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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

3 Not-So-Obvious Ways You're Sabotaging Your Own Happiness at Work (And How To Stop)

Ever notice how nine out of 10 people run cold when the subject turns to how someone’s job is going. People who hate what they do struggle to respond without anger and contempt. Reporting to a horrible boss or being forced to do boring and mundane work all day, every day, are among the chief complaints.

While we can all agree that these are valid issues, I think there’s also something to be said for causing your own dissatisfaction at work.

Before you X out of this piece and go back to being miserable, hear me out.

For years you’ve been taught that if a job makes you unhappy, you should quit, because it's obviously your boss’ fault or your co-workers’ or your mom’s. But, what if you actually have more control over your happiness at work than you think?

I’d be willing to bet that you know at least one person who is a serial job hopper. He gets a job, finds an issue with said job, and before his work email is completely set up, he's already logged onto LinkedIn trying to find a new gig.

Yes, there are many valid reasons for wanting to leave a company—no one should be forced to stick it out in a hostile work environment—but, if your main reasons always seem to be centered on the fact that your co-workers just don't “get” you or that you’re bored (again) and not sure how to stay motivated, it's time to take a long, hard look at the person in the mirror and be honest about the root cause of your unhappiness: you.

It’s not an easy task to see beyond your dissatisfaction to lay bare the ways in which you’re contributing to the madness, but it’s undoubtedly helpful. Here are three ways you may be sabotaging your own happiness on the job—and, because I want you to be happy, solutions for how to nip these practices in the bud.

1. You’re Not Setting the Right Goals

Goals are what motivate us in every area of our lives. Whether you want to lose weight, learn to cook, or get a promotion, the first step is to get really clear on what you want to accomplish and why. The key here though is that it’s not enough to just set goals for the sake of doing so. In order to be successful, you have to make sure you're setting the right goals.

Just because your colleague wants to become the supervisor of the department or your best friend wants to take on a huge client at her company, it doesn't mean that these need to be your aspirations as well. If you’re chasing something you don't genuinely want in the first place, or worse, if you have nothing to work toward at all, it’s only a matter of time before you lose your motivation and it becomes an exercise in will power and positive self-talk to make it into the office every day.

The first question to ask yourself is: Where do I want to be in the next one to five years, professionally? If this one doesn’t get anything turning in your head, instead ask yourself what makes you feel fulfilled professionally? Once you have that list, you can start plotting out your path on how you’ll get from where you are now to a job that hits as many bullets on that list as possible (a.k.a., a five-year plan).

2. You’re Not Building Your Following at Work

Growing your “followers” isn’t something that should be relegated to social media. When I think back to the best work environments I’ve been in over the years, it’s clear they were on teams where I felt supported—not only by my boss, but also by my colleagues. Having a group of people who encourage you to be your best, who care about your well-being, and who provide a good laugh every now and then goes a long way in making your job satisfying.

Many people complain about working in an unfriendly environment, but never stop to think about how they’re contributing to this dynamic. In order to develop a community of allies at work, you need to be likable and a team player. You’ve got to show up as someone who is worthy of support and collaboration by also being supportive and collaborative with others.

It won’t be something that comes without a little bit of work, but anyone can tell you that working around people you actually like (and who like you back) is one of the most crucial aspects of work happiness. Why not volunteer to help your colleague run point on the big project due next month when she asks for any takers? Or challenge yourself to go to lunch with a different co-worker at least once a month to get to know something more than how he signs off on emails.

3. You’re Not Being Your Authentic Self

Above all else, one of the major ways people sabotage their own happiness at work is by not keeping it real with themselves. Any time you’re doing, saying, or acting in a way that isn’t aligned with the real you, you’ll naturally feel uncomfortable. The fix may seem easy—just be yourself—but in a lot of cases, it’s not that simple to carry out.

Certain workplaces encourage you to communicate, act, and dress a certain way so that you fit in and avoid rocking the carefully crafted boat. It can be daunting to think about breaking away from the status quo. And yet, think about what you stand to lose if you don’t. Most people who are unhappy at work immediately see their perspectives shift as soon as they start to bring their real selves to the office each day.

There’s always a way to infuse who you really are into everything you do at work—whether it’s by not being afraid to give your honest opinion, standing up for yourself when needed, or even just decorating your desk—without being unprofessional. Think about who you are outside the office and who you are when you're there. Of course you can’t always use the same language or dress the same in both places, but who you are—at your core—shouldn’t be that different.

Work is a fact of life for most people. This is why the goal should be to make it as enjoyable as possible. After all, we spend more time sitting at our desks than we do anywhere else, and it would be disappointing if you spent all that time unhappy. I know it’s easier said than done (especially when you’re buried under feelings of aggression and resentment), but if you can take a moment to stop complaining and instead consider that it may just be you–not your position–that needs to change, you could be well on your way to liking your job.

Photo of man looking frustrated courtesy of Frisco/Getty Images.