04/05/2013 08:36 am ET Updated Jun 05, 2013

Make Work a Positive Choice in Your Life and Reduce Stress

Work has the potential to be a vehicle for your creative self-expression as well as to cover your expenses. A key success strategy is to choose work that suits your talents and lifestyle and reflects your passion as well.

In this topsy-turvy work culture, where reliance on others for job security is fast disappearing, building a work-life based on what you love has emerged as a quest. The question of meaningfulness is capturing the sentiment of the stressed-out baby boomers as well as the seniors who got the golden handshake and still have both the desire and the vitality to contribute to the workplace. You spend hours working. Are you happy with your results? Is your work in alignment with your values? If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you still want to do the work you're doing now? Is work a positive choice in your life?

In my practice, I see many people who "fell into" their line of work. We do a terrible job in this country of guiding young people in making this key life choice. As a child, we are often only exposed to the work we see our parents doing and the jobs in a school system, where we spend all day. So when asked to choose a work field, we don't have the self-awareness or life experience often to say, "Aha, I want to be a landscape architect" and know for sure because we've done it.

I saw a lawyer recently who told me, "I became a lawyer because my sister told me to apply to law school and I didn't have a job. I had no vision of the day-to-day life of a lawyer. I was just smart enough to do well on the LSAT's. So now I'm a lawyer and it terrifies me. I don't know if I have any goals for myself as a lawyer." Another client with an outstanding 30-year sales career in office equipment says, "I've never really felt like a salesman. It's like I've been a superb actor all these years. Now I just want to be me."

A second phenomenon that impacts the wisdom of your choices is the natural flow of change. Even if you made a great career decision for yourself at age 22, it's often unrealistic to expect that you'll be content with that choice for 40 years or more. Stan, an emergency room nurse, says that if he'd known about managed care, he would have become a hotel manager. Joan, a high tech public relations pro, showed up in my office saying that she never wanted to write about a piece of computer hardware again as long as she lives. "I need to learn something new and exciting," she moaned.

Many mid-lifers express a similar sentiment. They want to express a different part of themselves. I see many clients who want to pick up on a theme they left behind -- the writing they began in college, the interest in photography that they won awards for in high school, or their "1960s" wish to change the world. Picking up these lost threads and reweaving them into your life certainly qualifies as a positive choice. We continually change and grow and our work-life ought to reflect that. Bob felt rejuvenated when he left his big bureaucratic university to teach classes of 20 students in a small college. He loved the sense of community on his new campus and met his second wife, too. My gynecologist cut back his practice and parlayed his acting talents into a video series on menopause. Most of us will change careers several times in our work-life. While it can be unnerving, it's also healthy to scale fresh challenges and develop new talents.

The art of positive choices helps you to create the life you want. Poor life choices, whether it's work you despise, an unsatisfying marriage, or living in the wrong climate, are serenity stealers. These negative choices rob you of your peace of mind and well-being. Take your power back!