Even people fortunate enough to have a job in today's economy are unhappy at work. According to a recent survey by the Conference Board, less than half of American workers experience job satisfaction -- the lowest level recorded by the research group in 22 years.
The drop in workers' satisfaction is due in part to the worst recession since the 1930s, which has caused more people to accept jobs unsuitable to their skills and experience. But job dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades -- a trend that diminishes people's quality of life, and can even shorten their lives. Chronic job dissatisfaction increases the risk of burnout, stress, anxiety and depression -- all of which can weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness.
While today's economy has exacerbated job dissatisfaction, the 22 year decline in workers' happiness indicates a deeper issue. Many people are unhappy at work because they never learned how to choose a career that's the right fit with who they are. With over 600 career choices, it's no wonder that people find choosing a profession overwhelming. And because they don't know how to align what they do with their strengths and interests, they often end up in the wrong careers. Perhaps they had an internship that morphed into a job, followed a parent into a family business, chose jobs based on money or others' expectations, or fell into a career because they didn't know what else to do.
Below are some questions you can ask yourself to get greater clarity about the career that best leverages your personality, strengths and passions, and will make going to work a joy, instead of a daily source of dread.
What are my innate qualities? A job that requires you to work against your nature is stressful. For example, if you're naturally innovative, but your work is concentrated on routine tasks, you'll feel bored and unfulfilled. Or if you're people oriented but you spend your day alone in your office, the lack of human interaction can make you depressed. Everyone has innate personality traits, and it's important to have a clear understanding of your own.
What are my strengths? Strengths are things that you not only do well, but that you also enjoy doing. To identify your strengths, make a list of every skill and area of expertise you have. Then go through the list and check off each one that you not only do well, but that you also truly enjoy using.
What are my interests? Work that ignites your passions makes your job fulfilling. Notice what moves you, what interests you or what you daydream about. Maybe you're always trying to get your friends to recycle. Or you spend all your free time sailing, baking or building furniture. Or you're moved to tears by stories about human or animal rights. To start identifying your passions, make a list of five things that often capture your attention or invoke strong feelings inside of you.
What contribution do I want to make in the world? Your contribution is the overall impact you'd like to achieve. To identify your contribution, ask yourself: If I were fearlessly living my ideal life and expressing my full potential, what contribution would I most want to make out in the world?
Answering these questions can be challenging, especially if you've lived life based on others' expectations. In this case, you may need to get out and experience new things to get more information about your strengths and interests. Aligning what you do with who you are requires commitment, effort and perseverance. But the rewards are well worth it. Not only will it enhance the quality of your life, it may even prolong it.
Lauren Mackler is the author of the international bestseller, SOLEMATE: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life. She is a life, career, and relationship coach, psychotherapist, and host of the weekly LIFE KEYS radio show. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for her free e-newsletter at www.laurenmackler.com.