Last week I pulled an all-nighter (of sorts) for work. No one made me do it. There were no deadlines that pressed me for the time. But, when 1:30 AM rolled around – and I smiled, satisfied with the job I had done – I felt like I had unlocked something I should share. After all, I want others to have that happiness with their work.
By “that happiness”, specifically, I mean: I want people to have the kind of job satisfaction where they lose themselves in their work from time to time and then catch a glimpse of a clock and see that you are beginning to work into the wee hours of the night on a weekday, and then be happy that they’re doing something that energizes them. And honestly feel a little let down because they know they have to sleep at some point.
What I’m describing isn’t workaholism. If I did this EVERY SINGLE NIGHT… Yeah — I’d wear the label workaholic. But trust me, I don’t. And I’m normally very good about guarding my Work/Life Balance. This was just a random event of me losing myself in the fun of what I was doing. Yep… Fun. I was working, but it was fun. I am pretty sure what I’m describing is passion, and I want to tell you a few key things that helped me get to this point in my career.
#1: I Realized the Value of “Peace at Work”
I have semi-good news: Nearly 40% of U.S. employees are happy with their job! The technical term used by Gallup is “engaged”, but at heart – they mean the same thing.
Here’s a specific pull from a recent-ish article on U.S. workplace happiness from the organization:
I call this semi-ish good news because outside of that approximate 40% of happy U.S. employees, 60% just aren’t there (and almost 25% of that 6/10 of people are actively disengaged).
I used to count myself in that number. I am grateful for the time that was spent at my employer prior to my current one — I really am. But I had stopped being happy there for multiple reasons for over a year before I decided to start applying to other places.
Something in me realized that I spend A LOT of time at work, and that shapes me in a way. Prolonged unhappiness in the office, at least for me, definitely began to spill over into my relationships outside of work. Dissatisfaction with something that takes up a third of your day for an extended amount of time weighs on you.
Realizing that, and admitting to myself that I was unhappy and that it wasn’t ok to be unhappy in this way was step #1 for me. At one point, for the sake of my mental health, I was going to leave my previous employer without a backup plan. I wanted “out” that badly. And I have never blamed them for that circumstance, but I do blame myself. That employer environment worked, and still works, for many people – but it didn’t work for me.
I guarantee you that if you are happier at work, you will be happier in life. That is valuable, and it’s worth your serious time to pursue. Realize the value of a check, and realize the value of your peace of mind.
#2: Ideal Opportunities = Selective + Patient
I made it a point to only apply to places that had a workplace culture that appealed to me as I looked for new employment. I wasn’t expecting Google-level workplace amenities, but I knew small things that I wanted, and I made sure that wherever I landed next had those things. No exceptions. This made a lot of difference in the end.
(Aside: This video would’ve lined up with their benefits around the time that I transitioned from my last employer to my new one.)
One thing that I’d noticed from friends who had switched jobs at the time was that they would run from one employer to the next. They weren’t looking for something specific in their new situation, they were only looking for a way out of their current one. It didn’t matter how happy they’d be at the new place because “happiness” to them at the time just meant “anywhere not where I currently am.” Those people have changed jobs multiple times since while I have remained at the company I landed at back in 2013.
Do yourself a favor and be picky. It may take a while, but being selective and patient go a long way in life.
#3: I Was Willing to Work From the Ground Up
I qualify this one with the fact that this was nearly 8-years ago in my career, so I understand that this bit of info won’t apply to people who are more senior in their field – but for those who this might apply to: Be willing to do the work & start over if you have to. My new employer was actually a career change for me. Sure, a few old skills from my previous job came into play there – but I learned a lot of things ON the job.
I had to show three things in my interview and the proving days after being hired:
I had to show a willingness to learn the job.
I had to show I was capable of doing the work.
I had to show I was coachable.
You can’t ask for more than that from someone starting in a junior role, really beyond them having some of the core capabilities necessary to do the work they’re applying for.
If you’re looking for that “nice job” at that cool place that you read about in an article somewhere online – you may have to start a rung or two lower than you were at your previous workplace. Is your happiness worth that to you, or are the few prestige marks your current job (which, remember, you’re unhappy at) affords you worth more?
#4: I “Happily Worked” & Built Relationships
It is worth calling out that I mean a certain thing when I say “Happily Worked”. I don’t mean that I just came in and did a job. I mean that I sought out things that were related to my key strengths and interests. I kept up communications with my manager and my team regarding my satisfaction with projects and group assignments. When we had employee check-ins, I was HONEST (respectfully so).
You would probably be surprised at how many people I talk to who don’t do the above.
If you are not guarding your happiness in your day-to-day activities as you work, you can’t be upset with your employer as you end up in unhappy work situations. I am not just saying that to say it, it’s a learning that I took from my experience with my previous employer. I never said anything there, and I let things begin to rot. I call that the inexperience of youth as I worked, but an older me knows better.
So, yeah — I “Happily Worked”, but I also took the time really get to know my coworkers and the business partners we serve on my team. I learned spouse names. We would meet up during non-work hours for drinks and food. I would call a lot of my coworkers (managers included) “friends” before I call them “coworkers” or “friends from work”. I built relationships and connections with people on a human level outside of just showing up to work and get a job done and go home (which was my predominant stance at my last employer with most people).
Taking this back to #1, your job will take up 1/3 of your life (pretty much) and, on top of that, half of your waking hours. That WILL shape you. How you treat your relationships in this space WILL shape you. And, ideally, who wouldn’t want to do something they enjoy with people they genuinely consider their friends?
#5: I Never Stop Openly Seeking “Fit”
After working with my current employer for a number of years, the powers that be have an idea of what I bring to the table, and are aware of my expectations because of my relationship with my higher-ups. They know my boundaries (for the most part) and what my ideal work-life looks like because I’ve been honest with them. So, when opportunities present themselves and everything aligns – I speak up. I don’t think I’m greedy about it by any means, but I will raise my hand when something I’m attracted to presents itself (as with many other things in my life).
This approach to continuously finding what’s right for me in my current work has brought me to my current situation where I have managed to successfully negotiate a division of responsibilities and worktime that are very well-aligned with my ideals. I am energized by what I do each day now, and if that stops – I’ll just walk through #’s 4 and 5 as many times as needed.
My current role is close enough to my ideal work situation (with one more major thing coming down the pipe soon-ish) that I dare call it my “Dream Job” at the moment, and I have the understanding that the dream will evolve over time. The work doesn’t stop, so I shouldn’t stop pursuing my ideals.
If you are someone who is on the bad end of the spectrum when it comes to your workplace happiness, I want you to take a minimum of two things away from this post:
While your job is a significant chunk of your life (you saw me spout figures like 1/3 – to – 1/2 up above), it IS NOT your life. Use your time outside of work wisely to begin changing your situation. There are tons of job opportunities out there – but you’ll have to put in a little effort to find your best-case scenario.
Things get better if you facilitate the change. Like I said, I was unhappy. But I knew things didn’t have to stay that way, and I had faith I would land on my feet. I ask you to have that same faith in yourself and in your potential. Reach out to others, make new connections, stay determined. You got this.
And I think that’s where I want to leave this one.