Nothing good lasts forever; nothing bad lasts forever.
My dad has said this phrase to my brother and me more times than I can count. Most often, he used it to put things in perspective when we were facing a challenge.
When you’re experiencing something stressful, the reminder that you won’t be facing it “forever” is comforting. But, when you like where you are in your life, the first half of the statement can feel mildly threatening.
To be sure, it’s not meant that way. What it actually means is that everything (including your career) goes through stages and evolves.
Great opportunities will arise and difficulties will pop up. Simply knowing this will help you be ready for them when they happen. If you accept that your current phase will come to an end at some point, you’re more likely to step outside of your comfort zone and take a leap when you have the chance.
But, how do you know if you’re ready for the next stage? How do you know if—through changes big or small—you'll still be happy?
Look for these five signs:
1. You Always Seek Out Meaningful Work
You spend 40+ hours a week at work, and if you’re like most people, you’re probably still checking email or thinking about that upcoming project during what’s supposed to be your time away. And you know that the secret to being OK with the weeks when it takes extra effort is to spend all that time and energy on something that matters to you.
To be sure, that means something different for everyone. Some people may think of classic definitions of working at a nonprofit, or in education, or healthcare. But it could also mean creating an app that’ll make people’s day-to-day lives easier (or more fun), or designing a green building. You might find personal meaning in a high-paying job that lets you climb out from under a pile of debt or one that gives you time to travel.
2. You’re a Problem Solver
Fact: Things don’t always go as planned. Projects will take more time or money than projected. There will be an unforeseen challenge or a hiccup that threatens to derail progress.
In these situations people commonly have one of two instincts: The first is to feel defeated and give up; the second is to roll up their sleeves and brainstorm a creative solution. While each approach can entail some stress, the second group of people are happier because they’re empowering themselves to do something active. You’re in that second group.
You’re not just an optimist, you believe in yourself enough to pitch solutions. So, you’re more often able to work toward a positive result, which, understandably, makes you happier.
3. You Know Your Strengths
What are three words your friends would use the describe you?
This is more than an interview question that once caught me completely off-guard. The answer’s really important in finding work that’ll make you happy.
That’s because most people like to feel useful, and often, we more capably handle situations that play to our strengths. For example: If you’re a people person, you’re more likely to enjoy a role that involves a high degree of interacting with others. On the flipside, if you are a talented researcher who prefers to be left to your work, odds are you’d be happier in a completely different role.
You know your strengths, and therefore you usually feel useful both in and out of the office.
4. You’re Always Looking to Grow
Of course, there’s a difference between focusing on something you excel at and enjoy, and doing the same thing every day just because it comes easily to you. You know that if you’re not growing your skills, you’ll end up bored.
So you always challenge yourself to learn more and add new skills to your repertoire. From volunteering to help on a project outside of what you normally do to taking an online class, you excel at looking for new opportunities to improve yourself.
5. You Know When to Move On
Sometimes, it’ll be really clear to you that it’s time to move on from a failing project you told your boss would pay off—or even from your job altogether.
Other times, you could argue it either way. However, you know if you’re being truly honest with yourself, continuing to pursue something that isn’t working doesn’t make sense. And you know that walking away from it is the best option, even if it’s a really hard one.
Rather than beat yourself up over it, you know how to analyze what went well and what didn’t go so well. And that means you know how to use those learnings in your next project or role to avoid the same pitfalls.
The last thing you need to be happy is a life outside of work. Even at the very best job, you’re going to have frustrating days. There will be times when you pour yourself into your work and the prospective client chooses another firm, or when someone else is chosen as team lead, or when you want to go home and think about anything else.
And in those times, it’s really important that work isn’t your whole universe. Whether you’re going home to family, meeting up with friends, relaxing with a hobby or sport, or focusing on a new endeavor—you want to have something to look forward to.
Of course, cultivating these relationships and interests takes time and effort. So, while you’re assessing what you can do to love your career, remember the other areas of your life, too. That’s the way to feel truly happy moving forward.