According to a recent survey from Mental Health America (MHA) and the Faas Foundation, 71 percent of US workers are thinking about leaving their jobs or actively looking for new opportunities. An equal number of employees in the survey said they speak poorly about their company to friends and family.
If you’re feeling dissatisfied and frustrated at work, a common reaction is to start looking for new opportunities elsewhere. But what if it were possible to create a job – and a life – you love by simply tapping into a goldmine of professional development opportunities right where you are?
Such opportunities to make your old job feel new – and to grow in the process – are everywhere. It is only a matter of finding and embracing them. Moreover, looking for opportunities where you are is a wiser approach than looking for a new job when dissatisfaction arises. Doing so teaches you how to create your own sustainable happiness by taking charge of your attitude, your energy, and your time. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of yourself, and you’ll cultivate more engagement wherever you are now and wherever you might go in the future.
Take Lorelei, for example, whom I met while working on a study on the use of positive psychology tools to help healthcare workers deal with burnout. A mid-career doctor with young twins, Lorelei felt frustrated at work. A workload of 70 patients per day, patient satisfaction surveys, technology on the fritz, and insurance conflicts can leave a doc feeling like they are going through the motions.
“All the work bleeds together,” Lorelei told me. “More than that, part of feeling so burned out is that I’m losing enthusiasm for my job.”
It was clear that Lorelei had lost her “flow,” that state of mind where you are energized by and completely absorbed in what you are doing. You experience flow when you are doing work that fuels your vision for what you want in your career and life.
To help Lorelei re-ground herself, we began by focusing on her goal: to reclaim the joy of her work – that is, helping patients – while taking charge of how she integrated her work and her life as a single mom. Lorelei was regularly bringing work home with her, which stole precious time she would otherwise spend with her family, use to exercise, or simply use to rest.
To help Lorelei achieve this goal, we created a “practice,” which James Flaherty’s Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others defines as “behavior done again and again with the intention to improve.” In simple terms, a practice is a new habit one commits to developing when they want more joy from their life or work.
At first, Lorelei was skeptical that she could commit to a regular practice. After all, she had no time or energy to begin with! So, Lorelei started with three small but achievable practices:
- Pausing as she worked with each patient to notice something positive she could admire about the person.
- Writing in a gratitude journal for a minute or two at the end of each day.
- Committing to a “close out the day” practice.
After several months of these practices, Lorelei felt renewed satisfaction and even moments of genuine joy. For example, during a challenging conversation, Lorelei noticed that one patient had “beautiful copper hair.” This small observation humanized the person, putting Lorelei back into a positive mindset.
“It’s pretty simple, but it helps me reclaim my energy during the day,” she says.
Another difficult patient spoke to Lorelei gruffly about a scheduling and insurance mix-up. As her frustration welled, Lorelei realized she was assuming the patient’s gruffness was an excuse for the mix-up. She decided to ask questions of the patient instead of jumping to conclusions.
“I took it as a learning opportunity for [myself] when I realized that I could have helped prevent the situation,” Lorelei says.
Instead of bringing the negative energy home with her that night, Lorelei reflected on her day in her journal.
Maybe Lorelei will work for another organization someday, but if she had left her current employer when we met, she would have taken her unhappiness with her. No matter where you go, there will always be too much to do and too little time. By tapping into the opportunities to grow within your current workplace, you open yourself up to greater self-knowledge, more flow, and more engagement. You create your own greener pastures.
Here are some tips for creating the work and life you love:
1. (re)Locate Your Flow by Practicing Gratitude
Make your practice specific. Gratitude is a powerful medicine when you feel stuck. It is “the strength most associated with life satisfaction, happiness, achievement, building better relationships, and improvements in psychological and physical health,” according to The VIA Institute on Character.
Lorelei didn’t have much time to spare, but she took five minutes every day to write in her journal about three specific areas of her work life. This helped her focus on and benefit from her gratitude practice. To follow in Lorelei’s footsteps, write about these things in your gratitude journal:
- One thing for which you are grateful today
- A specific interaction with a colleague, customer, or boss about which you feel good
- One pearl of wisdom you gained today
2. Choose How You Spend Your Time and Energy With Intention
So many facets of work and life feel like they are beyond our control. When you take charge of how you spend your time and energy – your two most precious resources – you will boost your effectiveness, enjoy life more, and carve out the time for yourself. Lorelei chose to set aside 15-minutes at the end of each day to reflect and prepare for the next. What kind of pause would help you feel more in control?
3. Never Leave a Job
Instead, create and go toward your next opportunity. Make a date with yourself to write and dream about the life you want to create. This is the foundation of your personal vision, a picture of what you want that is so powerful you feel it in your gut.
When you feel stuck, look around your desk, your team, your department, and your organization. Identify an opportunity that would help the organization achieve a goal or solve a problem. What project or task could you take on to help the organization? How would that fit into your vision? To whom can you talk about your idea?
4. Look for Opportunities to Provide Valuable Service
If you’re not getting enough career development, determine what you could do to help your manager or team improve performance. Look for the sweet spot between what you want to add to your resume and what your team needs.
5. Focus on the Future
Scan the horizon at your organization for what might be needed next, keeping in mind where you want to steer your own ship. Create your own opportunities for growth and development instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you.
Lisa Prior is the founder of Prior Consulting and the author of Take Charge of Your VIEW: Career Advice You Won’t Get from Your Boss (Nexus Impress LLC, July 2017).