When you're in a frustrating job situation, your whole life can feel like delayed gratification.
"Once I'm in a better place, then I can start enjoying myself."
"I'll be happy when I have a job I like."
Our culture doesn't help much; it demands a Serious Attitude when facing a Serious Problem (like what you're going to do with the rest of your life). The reasoning goes that if you're not worried about it, either you don't care that much or it's not really a problem.
I'd like to offer a counter-argument: enjoying yourself as much as possible has some very real benefits when it comes to figuring out your next steps. Let us discuss.
1. A positive mood improves your problem-solving skills.
In 2011, Scientific American reported that people who watched a comedy special were quicker at solving a word problem than those who watched an educational talk or a horror film. As it turns out, people in a positive mood have more activity in the area of the brain that is linked with sudden insight - those "aha" moments we've all experienced.
Approximately zero percent of my life-changing insights occurred during a freaked-out moment about my future. Even "useful" and "responsible" things like pro-and-con lists didn't play as big a role as you'd think in getting me or my clients where we are today.
Instead, these "aha" moments tend to happen (for me) during walks, naps, or conversations with friends. In fact, conversation in general played a big role in helping me get clarity, which is why I started my career-transition program, Finding Your Fit.
2. The things you enjoy are clues to your future happiness.
One of the reasons I never sought out a career coach when I was actively unhappy with my job is that I thought they would ask me about my interests and then offer related careers. "Oh, you like drawing? You should be an artist!" "You enjoyed planning your wedding? Obviously you should be an event planner!" (Turns out, this is actually not how coaching works.)
This line of inquiry might work for some people, but most of us need to dig a little deeper.
Here's an example: I love going for walks. That doesn't mean I'm destined to be a trail guide, but I can use the experience to gather clues.
Here are some things I get from the experience of walking:
- freedom (the time, space and ability to do it)
- beauty (looking at nature, peoples' houses and gardens)
- moving my body
- a mixture of solitude and companionship (I like going alone and with friends)
- time to think
- time to be without thinking
- variety (I like to switch up my route)
- autonomy (I get to pick the route and pace)
- being outside in the fresh air and sunshine
- feelings of curiosity, peace, appreciation
You can see how these desired experiences could translate to other areas of my life, like my career. I don't need all of them to be part of my job description, but my ideal situation gives me the time and space to make room for them in my life. Plus, when I focus more on the experience than the specifics, I don't get fixated on the outcome looking a certain way.
Step 1: Make a list of at least 10 things you like to do.
If you need a place to begin, start by making a list of things you enjoy doing. What makes you laugh? What makes you feel free, peaceful, energized, engaged, or cared for? What feels satisfying?
For the moment, leave off the things that maybe you don't love but know are good for you (like exercising). You may feel better afterwards, but are you excited about doing it right now?
If there are some things you like doing, but know they can turn into self-destructive or numbing behavior if left unchecked, put them down anyway. For example, one of my clients loves reading fiction, but she knows that it's an easy escape from the rest of her life. There are still valuable clues to gather!
Once you have your list, see if there are any common themes. What do you like about each activity? Do you do them alone or with others? How long do they take? How much money do they cost? Are they location- or situation-dependent? What is the ideal time of day to do them? In a perfect world, how often would you do them?
Looking at them from a less literal place: what qualities are present in these activities? How do you feel when you do them? What other situations, people, or activities bring up those feelings? What experience are you looking for when you do them?
If you get stuck, a friend or coach comes in handy here to help you see things from an outside perspective and ask questions you may not have considered.
Step 2: Do these things often.
As I mentioned earlier, wisdom and insight bubbles up more easily from happy minds than angst-filled ones. I'm not trying to downplay the struggles you may be facing. I know it sucks. But when you take the time to do what you love, you bring that energy to other areas of your life.
Be curious about any resistance that shows up when you commit to enjoying yourself. I spent a lot of time during my own transition believing that dissatisfaction and unhappiness were my best motivators. While those feelings had some valuable information for me, I believe that you don't need to be miserable to deserve a change. The scared or judgmental thoughts that show up when you move towards joy can be amazing teachers - but only if you listen to what they have to say without buying into their messages.
If you're intrigued but have trouble seeing how having fun and lightness can improve your job situation, check out how to work with me - I'd love to help you tease out the insights hiding in your life. You already have everything you need to be successful - sometimes you just need a little help seeing it.
Image credit: freeimages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert