7 Essentials For A Happy And Fulfilling Career
If you conduct a Google search for “great career," you’ll find over 1.4 million hits - articles, interviews, books, videos, training programs, ads and much more (and some of these will be my own posts about what it takes to have a satisfying career). But the vast majority of these touch on the outer tactics you should employ to be successful in your work, not the inner work required to create happiness and fulfillment in your professional life. Sure, many folks today have outer “success” (money, title, responsibilities, power, authority). But what I’ve discovered in working with thousands of professional women is this: if what you’ve attained fits other people’s definitions of success but not your own, and if it leaves you feeling empty and far from your best self, then it’s not success, but sadness and disappointment. Or, you may have found fulfillment in your work, but if you’re not earning the money you need to pay your bills, support your family, or live the life you long to, that’s an unhappy career as well. What do you need in order for your professional life to be both happy and rewarding? Below are 7 must-haves:
1. Strong boundaries The single most important thing we need in life if we’re to be happy is healthy boundaries. Before I studied this concept in my therapy training, I didn’t know anything about boundaries, and it showed. I was overly sensitive, defensive, worried about what people thought of me, and highly challenged in following my own heart and intuition -- glomming on to what others thought and advised. I also attracted a good deal of negative behavior into my life from people who took advantage or mistreated me. Once I worked on my boundaries, however, all that changed. Boundaries are the invisible barriers between you and your outside systems, and they regulate the flow of input and information between you and the outside world. When your boundaries are overly diffuse, you’re “enmeshed” with others – unable to discern where you end and others begin. When your boundaries are rigid and impermeable, you’re “disengaged” – lacking healthy and appropriate connection with others or your own life. The key is find balance – to be healthily engaged with others but solid enough in your own skin, with your own thoughts, beliefs and self-worth that you can navigate through life knowing who you are and what you want, and advocating effectively for that without it being a constant struggle. The best way to determine if your boundaries are healthy is to think about your life and career ask yourself, “Am I living someone else’s definition of life and success, or my own?”
2. A healthy money relationship You can’t be happy in your work if you let money rule you. It’s truly that simple. Money can be viewed as an energy form, and when you give up all your power to it, it will suck you dry. If on the other hand, you can recognize money for what it is, and focus instead on what you’re meant to be doing in this world and how valuable you are, doors will open and great new possibilities will emerge. As the noted scholar Joseph Campbell shared, "Money is congealed energy and releasing it releases life possibilities. Money experienced as life energy is indeed a meditation, and letting it flow out instead of hoarding it is a mode of participation in the life of others. One way to get your focus on the right direction is to ask yourself, “What would I be doing if I were absolutely indifferent to money?” I certainly know that most of my readers are not indifferent to money (nor am I), but asking this question helps you focus – even for a second – on how you want to be living your life and serving others and the world, rather than “what’s the thing that will make the most money?” I’ve found in my 30-year career that the decisions I’ve made that were based solely on money are those I regret the most.
3. A focus on cultivating happiness In my interview with positive psychologist Shawn Achor, I learned of his powerful research that validates what I’ve always suspected was true – the greater your access to inner happiness (regardless of what’s going on outside or around you), the greater your experience of success throughout your life. Shawn’s research supports this – finding new ways to access happiness on a continual basis generates more success in our lives. Success does not breed happiness – it’s the other way around.
4. Courage to move away from what’s draining you It takes courage to say “enough of this!” when “this” is something your ego, fears and hopes are tied up in. People are deathly afraid of making change when they’ve been at a direction long enough that they’ve become overly-attached to the outcome and what it should look like. Some might say, “Just one more year, and something’s got to break!” or “This feels so wrong, but I’ve invested money in this – I can’t change it now.” The problem is, no matter how much you visualize the wrong direction becoming better, wrong is still wrong. If you’re engaged in work that drains, disappoints, and demoralizes you, it’s wrong for you.
5. Gratitude and a vision of what you love The people I’ve met who have the most rewarding careers are individuals who have developed a habit of experiencing gratitude on a daily basis. Gratitude is a powerful indicator, too, of what you love and want to create more of in your life. The more you take time to acknowledge with appreciation and thanks what you love about your life (even if, in this moment, it’s only a sliver of your full life experience), the more you’ll be able to expand those things that bring you joy. If you don’t ever stop to feel or express gratitude for what is going right in your life and what you relish, you’ll become blind to the new and improved opportunities that are waiting in the wings.
6. Willingness to get in the cage with your fears Experiencing happiness throughout your life requires flexibility, openness and adaptability. Very few people in this world are happy being and doing the exact same thing every day of their lives. We age, we develop, and we grow. We long to stretch up, grab new experiences, spread our wings and bump against new challenges, and be more of what we love to be. All of that requires walking through fear. The more comfortable you become getting in the cage with your fears and taking them on, the more satisfying your life and career will be.
7. A support circle that empowers you Finally, the one thing that most people forget about when they’re in the midst of their early career-building is other people. In our 20s and 30s, many of us are intensively self- focused, dedicating massive amounts of time and energy to gaining more responsibility, expanding our skills, and rising to the top. We fail to see that building positive relationships with supportive, empowering, enlivening people (and mentoring those who are emerging) is the best career strategy we can devise. Cultivating a powerful support circle and community now can be the difference between being stuck for years in a miserable situation and having new doors fly open just when you need them to. These 7 pillars of a successful and happy career won’t just build themselves, but can be readily cultivated and developed with commitment and focus.