
but they're heard routinely in career coaching sessions as highly
educated professionals share their life stories. Yearning to
be engaged and fulfilled, they want a career with more gusto.
They want to feel alive and make a difference.
The front lines of the American
workplace are depressing to watch. Nobody wants to be there,
more than half of the people are faking it, and most have plenty of good
reasons why they have to stay stuck. At least seventy percent of people are either
neutral or not happy with their career and work.
Many say, I've achieved
the success that I thought I wanted, but I'm still not happy.
Dilbert comics reveal the unsaid truth about
how normal it's become to be unhappy with work, and how easy
it is to blame somebody else for your boredom and discontent.
Now and then you'll come across an enthusiastic person who really
enjoys what they do. They are often viewed
with skepticism and disbelief, this behavior is outside the box
of what's acceptable in the workplace. For the most part, there's
an air of comfortable numbness and a serious sadness on people's
faces, nearly every act is cleverly camouflaged with dutiful
obligation, cynicism and distrust of management. As if in the
Twilight Zone, everyone's participating in a nightmare,
protecting the idea that work is supposed to be drudgery.
Although you often see executive management teams make this situation
worse by pretending that everybody'll be happy with a competitive
salary and benefits, what's not talked about is how most employees
pretend to be satisfied with a good paycheck, and
how good it feels to blame the workplace for how crappy things
are. Doesn't anyone else see that the emperor has no clothes?, many ask.
A new commitment my clients often make as they design new careers
is to have colleagues who really love their work. Deep down,
people really want to be with other self-motivated and energetic
As you begin to move toward a fulfilling livelihood, start by recognizing
the definition of success that landed where you are now.
You may find that you got exactly what you asked for, but you're a moving target; your values may have changed.
It's possible to rethink your career and get moving in a more fulfilling direction. Just do it, time's a wasting.