3 Steps to a Grand Ol’Time at Work

Grand piano

1. Find out what specific jobs are a good fit for you, and which specific work settings offer such jobs.

You probably have some ideas already about what you want to be doing, what you’re good at, what you liked and didn’t like about previous jobs, and what you like or don’t like in the cultures of those organizations.

But these ideas need to be supported with evidence. That is the purpose of a career assessment—to provide you with proof and clarity about what really works for you. Proof builds the confidence that you need to take actions that will move you from where you are now into that better fit through efficient and effective job change.

2. The faster and cheaper you validate this career hypothesis, the sooner you will find the right fit and start earning more with it. You can validate through first-hand experience by trying something (including bite-sized projects), or second-hand by visiting people already working in similar jobs and asking them specific questions that will help you evaluate a fit for yourself:

• How did you get into your field? Is that still a good way?
• What are the major responsibilities of your position?
• What is a typical workday or week like for you?
• What do you like and dislike about your position?
• What are the critical skills and personal characteristics needed in this kind of work?
• What are some of the major problems or issues that someone in your position faces?
• What are the prospects for someone entering your field today?
• What are the career paths of this profession? With experience in this field where can a person move?

If you get into a discussion about your background, you can ask:-

• Given my background, what do you think I need to do to become competitive for a job in this field?
• Can you suggest anyone else I might talk to?

3. Focus on a target or goal and use proven, effective actions to reach it. Your work is a sizeable chunk of your human experience—you are likely to spend 80,000+ hours in jobs, so finding and securing work should be a “grand” adventure.

I use the word “grand” in every sense of the word. Your work should tap into your highest aspirations and deepest values with a rank and appearance that announces who you are to the world and what you will do for it.

But we shouldn’t take it so seriously that we lose sight of living…when we say we had a grand day, we are using the world informally to indicate we had an enjoyable day…so we should also have a grand ol’time with the work we do.

And, like a grand piano, or a couple grand in your pocket, our work should have weight, or gravitas, something that adds value to us personally and to those around us…our work should enrich the world!

Job Change Advice: Your Values and your Job don’t have to Conflict

Christine Ouellette

Christine Ouellette came to me because she wasn’t too clear on what she wanted to do and sought objective insight from someone else.

She was a vice-president of an international development consulting firm and really didn’t want to continue in that position because her responsibilities were changing and leaning towards business development, whereas her interest was more on the technical side.

Her passion was transferring skills, particularly around making transparent decisions grounded in democratic and participatory processes, to government and non-governmental organizations in developing countries. She specialized in good governance, poverty reduction and social responsibility. Christine was particularly concerned with the links between violence against women, human rights, and development and had carved a niche for herself as a specialist in gender equality and ending violence against women.

The first thing we did was an exercise identifying the most fulfilling experiences that she considered successful but wouldn’t necessarily be considered successful by other people.

By identifying her professional passions and innate strengths, she was able to refocus. She was in the right field, but by the time she met me, she had outgrown the organization where she was employed. She felt her employer was doing fabulous work in social development, but too much of her time was spent managing instead of doing. She was de-motivated by having to focus on the bottom line and managing priorities defined by others.

Christine needed work where she could set her own priorities in line with her values.

She had owned her own firm in the past, but it was freelancing, “an in-between thing” that she did between jobs.

She decided to restart her business and make it very focused. This time she was serious. She developed a mission statement, corporate image and concept for a web site and a brochure for the organization.

Now Christine works with associations that she chooses to work with – private sector, not-for- profit, and government organizations. She works exclusively on issues that she cares about. “It’s not about billing. It’s about values.”

Nowadays there is coherence between her values, her principles and the work she does. She’s making as much money as she did working in a formal setting and it’s much more gratifying and stimulating because she doesn’t have to reach financial goals set by someone else.

Since she’s been working for herself, Christine has been doing the types of projects she’s most interested in, both in Canada and overseas. For example, she developed a proposal with CARE Canada giving voice to marginalized people in South East Asia.

Christine made a heavy-duty commitment to her values. She understands the value of having a vision and sticking to it. She checks in with me once a month to help clarify that vision and come closer to the manifestation and obtainment of that vision.

She said she finds it valuable to have a third party objective point of view of her decisions. I’m not her husband, I’m not a coworker, I’m a third-party objective observer.

Christine needed to have a clearly defined vision to enable her to take actions that moved her closer to that obtainment. Ironically, this clarity made her more attractive to employers. Her vision and values harmonize so well with CARE Canada that they recently offered her a position as a specialist in Governance and Capacity Building.

After 2.5 years as country director in Cameroon for CARE, last summer she took on a new challenge as senor advisor gender equality, seconded by CIDA to the Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority. Now, she’s recently returned to Canada to take on the role of VP-Porgrams at the Canadian Hunger Foundation to foster food security for the world’s poorest communities.

Her vision manifests love – something that she wanted to see in the world so much that she was willing to take action to see it happen. It was easy to take action after she confronted her fears.

Job Change Advice: If you find yourself in a hole…stop digging!

Digging out of career hole

It’s easy to dig ourselves into a hole that feels impossible to get out of. For example, it’s easy to fall into a job with no intention of staying there only to realize, years later, you’re stuck there…it’s draining you body and soul, but you need the money just to survive or maintain a lifestyle expected of you by family and friends.

Our tendency is to look for a compromise, to find a way to keep the money but find a way to make life better. The solution for many of my clients has been to do more of what they think they want to do– paint, write, sing, perhaps, or start a business–a reaction to their job dissatisfaction or problems.

Sometimes, these options make the situation worse! Starting something new takes energy, something that is in short supply when they get home from work. Sometimes, their marriage or partnership breaks down; or, they go into debt or bankruptcy; or, they try to figure it all out on their own but they lack clarity, confidence, and resources. They slip into depression. In short, they reach a desperate place. They see no way out of their hole…trapped!

It might feel like a death trap but it is not a life-and-death situation. They are not homeless or hungry. There are personal and professional supports available—this becomes the time to draw on them. One of the most important resources to draw on is the creative spirit than resides in each of us. We may not be musical, or artistic in any manner, but we all have the power to create our future. Creating is a process and anybody can do it.

Changing your focus is the key to a midlife career change

The biggest obstacle to creating a new career or business or future is our inclination to compromise. We focus on the wrong things, on what we think we can do for money, instead of what we want to do. In my experience as a job change expert for the past 20 years, what I see is a lack of vision based on one’s deepest values and highest aspirations.

In the creative process, it is important to love the creation before it exists—to love the dream home before it is built, to love the song before it is written, to love the child before it is born. The same principle is to get a vision for a career or job and love it before you find it our create it. An entrepreneur loves the business before it is built. A chef loves the dish before it is made. A filmmaker loves the film before it is produced.

In terms of work, too many of us have lost touch with what it is we love to create. How do we know? By comparison. When it is not there, you feel like you’re going through the motions, disengaged, uninvolved, disconnected—in short, you don’t really care, it’s just a paycheck. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become a problem after many years, especially if it drains your energy, and plants you in a hole.

Love the result, not the process

One of the best ways to get out of a job hole, or career trap, is to push aside compromise thinking and focus on what it is you would love to create—the result. This does not mean you will love the process; you may even hate taking the necessary steps.

It is not a compromise to do the hard work, learn what you need to learn, develop the skills you may need but don’t have yet. Easy or difficult, fun or a pain, throughout the good, the bad, and the ugly, that experience of connection, involvement, of being true to yourself and true to your creation will permeate everything you are doing. Sounds a little like parenting, doesn’t it?

Love brings out the best in us for parenting and career change. One thing I know for sure is that your chances of making a successful career change will disappear quickly if you forget or lose touch with your desire to see the end result, no matter what circumstances you are in. Being a creator is about keeping your eye on the main prize.

“Oh, what a feeling…what a career change rush!”

What a feeling, what a career change

Everyone’s heard a story about some successful businessperson who dumped a 20-year career to pursue something completely different and is happier for it.

The famous Impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin, for example, ditched a lucrative banking career and bourgeois life in Paris to paint full-time in the Polynesian islands.

Most people who want to make a midlife career change never take such drastic action because they fear change and don’t want to make sacrifices—at least that’s the common job change advice. I suggest this is incorrect.

I’m sure Gauguin feared change and didn’t want to make sacrifices but did so anyway. What motivated him to do so, and why do so many people who feel stuck in a career, unable to take action to get unstuck?

Like most people, Gauguin got an education that led to a particular career path. His vocation was fixed but some years later he decided he wasn’t a banker anymore. Like others, he probably said to himself, “If I don’t make a move now, I never will, and I’ll live to regret it.” But the truth is Gauguin didn’t know how to make a career change.

A successful transition requires effective actions

Gauguin’s first action was not to jump on a boat and sail to the South Pacific. He didn’t start with an “aha!” experience then go out and try to find it. No, he spent years painting.

He learned to paint, hung out with other artists, and explored the art world, learning not only his craft but the business of art. Transition is a process based on actions. As a job change expert, I know that the motivation underlaying those actions is the key to a successful transition.

Gauguin knew what he wanted to do—paint. But that’s not enough for change. Many people figure out what they want to do but nothing comes of it. Why?

Gauguin remolded his deepest values and highest aspirations. Instead of producing wealth, he decided it was more important for him to produce beauty, his deepest value. In order to produce beauty, he decided to paint full-time, his deepest aspiration.

Changing careers means redefining our working identity—who and what we are in terms of our right work, what we communicate about ourselves to others and, ultimately, how we live our working lives.

Who we are and what we do—our BEING and our DOING–are closely connected, the result of years of certain actions. And to change that connection, we must first resort to other actions that align with our deepest values and highest aspirations. This is the source of motivation for a midlife change.

As a painter, Gauguin didn’t make much money but loved his new life. The feeling—the intrinsic reward, the emotional value–that he gained from painting aligned with his deepest values and highest aspirations, a feeling he couldn’t get from banking.

A picture of a future that feels better

In other words, change occurs when we have a picture of a better alternative to our current identity, one that feels better. My clients who have made successful changes know this feeling well.

That is the purpose of my JobJoy Report — to give you a picture of a new working identity, one that aligns with your BEING. It will help you visualize a specific outcome, something different than the one you are now stuck in.

My JobJoy Report will start you moving in a new direction because you will be motivated to make a change, by DOING new things that feel better.

Once you experience those positive feelings, by taking different actions, you will make a successful career change and live a better story. Oh, what a feeling…what a rush!

How Click Moments lead to Successful Career Changes

Click moments for job change

New services and products are being created daily. They seem to come out of nowhere and rocket to almost instant popularity, like Pinterest. Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp met for a beer in 2009 and discovered they both loved collecting. Click.

Talking further they thought, “Why not develop a way to digitally display your collections?” Click. That interest grew into a shared passion to create a service that looked obvious — after it was created. Despite a lack of programming expertise, they managed to pull in others to create one of the web’s fastest growing social networks.

When you honour your passions and interests, things you really enjoy doing and do well, you are more likely to have click moments, enabling you to pivot more than once into new, more successful directions, no matter how unique or unusual your interest.

Looking back, haven’t there been unexpected time in your life where you met someone or heard an idea that positively changed the course of your life? Light bulb goes off…click! That is a click moment.

While we are so willing to accept randomness in falling in love, the unexpected way it happens, we resist believing that unexpected factors can help us define and develop a career. Planning has its place but many successful entrepreneurs have pointed out that the most important goal of a business plan is to show that a team is moving in some coordinated fashion toward a goal but the plan itself will be outdated within the month.

Same thing with careers. We plan but it is often serendipitous moments that send us down a particular path. On the one hand we want control over events that determine our careers, but on the other we are steered in certain directions when unexpected things happen.

In my JobJoy For Life home study program, I help my clients prepare and plan for such click moments. We create a Vision chart that structures creative tension between our current reality and what we really want for our careers and lives. Then we plan certain actions that will move us closer to our goal.

What is always amazing to me is how serendipity shows up between those planned actions. It’s almost like the universe has its own plans for each of us. It’s important is to recognize those click moments and nurture them into real opportunities. This makes life more of an adventure than a grind.

Consequently staying open to serendipitous events increases the chances you’ll meet the right people and learn the apt information, to stay relevant and, better yet, keep opening adventuresome chapters to the life you are truly meant to live with others. My JobJoy For Life program helps my clients turn click moments into successful career changes.

Like Silbermann and Sharp, who continued with their regular jobs, they took actions that moved them towards their vision for Pinterest, a vision now realized, a new career for each!

This is not magic. It is a process of creativity and available to anyone. We can all create what really matters to us and new opportunities to change jobs, earn more, and live a better story!

Choosing a values-rich career

Natalie Zend

When I first met her in 2005, Natalie Zend was on sick leave due to severe back pain and had some big decisions to make. She had a permanent position as a Senior Policy Analyst in the Children’s Rights and Protection Unit at a federal agency. She was weighing the pros and cons of a career change.

She was considering several options: promotion within the agency; or, a field posting; or an exchange with an NGO, university or international organization abroad; or, work as an independent consultant. In her early thirties, she wanted more work-life balance, a better integration between her personal and professional interests. And, she wanted more clarity about what would be the best choice over the long term.

She wrote detailed stories about times in her life when she was doing what she enjoyed most. Also, I provided her with a set of questions to help her reflect on her deepest values and highest aspirations. She was at a significant career crossroads. Ultimately, she would have to choose between being practical, realistic and staying the course of stability; or, determining what she valued most and seek a career that honoured those values.

As she wrestled with the implications of her JobJoy Report and the choices confronting her, she realized with increasing conviction that she wanted more direct contact with others and more meaningful open dialogue. She formulated a vision statement based on her deepest values. “My vision for my work in the world is to foster personal and social transformation for a life-sustaining society, by supporting social justice and environmental change agents in their work.”

Wrestling with transition fears

In the summer of 2006, Natalie took a one year unpaid leave from her job. She wanted to travel, as she had the agency, and to continue to help others through her work, but also have more time to pursue her goals in accordance with her values. “I wanted to centre myself and determine what I wanted with one-on-one support and guidance. I wanted to make my next move based on a sense of direction and priorities.”

Natalie said she “spent many months during her sabbatical looking at her fears of leaving her job: ending up on the streets, penniless, without respect or professional identity.” It takes courage to confront our fears and to take responsibility for what we really want. Natalie realized that returning to her job would have been “out of fear of doing something different.”

This is a fear of negative consequences. As individuals, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid the negative consequences of decisions. But, truthfully, we cannot read the future; we don’t know what will happen. Without that certainty of what will happen, many of us “choose the devil we know, rather than what we don’t know.”

Fear to change is natural and normal. To get out of a reactive mode of living, we need, I suggest, to move into a creative mode of thinking, by focusing on what it is we really want to create for our lives.

Based on her JobJoy Report, Natalie had a clear picture of who and what she is in terms of her right work, and how she operates naturally and effortlessly when she is doing what she enjoys most. But she needed time and space to think about how the what connects to the why. Why do I want to do that, i.e. change my life to align with my motivational pattern?

Organizing principle for successful change

Answers to the WHY questions of life give us the organizing principles for the WHAT we do. Once we have the WHY questions answered (at least in part) then it’s a question of figuring out HOW to manifest our values and priorities–what really matters to us–how do I make a living? How do I decide what to do with my time and energy? How do I increase my chances of being successful at what I want to do? That is the challenge of every adult, and that was exactly the challenge Natalie faced with courage and conviction.

She “longed for freedom, authenticity, and growth in the direction of greater connection to spirit, self and others.” She felt exhilarated and inspired that the needs she had met through her work at the agency could be met through other means and strategies. At the conclusion of her sabbatical, Natalie was at a decision point: return to the safety and security of a full-time government position; or, go out on her own. In one giant leap of faith, Natalie determined to follow her spirit and disavow the “safe and reasonable” judgment born from her upbringing.

“George helped me see the gift in what has been a lifelong source of anxiety and insecurity for me—my tendency to try to live up to what I perceive as others’ expectations of me. He helped me understand that my natural talents—rather than the job market, perceived societal or family expectations—could be a primary basis for choosing or creating my work. “

Taking effective actions to make change real

Natalie gave notice to her employer, and packaged her skills and vision as an independent consultant, specializing in training, facilitation, analysis and children’s rights. She would build on the relationships and experience she had accumulated working 10 years in international development and refugee policy and programming, primarily in children’s rights, human rights approaches to development, conflict resolution, peace building and gender equality.

“George helped me recognize that I am a ‘visionary’ who instills people with enthusiasm and that I thrive in situations where I can act as a coach, trainer, facilitator or coordinator. I eventually saw that playing those roles as an internal or external consultant—a third-party neutral—could be a valid and effective way to exercise leadership for positive social change.”

In order to attain her highest aspirations, Natalie decided to build on her BA in History and her Master’s in International Affairs with further education. In 2010, she was designated a CTDP (Certified Training and Development Professional) and received a Certificate in Adult Training and Development. The certifications, Natalie says, “increased my credibility and competence and have enabled me to increase my skillfulness, presence, confidence and personal impact.”

Much of her consulting work has focused on helping organizations in Canada and around the world to design, implement and report on rights-and-results-based programs that more effectively implement positive change for children. She has also supported diverse stakeholders in an organization or project to reach shared understanding and commitment through events that offer an unprecedented space for mutual learning and dialogue.

Finally, she helps leaders who are overwhelmed with the state of our world to connect to a greater sense of hope and contribution through workshops drawing on deep ecology, systems theory, and other transformational tools.
Natalie has also continued her personal growth through education, travel and daily practice. She has studied and practiced facilitation, monitoring and evaluation, leadership and communication. She is fulfilling her goal for a more balanced life with greater connection to self, spirit and others.

She also has studied and applied a variety of group methodologies: The Work that Reconnects, Awakening the Dreamer, Open Space Technology, NonViolent Communication, Appreciative Inquiry, Participatory Learning and Action, and Process Work, as well as practiced and facilitated improvisational voice and movement and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness and spiritual practice have led Natalie to retreats in France with Thich Nhat Hanh and to India where she studied with the Dalai Lama.

“George helped me realize I could contribute to life and make a living through a career path that is a unique expression of my calling and talents. He helped me to recognize, accept and build on my natural gifts and inclinations rather than trying to be someone else.Becoming a consultant has given me the time and flexibility to integrate spiritual practice into my daily routine, and to do spiritual community support and leadership work that does not always pay. In my paid work, I have been able to share my values and practices openly and authentically with colleagues and partners. Embodying my values in my work is very important to me. My primarily goal in work is to contribute to life and well-being of people and the planet.”

Contact Natalie at andizend@yahoo.ca or 647-300-6102 for more information about her work and workshops.

Forever Young Through Work that Energizes You!

Fountain of Youth

Ray Crist retired at age 104. He was a scientist who worked in a lab. At age
82, he started researching how plants might remove toxic poisons from polluted
soil, such as mine tailing’s. He didn’t do it for money—he donated his dollar a
day salary to charity—but for love. He loved doing science! Why retire from
something you love doing, something that harmonizes with your deepest values and highest aspirations?

Individuals who experience deep job satisfaction live longer. In fact, work
satisfaction is the #1 determinant of longevity, more than genes, diet, or
exercise, according to one study[i].

Consider all the successful people who continue to create long after retirement
age when they clearly don’t need the money. Paul and Mick, both 70 now, still
rock. Octogenarian Clint Eastwood still directs movies, Willie Nelson still
tours, and Betty White & Cloris Leachman still make us laugh. Their vitality is
admirable and enviable!

According to the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.4% of Americans aged 75+
still work, most of them for pleasure not money, as illustrated in a recent
LA Times article. Studies show that staying intellectually challenged,
either through paid work or some other pursuit, improves a person’s quality of
life in his or her later years. In fact, when people are “engaged” in their
work, at any age, they visibly demonstrate competency, vitality and high
performance.

When your work energizes you, instead of drains you, why would you stop doing
it…especially as you age? When work harmonizes with our authentic self, then we
are “creating” something worthwhile—not necessarily art or
entertainment–something “good” in the world that is rewarded, whether it is a
scientific discovery or excellent customer service.

We are meant for this creating, and the reward is a by-product that is clearly
visible in the vitality of these engaged older workers. It is a joy to behold
such a person, and it is a joy to be such a person whose being matches their
doing—they are full of life, vitality, joy, energy!

age_progression1_opt

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young. (Lyrics by Bob Dylan)

ageprogression2_opt

Of course, as we get older, our physical powers slowly or quickly waste away.
We lose physical strength, or eyesight, or hearing, or whatever, but we lose
such things whether we are wasting away in front of the television as a couch
potato or engaged in some worthwhile work that energizes us and keeps us
connected to others.

My goal is to help others find or create the kind of work that will last a
lifetime, work that engages and energizes. As Ray Crist and the others
demonstrate, if you are interested in your work, really energized by what you do
day in and day out, life is interesting. If you don’t have work that engages
you, life is boring as hell.

Most people either settle for or seek the extrinsic reward of making enough
money to survive and save for a pension…to stop doing what they don’t truly
enjoy..and live with the consequences, both good and bad. But, it is possible
to have a different kind of life, one with work that engages and energizes for a
lifetime, one that stimulates you to be a truly interesting person with a song
always sung.

The real fountain of youth is not found in plastic surgery, or magic pills or
superannuated pensions or supernatural formulas. It is found within your
“creating” self, in which each new day offers an opportunity to express your
authentic self and give it through work to others for intrinsic rewards.

[i] Brown, Mark G. (1996). Keeping Score: Using the Right Metrics to Drive
World-Class Performance
. New York: Quality Resources.

To People Who Want To trade in the career treadmill for traction towards a meaningful life! But Can’t Get Started…

treadmill_opt

Another year has started…do you feel as if you are still stuck on a treadmill?

On the one hand, our life goals are pretty simple: to survive, get a decent job with some stability and security, develop loving relationships–even raise a family–pursue some enjoyable activities, and do it all with a certain amount of comfort and dignity.

On the other hand, to achieve these simple goals, we must subject ourselves to a range of social controls, such as work, which requires us to behave in certain ways and respond predictably to a prescribed system of rewards and punishments. For example, if we adhere to a lifetime of work, save money, follow the rules, then we will be rewarded with a pension and security in our old age.

But, at the same time, we are constantly harangued by advertisers to spend our earnings on products that will produce the most profits for merchants, not to mention the whole system of legal and illegal pleasures run by gamblers, drug dealers, and sex trade entrepreneurs.

The good and bad of social controls

Some social critics insist that this treadmill of modern life molds us into “helpless” consumers who are socialized to respond predictably to what feels good and what feels bad so that others can exploit our preferences for their own ends.

And, let’s face it, most of us find it is easy to accept this system of social controls—after all, what kind of world would it be without them?

Furthermore, staying on the treadmill has some advantages, otherwise we’d jump off in a flash. There is genuine pleasure in the competitive struggle for “success”—winning is fun! Without any viable alternatives, most of us resort to striving even harder to pursue the “good life” with more ‘goods’ like a bigger house, new car, more toys, more power on the job, a more glamorous lifestyle and so on. Happiness is about feeling good, and acquiring the tokens of success makes us feel good. But studies clearly show that such happiness is fleeting, temporary, shallow at best…so we respond by striving for even more!

And yet, while this striving helps us avoid the question, “Is that all there is?”, the consequences for doing so are proving to be increasingly negative for both individuals and societyl. For example, the city of Ottawa, where I live, is the capital of a G-8 country, and has the highest rate of per capital income in the nation, but it has also been diagnosed as the “depression capital of Canada,” by the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health.

Disability claims for mental health by federal public servants spiked to an all-time high in the past 3 years (even though workers on the public payroll enjoy excellent wages and benefits and have little to worry about in terms of surviving). Depression and mental health issues are now the #1 workplace disability in North America costing our economy billions of dollars in lost productivity. In addition, there has been a dramatic increase in social pathologies over the last generation, including more organized crime, family breakdowns, ecological degradation, a widening gap between the rich and the rest, and so on.

What is the remedy?

How do we, as individuals, get off the treadmill, cast off these social controls that inhibit our freedom, and find meaning and purpose in life? These are big questions…but studies show that trying to answer them does, in itself, seem to help solve the problem.

While a happy and meaningful life overlap in certain ways, they are also very different. Money is clearly a factor in happiness because it can reduce stress and worry about surviving and enhances our opportunities for “feeling good.” We can more easily “take” from life what we need. If anything, pure happiness seems to be linked to not helping others in need, according to recent research.

What separates human beings from other species is not “feeling good” but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans. Psychologists have discovered what many world religions have taught for centuries—humans derive meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of their community. Any parent knows this because having children is associated with a meaningful life and requires self-sacrifice, but research shows that parents often exhibit low levels of happiness because having kids is worrisome and stressful!

Some studies indicate that another remedy to overcoming helplessness and meaningless-ness is to gain control over our consciousness or, more specifically, the content of our experience. Instead of submitting to the treadmill of social expectations and rewards, each of us can decide what is important to us and act accordingly. But, after decades of developing habits and desires that serve those social controls, it is not easy to (1) know what to do, or (2) actually do it.

You are not trapped in your job or career.

Having meaning and money are not mutually exclusive. You can learn how to combine the two, and you can take efficient and effective actions to do so. You can change your job or career. Research clearly shows that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction.

At JobJoy, we are committed to helping our clients connect their work to a clearly-defined purpose that harmonizes with what is meaningful for them, and still make money, as demonstrated in this free how-to webinar.

If you feel stuck on a treadmill, or suspect that your life is being controlled by external forces that don’t have your best interests at heart, then maybe this is the year that you determine to do something about it.

You can start, I suggest, by focusing (with our help if you like) on what really matters to you, by thinking about what you really want from life…then taking a few simple effective actions to move towards it. This gives you traction for a meaningful life.

Is it money or meaningful work?

i-love-my-work-mug-256x170

Work-life balance is one of those buzz words that characterizes the zeitgeist of our times. We live busy, hectic lives and, in order to control all this activity, we often separate our different spheres of activity into compartments of work, family, socializing, romancing, education, politics, religion, and so on.

This compartmentalizing also extends to our mental and emotional lives, to what we do and believe, to what we value. Work-life balance is about aligning our being with our doing.

Easier said than done, right? In fact, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that there is very little work-life balance in our lives. We might want it…but we can’t get it!

Highest levels of job stress

One major study commissioned by Health Canada[1] found that the highest levels of job stress and depression in Canadian public servants were found in Ontario public employees at municipal, provincial and federal levels:

“While they may earn the nation’s highest average salaries, Ontario workers reported the lowest levels of job satisfaction and the highest intention to leave.”

Reducing work-life conflicts is not a high priority for most employers even though doing so is proven to be a major factor in better job performance, according to Paul Fairlie[2], a researcher that I spoke with recently. He designs and conducts surveys related to meaningful work. He says that the same 9-10 dimensions keep coming up in research.

Is it money or is it meaningful work?

It’s both. It’s a two-stage motivational process. People need a certain amount of money to be comfortable and to feel appreciated at a level similar to others doing the same job. Beyond these few extrinsic drivers, the vast majority of people pursue intrinsic rewards, e.g. meaning-based goals and values.

Some people can be cynical about these kinds of results, and prefer to pursue extrinsic goals, such as money, prestige, status, power; rather than intrinsic goals, such as meaning or socially useful work. But the research clearly shows that money rarely shows up as a major influence on motivation and behaviour once basic needs are met.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Rewards

Instead, studies are consistent in showing that most people are, in fact, more intrinsically-motivated. If they become more extrinsically-motivated, it’s because of negative work experiences. Let’s face it, work can be a pretty harsh environment, involving layoffs, unfair dismissals, nepotism, corruption, and so on. It’s no wonder that many individuals acquire a cynical attitude: “Fool me once, shame on me…try to fool me twice, forget it, just pay me!”

As Paul learned from surveys, it is understandable that many people are more likely to choose a raise over more meaningful work, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting more interesting work. His research demonstrates that most employees still want self-actualizing work; they want to make a social impact; they want personal goals/values alignment with jobs/work/employers; they truly want a sense of personal accomplishment.

When they get it, they are more likely to stay with their employer and report higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and discretionary effort.

Meaningful Work Index

Furthermore, the higher they score on his Meaningful Work Index (MWI), the more likely they are to experience fewer physical and mental health symptoms. He reviewed 2 national studies in 50 states and found that employees with a high MWI score measured low burnout, low depression, low stress, and low anxiety.

However, when employees don’t find meaningful work with their employers, they disengage–the rate of days lost to sickness and loss of productivity rises dramatically. Indeed, the stats suggest that a growing fringe of Americans and Europeans are withdrawing from work as a meaningful life pursuit.

Work-life balance enables individuals to become self-reliant, make informed choices and find satisfying and fulfilling work and lifestyles in today’s rapidly changing labor markets.

Leaving large orgs for lifestyles business

Many of them are leaving the world of institutionalized work and creating a lifestyles business, which is a small enterprise that shares the following characteristics:

- Set up and run by its founders
- Aim of sustaining a particular income level from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle
- Does not require extensive capital to launch or sustain (limited scalability or potential for growth)
- Suitable for sole practitioners, husband-and-wife-teams, or small groups in “creative industries”
- Dependent on founder skills, personality, energy, and contacts
- Founders create them to exercise personal talent or skills, achieve a flexible schedule, work with other family members, remain in a desired geographic area, or simply to express themselves

Creating such a business isn’t for everybody but more people than ever are leaving their corporate jobs to try it for themselves.
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[1] “Where to Work in Canada: An examination of regional differences in Work-Life Practices,” Health Canada survey, Linda Duxbury & Chris Higgins, Ottawa’s Sprott School of Business, 2001
[2] Paul Fairlie, Ph.D., President & CEO, Paul Fairlie Consulting, Advancing the Science & Meaning of Work