Finding Career Happiness

I’m very pleased to share with you this guest post by Debra Snider, a great writer with a strong voice for personal development. To learn more about Debra, check out the About The Author section at the end of this post.

With a little research, you can figure out what makes you really happy.

With a little personal detective work, you can figure out what really makes you happy.

Success isn’t success if it doesn’t make you happy.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Even so, it’s not hard to mistake the trappings of success for what will actually make you happy. Particularly if you find yourself out of the traditional mainstream, it can be very difficult to tune out all the noise about what you should want and focus instead on going after what you do want.

A career is never really about any particular destination (as in job or net worth). It’s about the journey – how you feel and build skills and contribute along the way. Career satisfaction is not a means to an end. It is the end and it is what you should be prioritizing.

Defining Your Own Success

So what will make you happy? What matters to you? When do you feel most alive, most exhilarated, most inspired?

These are simple questions, but they can be frustratingly difficult to answer. The problem in our working lives is that we often fail to answer them consciously or consistently. Even when we do, we have a tendency to substitute someone else’s definition of what’s important for our own.

Beware of making assumptions about what you “must” care about or what “everyone” wants. You get to define satisfaction for yourself; other people’s definitions and traditional societal definitions might be useful, but they don’t own you.

Do you thrill to the chase like natural salespeople do? Is it crucial for you to feel you’re having an impact, that your voice is being heard, like I do? Are you happiest when you feel like a well-oiled part of a well-oiled machine? When you don’t have to wake up in the night in a cold sweat, thinking about work? When you do have to wake up in that cold sweat?

These are all clues to what satisfaction looks like for you. Once you tease out and articulate your personal clues, you’ll have the framework you need for structuring your work life, choosing sensibly and constructively between forks in the road, and focusing your time and energy – scarce resources both – on what matters most to you.

Happiness Detective Work

Getting at the elements of satisfaction for yourself is rather like inadvertently catching a glimpse of yourself in a store window as you walk down the street. The shock of unexpectedly seeing someone not quite you, then recognizing yourself, disliking certain aspects, being pleasantly surprised by others – I always find this a jolting experience because it makes me aware of how much of what I usually see in the mirror is a function of what I expect to see, what I’ve prepared myself to see, what I’d like to see, as opposed to what I’m actually looking at.

To find your true answers to “What pleases me?” and “What matters to me?” you have to cut through all your conditioning, all your “shoulds” and other prejudices, and all your comfortable fictions about yourself and the world around you. It’s imperative to get under the tangible specifics – the things you think you want – to uncover the elements of satisfaction – why you want them, what it is about them that will satisfy you.

Here are some tricks for doing this that work for me. I call them tricks advisedly; they really are my way of catching the unexpected glimpse of my true self.

Flip A Coin

When you have a decision to make and you’re agonizing over it, flip a coin. Not because you’ll let the coin decide for you, but because as that coin is falling, you’ll know which side you’ll want it to land on. I promise. Having thus tricked yourself into revealing what you want, you can analyze why and extrapolate the analysis to other decisions.

Shift Your Perspective

Find things that help you shift your perspective and use them to shake up your thinking. Longer-term time horizons and reminders of bigger issues and problems than our own make for wonderful perspective-shifters. These can be personal, like what you would want to have written as your epitaph, or they can be external, like significant world events, both positive and negative.

Take Inventory

Make a list of everything you’ve loved about your jobs, from “Feeling like a star” to “The free Coke machine” to “Really interesting work that made the time fly” to “Being able to leave at 5:00” to “Not having to wear pantyhose (or whatever the male equivalent is: wearing a tie, perhaps?).” Include everything; nothing’s too mundane for this list. Don’t edit or try to impress anyone. This list is for you. You can throw it out when you’re done if you don’t want it lying around. Then, do the same for everything you’ve hated about your jobs. This isn’t a test; just write down everything you can think of in both categories. When your lists are done, read them over and look for themes, patterns, conclusions you can draw about what really matters to you.

Question “Shoulds”

Before you make any assumption or decision about what you should do, ask yourself “Whose rules are these?” Don’t muddle what you want with what you believe will impress others or what you think you should want or what you think everybody wants. Make sure the rules you’re following are your own, and you’ll achieve the only kind of success that matters – the kind that satisfies you.

About The Author

Debra Snider is an author of fiction and nonfiction, a speaker on a variety of business and career topics, a no-longer-practicing lawyer, and a former financial services senior executive. Readers have called her novel A Merger of Equals “terrific,” “inspiring,” and “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love.” Her two business books offer innovative and proven organizational design strategies, complete with tools, tips and case studies.

Debra attributes her ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance throughout her highly successful 20-year legal and business career to “clear priorities and A+ organizational skills.” For more information on her books and her background, visit her website – – where you’ll also find a wide variety of free productivity, leadership and other career resources.

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

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