Chances are you need a reality check if things aren’t right at work. Do you desire something more, a better career? Is there a disconnect with your company’s product or clients? Do you feel phony representing their interests or trying to sell something you don’t really believe in? Has your former healthy fear of making mistakes at the office amplified into feelings of dread or hopelessness? Time to make change!
If you aren’t feeling authentic at work, not being completely honest with yourself could sacrifice your biggest chances for a better career. You may well believe that if you honestly presented who you truly are at your job, there could be negative repercussions: people wouldn’t like you, you might be less effective at your responsibilities, your true talents and strengths wouldn’t be a good fit. In any demanding career, you will reach burnout more quickly if your purpose is out of alignment; a high degree of excellence will seem hollow, and achievements will not be fulfilling. Your morale and motivation will be low, and career solutions will be difficult to make.
Jon Snodgrass, the author of Follow Your Career Star: A Career Quest Based on Inner Values, stresses that work which is not personally satisfying “reflects a basic conflict you have with yourself.” Many people function for lengthy periods of time in this condition. But why? What is keeping people from having a better career, and a better life?
Sociological experts (harkening back to Miller and Form’s Industrial Sociology, ) note that Google era ideas about work are still rooted in a belief structure that developed out of Puritanism. The Puritans valued and believed God bestowed favor via success (money and property) from hard work. The way to God’s favor, therefore, was through industrious labor and thrift with financial assets. The worker acted, in the Puritanical mind, as a fiduciary of God’s grace through deeds, secondary to strong faith.
There was very little room for self-actualization in the Puritans’ duty-based value system. Instead, disciplined conformance was exacted with public, criminal punishments when these expectations were not met. If you were a vagrant, or a shirker, or disregarded the ethical standard in some other way, you could expect swift consequences, including dunking, placement in stocks, whipping, and banishment. Such strict edicts would have a lasting effect on society, creating entire communities of individuals who outwardly conformed, and repressed their personal feelings in favor of those that were more acceptable.
From Balancing Your Life – Executive Lessons for Work, Family and Self, we learn that the main repercussion a repressive environment can have on an individual’s autonomy is a sense of guilt when expectations are not met. If left unresolved, this conflict between “what I am, who I want to be, can leave one well into adulthood with a sense of guilt over having inclinations that differ” which pervades in every milieu. Self-censorship then becomes the fallback position. We present a false façade in order to minimize the disapproval (punishment) we anticipate because of the differences we perceive in ourselves when compared with expectations.
The author of Balancing Your Life points out the differences between living inside-out, where a person can confidently express who they are, and outside-in, where a person hesitates to do so:
When seeking career solutions, this hesitation and repression manifests into more longer term indecision. Dependency upon others to decide for us, whether it be other persons or the expectations of a society as a whole such as the one the Puritans developed, can inflate anxiety and low self-confidence. This perfect storm can so repetitively derail one’s career that it may seem safer to leave it permanently in the station.
In Indecisiveness and High School Students’ Career Decision-Making Process: Longitudinal Associations and the Mediational Role of Anxiety (Journal of Counseling Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association 2006, Vol. 53, No. 4, 397– 410), the authors found that the inability to make a decision is a risk factor for future coping. Even when indecisive people make a choice, they are less committed to it. This, the authors believe, is because they are “overly concerned with making mistakes.” Instead, indecisives doubt they have enough information, and will delay a decision while they explore and seek more. Career progress past a certain point is doomed: transition into a leadership role may occur, but performance will be sub-par. You cannot lead if you cannot decide.
Michelle Phillips, in the Beauty Blueprint, as quoted in Eliza Fayle’s review, defines being honest with yourself as “an invitation to be authentic,” as opposed to being overly critical. Indeed, beating yourself up over past mistakes or character flaws does nothing to begin the process of applying career solutions. Instead, the more practical approach is to evaluate the current circumstances by getting real with an assessment of how they align with one’s true self. Other observers have characterized the mid-life crisis as inevitable. It’s the culmination of the disparity between the authentic self and the conventional pathway followed since youth.
This disparity doesn’t need to exist, much less continue. A reality check is the first step.
A simple process by which you might focus on the things which mean the most to you is recommended by Marelisa Fabrega of the Abundance Blog: “Identify those five things which will allow you to say on your deathbed, ‘I’ve lived a successful life.’ ” Matching up those values with creative enthusiasm will lead you to the most meaningful characteristic people who find their true vocations have in common: “Fit.”
When work fits with interests and temperament, as well as values, work product reaches a higher quality, and a better career ensues. We access more dedication and commitment when things feel right at work. We’re more enthusiastic and tenacious, and, generally, the paycheck’s importance wanes in the face of these more intangible compensations. Marrying an ethic of service to the ability to transform a creative thought into an enterprise creates a magical sweet spot for successful entrepreneurs and higher level employees.
Tuning into a value structure is the first key element in getting real. Your values will provide the inspiration to begin a new venture and stick with it for more meaningful growth and career solutions. All of this requires an honest reality check:
Who are you? What is important to you? What are your strengths and personal challenges? How would changing what you do impact your life and your career growth? Is there room for greater business focus? At the end of your life, would you regret not being able to make that change?
Where do you see yourself on the need for money spectrum? Can you get by on less? Would you be able to exchange emotional gratification for financial compensation? J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly recommends you “set goals that help you reach your dreams, use methods that draw on your strengths, and define success in a way that reflects your values.”
What commercial form does your passion take? Can you turn it into paying work? Will this require you to seek employment, or are you compelled to start your own business?
Have you shared these thoughts with those who are important to you? If not, why not?
These can be tough questions for anyone to answer. But they’re imperative if you’re going to be getting real by defining your true avocation and matching it to career solutions. Choosing to include your strengths and personal passions into forming a meaningful, better career will be one of the most rewarding decisions you will make. If you’re not on this path, you can take the first step now to bridging the distance between your current work and a transformative decision that will reap higher rewards.
- Getting Real: How an Honest Reality Check will Improve Your Life (passingthru.com)
- History too kind to Puritans’ brutal intolerance (alwaysquestionauthority.wordpress.com)
- Through a Glass, Grimly Part 5 (passingthru.com)