By Sara Gaynes Levy
For almost all of us, our jobs are a necessary part of life—and a requirement in order to make sure our bills are paid, there’s a roof over our heads, and food on our tables. Liking what you do for work is another story. Sure, there are some lucky folks out there who are living out their childhood fantasy career, or stumbled upon a dream job they wake up thrilled to go to every day. But for many of us, getting enjoyment out of our work comes a little less easily. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible though. You might have to reframe your thinking a bit, but you can, in fact, find fulfilment in your career—yes, even if you’re sadly not living your childhood dream of being a ballet-dancing marine biologist and firefighter.
Identify your values
This is the simplest place to start. “The very first thing I would do is define your values,” says Marlo Lyons, career coach and author of “Wanted→A New Career.” Literally: make a list of what is important to you when it comes to your job. “Say one of your values is to be challenged at work, and you define that as having something to own that requires deep analysis,” Lyons says. “Then think about how often you have that value in your job.” She suggests assigning a ranking from one to five for each value: one meaning you never have it, five meaning you experience that value every day in some sense. “If you have no challenging projects but it’s very important to you, then express your need to have a challenging project to your manager,” says Lyons. And if your current job isn’t aligned with any of your values? It may be time to call it a day. (More on this later.)
Do an “energy audit”
If you’re feeling a bit burned out in your current role and you want to reignite the spark, executive and leadership coach Melody Wilding, author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work, recommends what she calls an “energy audit.” First, write down the tasks you’re expected to perform at work, separating them into two categories: tasks that energize and excite you, and tasks that drain you and your energy. Then, go back through your lists and designate each task as high-value (crucial to your job description and workplace’s functionality) or low-value (tasks that are…not.) “Doing this exercise can really give you a lot of insight,” says Wilding. “Sometimes there are things that drain your energy, but they’re super high-value, so you have to do some of those things. But looking at what is low-energy and low-value can give you a good idea of what’s really a candidate for you to have some control over.”
You and your manager can then have a discussion about these tasks; maybe you’re able to delegate some of your lower-value, low-energy tasks. Or you can present your high-value, high-energy tasks to your manager as the direction you’d really like to be steering yourself, and ask how you can get more things like them on your plate. But even just the act of taking this audit should offer you some helpful perspective. When you’re feeling frustrated, hopefully you have a decent list of high value and high energy tasks to focus on.
Make the business case for what you need
The unfortunate truth is, many workplaces don’t care (at least, on a human compassion level) whether you’re feeling personal fulfilment in your role, or whether you’re happy at your job. But you can make them care by making the business case for why they should care. If you’ve identified some things that could improve your feelings about your position— say, you’re finding it hard to enjoy work because of the marathon hours you’re putting in and the subsequent burnout you’re feeling— bring it up with your boss as an issue concerning the bottom line.
“You need to reposition the conversation,” says Wilding. This is probably obvious, but don’t go to your boss and say: “I want to work less.” Instead, says Wilding, you want to point out that your company can’t afford to lose you, and they can’t afford to lose other people either. “It’s much more expensive for them to try to hire and recruit someone else, especially in this market.” Wilding suggests sitting your manager down and saying, “Hey, we’re potentially at risk for losing people on my team, or losing an account, because we’re not able to produce the level of work we want to, as we’re all really overstretched.” This way, both you and your manager feel like you get something out of the convo.
Find your why
Jobs that move us closer to our dreams and goals are great, but at the end of the day, not every job can be that. Sometimes, a job is just a job, and getting enjoyment out of it won’t come from making lists of tasks or talking about career development with your boss. Dr. Tina Opie, founder of Opie Consulting Group and co-author of Shared Sisterhood: How to Take Collective Action for Racial and Gender Equity at Work, says to ask yourself three questions: What are you good at, what do you enjoy, and what can you get paid to do? “Some people feel like: what I really enjoy and what I’m really good at are not things I can get paid for, like painting,” she says. “I think it’s okay to recognize: I toil away at this job so that I can afford my art supplies and do those things.” Acknowledging that you do your job to fund your hobbies or to provide for your future can bring fulfilment in its own way.
Know when to move on
Sometimes, you won’t be able to find fulfilment in your current job, and it might be time to start searching for something new. To figure out if your job is salvageable, Dr. Opie suggests asking yourself: How am I feeling in this job? Am I feeling depressed, angry, anxious, or sad? Give yourself some space, maybe in a journal, to explore your feelings, and try and identify what’s really causing them. If your job is the true reason you’re feeling these difficult emotions, that’s a good sign that you’re in a role that isn’t working for you. (And if you do decide to move on, Bumble Bizz is here to help you network and look for a new gig.)
Another sign that work might be the source of your unhappiness is if, again, your values aren’t being addressed. “If everything on your value list is ranked at a one, the goal is to figure out a way to fix it,” says Lyons. “If you can get to a place where you feel like you have those values represented in your work, you’ll automatically feel better and more engaged in your job.” However, if you can’t find a way to fix it, and any chance of incorporating your values into your work is really at a dead end, then it might be time to start searching for a new role.
If you’re able to use these insights to find some happiness or fulfilment in your current role, that’s wonderful. Keep checking in with yourself and working to keep up the changes (in your mindset or in your actual job) that you’ve made. And if you’ve found that you’re not going to get what you need from your current job, “you haven’t failed,” reassures Lyons. “It just might be time to move.”