The reality is clear—people aren’t maximizing their true potential at work. In the New York Times article “Why You Hate Your Job,” Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, and Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a consultant to the Energy Project, lay out the case for why so many people struggle to find joy in their jobs.
I contend that people feel caught between the struggle of being “successful” and loving work, not believing that the two can be one. As I’ve seen in my work with executives across the country, they can.
All too often, people feel as though their emotional sacrifice of joy is rationalized by the fact that they are able to support a family or a lifestyle that is viewed as “successful.” Being viewed as a success, regardless of how you feel, ends up being another, more-often used metric for fulfillment. When your neighbors and family see you as successful despite your empty feeling, it makes it easier to endure.
Loving work is seen as an ideal that few can achieve, but those who do are the ones who have truly won the lottery of life. You experience something that goes beyond anything material that you can acquire; you feel fulfilled, challenged, and engaged. The problem is that loving work has been treated as something that is a byproduct of being successful, not a necessary stepping stone. Too often, people forge the path for financial success thinking that the result will provide fulfillment. Loving work has not been viewed as a critical component of success; it’s just a “nice to have.” The reality is that loving work is not something that you can wish for or dream up. It requires hard work, commitment, and strategy.
Notwithstanding, loving work is not as much a pipe dream as winning the lottery—it’s something far easier to achieve. Here are a few specific ways to get there:
1. Decide That You Will Make Loving What You Do a Focus—and Make Changes Accordingly
We all naturally want to love our work. In fact, according to the world-renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. ... The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Which is why, as humans, we are most engaged when we have found a sweet spot of challenge.
However, we are the ones who need to take responsibility for creating the conditions for this to occur, not wait for it to happen. This switch from thinking about work from a reactive perspective to a proactive one is one of the key components to creating fulfilling jobs. Generally the proactivity occurs while job hunting or pitching for a project, but once the work begins, you go into reactive mode. Which explains the dip in engagement from job acquisition to day-to-day operating. Loving work is a commitment that requires active day-to-day prioritization. It has to move from a wish-list item to a priority.
2. Know Your Talent and Purpose and Make Them Key Components of Your Job
Loving your job requires that you utilize what you’re best at (your talent), and that te result of your work gives you fulfillment (purpose). You need to first know this about yourself, then value these things and know how to use them day to day in your working life.
How do you do this? Pay attention to when you are excited and when you feel fulfilled or get support if you can’t figure it out on your own. Your talent is not what you do. It’s how you do what you do: How you think, how you most often problem solve, your go-to way of processing information. And your purpose is not as lofty as it sounds. It’s the type of impact that gives you fulfillment. I have found that if you are able to identify a core challenge you have had in your life and then help others with this challenge, you can introduce fulfillment into your job in an instant.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks is a great example of this. His desire to help individuals have health insurance at work as a result of his parents’ working blue-collar jobs without health benefits is the backbone of the company’s mission: “Our mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” The key is taking these two aspects of yourself and being strategic with how you use them as cornerstones of your job.
3. Be Willing to Innovate Your Habits and Your Lifestyle to Accommodate Your Well-Being
Not being engaged at work is a hard habit to break. According to Gallup’s engagement survey, 71% of Americans aren’t engaged at work. Lack of engagement speaks to lack of challenge. Once you commit to loving work and using your talent and purpose as guiding principles, then changing your habits is the next step.
Take, for example, continuing to accept and do projects that don’t challenge you. In the extreme example, it may mean getting a new job. But before you do that, communicate to your organization why this project is not right for you. Build a case for the work that would keep you highly motivated and challenged. Find someone else who would benefit from doing the work that is not a good fit for you. Make an effort to create the opportunity you are seeking to be engaged in. Being engaged and challenged should be added as a key business objective that has action items and goals.
If you don’t have the autonomy to do this, then it may be that you are in the wrong job. If you are not challenged and feeling engaged, start a job search and figure out what will change this experience for you. Job hunting when you are clear on your desire for loving work along with your talent and purpose is a game changer. It fine-tunes your focus so that finding that perfect opportunity is easier.
The bottom line? Loving your job is a skill and a practice. As with all practices, it can seem daunting at first. However, once you get a taste of work that fills you up rather than breaks you down, you will never want to go back to your old ways.
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