Just a few months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who was considering trying her hand at full-time freelancing. Over coffee, I ran through all of my standard advice, tips, and encouragement, and then offered her the floor—expecting her to jump right in with the routine questions I’ve grown so used to answering.
Instead, she asked something that made me pause. A question so seemingly simple, yet incredibly complex to answer: Are you happy?
I’ll admit it—I stared at her slack-jawed for a moment before sputtering out what was likely a totally unconvincing, “Well, of course. So, so happy! I love what I do… absolutely love it!”
She nodded and the conversation moved on, but I still found myself thinking about her question for the rest of the day (or, perhaps more honestly, the entire week).
Seriously...Was I Happy?
Was I happy? I mean, yes, I’m passionate about my work and I can find plenty of attributes to list in the “pros” column of my career.
But, I’m human—I still encounter my fair share of days when a snarky email from a client sends my mood into a nosedive or seeing that a different freelancer has landed a big byline makes me want to throw up my hands, call it quits, and pursue my second-in-line dream career of professional dog walker/taco connoisseur.
It was after several fruitless periods of self-reflection that I realized something: I am happy in my career, but I don’t always let myself be happy.
What exactly does that mean? Well, I’m pleased to say that I have more than I could have ever wished for in my professional life. But, even so, there are certain beliefs and expectations that hold me back from truly relishing the here and now.
Don’t worry—I won’t leave you hanging with that philosophical morsel. Here are three thoughts I needed to kick to the curb in order to allow myself to feel truly satisfied in my career. Chances are, you could benefit from doing the exact same thing.
1. “That Person’s Job Is Better Than Mine”
Have you ever heard that sentiment that says something about comparison being the thief of joy? That’s painfully true—particularly when it comes to your career.
Constantly keeping a watchful eye on what other people are doing and accomplishing quickly leads you to believe that—while you might be happy—you could be happier. And that, my friend, is a very slippery slope.
It’s so tempting (and almost irresistibly easy) to match your own reality up against everyone else’s highlight reel. But, it always turns out to be a counterproductive and disheartening activity.
So, all together now—let’s take a deep breath and let go of the idea that everybody’s enjoying much greener pastures than we are. I assure you, it’s not the truth.
2. “If I Could Only ____, Then I’d Be Happy”
Do you ever feel like there’s a finish line for happiness? That there’s this magic mile marker you need to step over in order to feel like you can finally paste on a smile and feel content with what you have?
Here’s the truth: Happiness isn’t a destination. It’s not something that arrives with booming fanfare when you finally land that promotion, make that career change, achieve a certain income, or score a specific job title.
Why? Well, for starters, as soon as you do accomplish that milestone that you’ve placed on a pedestal, something else is bound to swoop in and quickly take its place. And, secondly, you have no way of knowing whether or not reaching that objective will actually increase your happiness.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with setting goals for yourself. But, there is something wrong with having this entire laundry list of requirements you need to meet before you let yourself truly enjoy your life and career.
3. “Happiness Means Being Happy 100% of the Time”
Generally, you like what you do. But, you don’t get a thrill at the idea of Monday morning and a crammed inbox awaiting you. You don’t cartwheel out of bed on weekdays and tap dance your way into the office.
So, are you really all that happy? Surely, this can’t be it—happiness should look a lot more like pure, unadulterated bliss than your afternoon spent fighting with the printer’s paper tray.
Listen, if you take nothing else away from this, make it this one thing: You don’t need to be cheerful all of the time in order to consider yourself satisfied in your career. Happiness doesn’t mean you’re never going to experience a bad day or a groan-worthy task. And, the people who tell you they don’t have those sorts of experiences? Chances are, they’re lying to you.
For me, decoding whether or not I was actually happy in my career was deceptively difficult. No, my job didn’t make me feel like I would rather zip myself into a sleeping bag filled with hornets. But, I wasn’t buzzing with excitement at the idea of tackling my to-do list either.
Fortunately, I’ve finally found the answer: I really am happy with what I do for a living. And, take it from me—letting go of the above three beliefs made reaching that conclusion a heck of a lot easier.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author