Do Sunday nights fill you with the dread of "back to work Monday?" Do you want to hide under the covers when the alarm goes off each weekday? Surveys show that upwards of 70 percent of us have "resigned" ourselves to unengaging, numbing work.
But it doesn't have to be that way. You can transform your work so that it becomes a joyful experience that makes you feel alive and vibrant.
The conventional wisdom about career planning has two steps: First, you need to understand your skills. Second, you need to match your skills up to what the world needs. But that well-meaning advice can leave you feeling drained.
I followed that advice and burned out of a prestigious profession. After completing my MBA, I was a whiz at Excel and PowerPoint. I'd worked in market research positions before business school, and whenever my managers needed business data, I rapidly found the data they needed to answer their questions. And I loved to make presentations. So, theoretically, I had all the skills I needed to be a gem of a management consultant.
I delighted my managers and clients. I worked long hours, pumping out convincing presentations to help Fortune 500 companies make strategic business decisions. But I became progressively stressed out, and felt trapped in work that I was good at... but didn't love. The work did not delight me.
If you crave work that brings you alive, begin within. Craft your work so it truly fits you. How? Make it your job to maximize your ROLE, your Return On Life Energy.
Set a simple intention for your career on a daily -- and long-term basis: To minimize your energy drains, and maximize your energy gains. When you pay attention to your drains and gains, they can actually tell you what you truly desire. No matter what work you are doing (even if you hate it right now), you have the power to increase your joy and satisfaction. Here's how:
Step One: Diminish Your Drains: Right now, make a list of what drains your energy, what saps you and taps you and zaps your energy. Get down on paper all the people, tasks, processes and circumstances that you already complain about, or the ones you that make you want to scream in frustration.
For me, sitting in front of spreadsheets too long drained me. I also felt drained by managers who yelled at me, instead of talking calmly. What are your energy drains? List them. Then, look over the list and see which drains you can eliminate, reduce or even delegate to someone else. Take one seemingly small action today to diminish a drain. You'll notice you feel lighter, more at ease.
Step Two: Grow Your Gains: Next, jot down a list of where you get your energy gains. In other words, the activities, the kinds of people, the situations that fill you and thrill you with positive energy. You want more of these, right? When I worked in consulting for a big firm, I loved attending training classes on topics like interpersonal communication. For me, I felt filled with positive energy when I would learn and practice a new technique for connecting with people. I passed along what I learned to my clients, yet I was hungry for more. I secretly wanted to be a professional skills trainer, so I could interact really personally, rather than being stuck looking at spreadsheets.
What about you? What activities, types of people, or perspectives fill you with positive energy gains? Make as long a list of your gains as possible. Refer to this list to generate ideas for what you want to do more of in your work, and schedule time to talk with your manager, team or clients so you can intentionally invest more of your time doing work that's a gain for you.
To fill yourself with positive energy each day, start your day doing something from your gains list that enriches you. For me, I spend five to 10 minutes in the morning listening to uplifting songs and dancing around. When you start your day doing something that gives you an energy gain, you'll have a stronger reserve of positive energy to resiliently tackle any challenges that may come your way.
Step Three: Transform Your Drains and Gains into Your Desires: Review your lists of drains and gains to clarify what you truly desire in your work. Your drains tell you what you don't want. The negative energy you feel when you think about your drains is like having a compass in your hand. The frustration in your body signals you that you're off course, going in a direction that will take you away from your desires. To turn yourself around, look at each drain on your list, one by one, ask yourself, "What does this tell me that I do want?"
For example, I turned around the drain of sitting in front of spreadsheets too long. I didn't want to interact with a computer. Seeing the drain helped me realize something: I did want to interact with people. I wrote down my true desire: To spend the majority of my time counseling and advising people.
And for each gain on your list, ask yourself, "How could I articulate what I really want, what I truly desire from this gain, even more clearly?" I re-wrote my gain of learning, and articulated, "I want to create a mix of tools and techniques I've learned, to create training that helps people manage themselves better at work."
Every day, take one small action to move in the direction of your desires. Take a class. Ask a mentor for help. Read a book. Start a project. Volunteer. Visualize what you desire. Step by step, as you constantly minimize your energy drains and maximize your energy gains, you'll create your own opportunities that allow you to direct your career for your own satisfaction.
What will you do to maximize your ROLE, your Return On Life Energy, today?
Follow Susan Bernstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drsbernstein