You don't need to change your job to be happy
We’re told that if you find a job you love you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Couple this with well-meaning advice such as ‘life’s too short to do something that makes you unhappy’ or ‘we spend more time at work than with our families, so we better enjoy it‘ means we often find ourselves on a never-ending search to find the job that can make us happy.
This presumes, of course, that there is a job that you will love and a job that will make you happy. And therefore, if you don’t have this that something has gone wrong.
But what if nothing has gone wrong?
What if it is just your long-held beliefs about work and the thoughts you are having every day about your job that needs changing, rather than the job itself?
You may be familiar with the concept of ‘limiting beliefs’, and perhaps you have spent some time examining what beliefs you have that might be holding you back. These could be beliefs about yourself such as ‘I’m not a creative person’ or beliefs about your situation such as ‘This will never change‘.
There are also many beliefs we hold about what a job should do for us that hold us back. These can be so ingrained that we don’t even realise they are beliefs.
Are you willing to explore what these might be and to question those beliefs? Yes? Great, let’s see what this might look like and explore two commonly held beliefs about work.
Commonly held beliefs about work
1. Work should make me happy
There are multiple things in life that can contribute to making you happy or unhappy. Work is just one of those. It is possible to be happy at work even if the work itself does not make you happy. Do you see the distinction?
By believing that it’s your job’s job to make you happy you are giving away responsibility for such happiness. On the other hand, believing that you can be happy even if your job doesn’t fill you with joy can take away a huge burden of responsibility. Your job is allowed to be just a thing that you do, without all that pressure on its shoulders to be the principal bringer of happiness into your life.
2. Being passionate about my job is a good thing
This sounds like a no brainer, right? Although it might be worth exploring what you think the benefits from being passionate about your job really are. Recent work has suggested that the rewards gained from taking a passion led approach to your career is negligible. It’s often our skills, our growth, our experience in a role or industry that creates rewarding benefits for us, both in terms of personal development and fulfilment, and not just cold hard cash.
Similarly, Cal Newport suggests in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, that the three most important attributes to feeling motivated at work do not include passion at all, but are instead autonomy, competence and relatedness (feeling connected with people).
So perhaps we should be taking passion off our list of expectations, or at least questioning what passion really is?
Gently questioning these beliefs and getting them out in the open is a first step towards both deciding if these beliefs are helpful for you and if you would like to change them. By changing your long-held beliefs about work, you might notice that a bit of weight falls from your shoulders and you can view work in a different way.
Now, let's get a bit more granular and take a look at the thoughts you are having about your job right now.
Your thoughts are what create your beliefs – or put another way, beliefs are just thoughts you think consistently. The thoughts you are having about your job might seem like innocent ‘truths’, but your self-talk is important. These thoughts are what determine how you feel. You can choose which thoughts you would like to think more often and which to dial down.
Here’s an exercise to undertake to help you get a clearer look at your thoughts and to help you dip your toe into the idea of deciding what to think on purpose.
- Write down everything you are thinking and review this regularly, perhaps every day before you sit down to work.
- Ask yourself how true these thoughts really are.
- Consider how helpful these thoughts might be and the effect they might have on your day ahead.
- Consider if there are different thoughts you could choose to focus on that would be more helpful.
This might seem very hypothetical and difficult to really grasp hold of, so I’ll give you an example to try and put this into context.
When I undertook this exercise a few years ago in a job I was convinced I ‘hated’. I told myself ‘I hate this job’ consistently. It wasn’t helpful. That was obvious at the outset, but the underlying thoughts that led me to that belief were much harder to pinpoint. As some months passed I noticed something else that was consistently appearing in my thoughts too.
“This job is pointless.”
I absolutely believed this was true. It didn’t occur to me to question this thought because I believed it so much. It took some months before I was ready to question it.
But as I did so I realised how completely unhelpful it was. I had the realisation that ‘of course I hate my job if I’m consistently telling myself it is pointless!” It’s like trying to eat healthily if you keep telling yourself it won’t make any difference anyway, why would you bother?
So from there, I set out to catch this thought every time it came along and to challenge it. I decided I was going to look for the evidence of where my job did have a point, why it mattered, however small. Because I had been thinking this thought for so long it was hard, but it totally paid off. I noticed it, my manager noticed it, my family noticed it. I was relaxed, performing better and no longer fighting against my job every day.
Sometimes we want to believe things so much because it fits with our narrative, it fits with our belief. Initially, I wanted to continue to prove how much I hated my job because that would justify my unhappiness and justify my constant search for the perfect job that would fill me with joy.
By letting go of the belief that it was my job’s job to fill me with joy, and to then consciously search for the thoughts that would make me feel better about my current job, I was able to stay in the same role, in the same company, with the same duties and same managers, yet completely transform my relationship to it, for the better.
This is great news for people who ‘hate’ their jobs but who aren’t in a position to leave, but it should also be great news for all of us. If you can feel better about the role you’re currently in your capacity to be open to new experiences and new opportunities grows, thus making the likelihood of finding a new job much higher, if that’s your ultimate goal. So even if you have no plans to stay longer than necessary where you are, working hard at feeling good in your current role, whether the work itself makes you ‘happy’ or not, can only bring positive results.