What's your relationship to your job? Do you love it? Hate it? Endure it because it pays the bills? Appreciate it? Feel nothing about it?
You may be struggling with your work in some way. Many people do. Maybe you:
First, consider what is work? (As a quick aside, did you know the counseling field developed from the work of career counselors in the early 20th century? Because of this, all of us who get an advanced degree in counseling must take an entire course on Career Counseling. In this course, we are asked to define work. It turns out to be a worthwhile question!) So work is... the hours of the day in which you are at your place of employment. Right? Or when you work at home? Like reading emails after hours? Or working in a home office? Or worrying about your day at the office tomorrow while you're trying to relax at home? Is that work? What about stay at home moms or caregivers for older family members? They aren't paid but they are working, aren't they? They do all their work at home, but it's still work right? What about doing chores on the weekends when you're "off" work. Don't chores still feel like work? What about volunteering? You're not getting paid, but it's still work, yes? Wow, ok, maybe it's not that easy to define work.
After much reflection in Career Counseling 101, I came up with this conclusion...Work is any way in which we use our energy to accomplish a goal that will benefit both ourselves and others. Work is getting out of bed, making a meal, taking care of your children or your pets, doing your chores, going to your job, doing the tasks of your job, paying your bills, working out (notice how we use the word "work" here but for most of us, it isn't a job!) What do you think? The point is that sometimes our thinking about work is misleading, like it's a certain set of places or activities that are discretely different than the rest of life, when actually, it is in many ways inseparable.
It may help to identify some of the elements of satisfaction or dissatisfaction at work.
Finally, consider how you define success. Is it happiness? Wealth? Independence? Doing work that matters to you? Doing work that makes you "come alive"? Almost everyone's definition of success is tied up with their early childhood experiences at home and school. Those times when your parents or teachers were proud of you or disappointed with you. Those times when you grew into your own sense of success, independent of, or contrary to, what others thought. It's worth asking yourself this question, "Would the person who I respect most in my life think I am successful in this work?" If the answer if yes, you are likely to also consider yourself successful. If it's no, you may be longing for something fundamentally different in your work life.
The key to defining success may the awareness that it's not a destination but a journey. And that successful moments happen all day every day, even when we don't notice them. Take a step back and see if you notice them.
Also, let's not fool ourselves into believing that we need to "come alive" each and every day, all day long in our work in order to deem it "successful." The fact is that work is mundane by its very nature and there will be times, even in the best job, that we are bored and dissatisfied. That said, we are likely "coming alive" in our work at times without noticing it, and we can most likely simply do a better job of noticing.
Here are some good resources for work-related issues:
- A Life at Work by Thomas Moore is a great book that can help you reflect on work-related problems and successes.
- Interest Profiler at O*Net. This is an online personality inventory for those who are thinking about changing fields, considering furthering their education, or just entering the workforce.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Great place to research the job market and salaries.