Recently I met with a young man who was struggling at his job. A mutual friend recommended that I speak with him to see if I could provide any guidance. The young man told me that he dreaded getting up every morning to go to work, and that he came home every evening drained and exhausted.
"What do you think I should do?" he asked. "I want to feel better about my job, but don't know what to do. Frankly, I'm not particularly spiritual, and am just looking for practical advice."
This young man is not alone in his perception of his job as drudgery. Many people strive for success and admiration at work and pour energy in to the promise of their careers, but somewhere along the way find that the anticipated rewards either do not materialize, or do not provide the happiness that they had hoped for, leaving them feeling stuck, trapped, bored, frustrated, drained, duped or depressed. I know this, because at times in my career I've also experienced all these feelings.
Here's what I've learned, and what I told the young man:
First, you need to objectively identify why you are so unhappy at your work. There can be several categorical reasons:
- Your type of work: Perhaps you are in a field that you find inherently unsatisfying, or you feel called to a different type of career. Maybe you are a lawyer, yet yearn to be an artist; or you are an artist but are drawn to business; or you work at a large company but dream of being an entrepreneur.
Let's look at ways to address each of these reasons:
- Many people I speak with tell me that their jobs are not fulfilling, but can't identify alternatives. In those cases I recommend an exercise that you may find useful: Make three lists. On the first, write down all the things that you are naturally good at. On the second, all the things that you enjoy. And on the third, all the things that are meaningful to you. Don't hold back or edit your responses; just write what comes to mind. Now, look for a theme that comes up in all three lists - that's an indicator of your true purpose. An immediate answer may not appear, but you will be pointed in a direction. We are energized when we do something we enjoy, excel at, and that is meaningful.
I suspected that one or more of these reasons applied to the young man's situation, and wished him the strength and courage to implement lasting changes that will transform how he views his job, himself, others, and the purpose for his life.
I also shared a quick thought with him about "spirituality". We may think of spirituality as naively idealistic, or something reserved for special times and activities, but "spirituality" is, essentially, the experience of a transformative connection. In other words, we are "spiritual" when we connect deeply with ourselves, others, and the Divine, in a way that strips away our defensive fronts, revealing our true selves. We have all had these experiences - in the beauty of nature, at the birth of a child, when we commit to love, care for another, or in the moments of creative "flow" - and spiritual practices are developed to help train us to make these connections in a regular, deliberate way. In this way, the recommendations above are all spiritual practices designed to help us find more peace, purpose, and fulfillment in everything that we do.