Unhappy at work and don’t know why? Ask yourself this career question.

career advice career development coaching life lessons personal development Jan 27, 2022

Sometimes we’re not in the driver’s seat — our beliefs are. We take that idea for granted when it comes to romantic relationships, or to money, but work? That’s an area where we don’t often bother to look deeper than the surface.

A chronic feeling of misalignment, or a pattern of desiring a particular experience (i.e. work-life balance, fulfillment) and not being able to achieve it, point to a possible case of subconscious beliefs having taken the wheel.

The question

In their wonderful book, Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans offer an exercise called the “Workview,” where you list your beliefs and values around the act of working. I love this exercise, because I think our beliefs do not get enough attention in the career coaching world. We often focus on skills and values, but that additional step of zooming out and taking a bird’s eye view of the meaning we give to working in the first place gives us critical information.

I want to offer an additional perspective to Burnett and Evans’ exercise: your view of work may be informed by beliefs you’re carrying around that aren’t even yours. So, the question is:

What is the story about work that you grew up with?

Ask yourself this, and you’ll likely find some interesting data that’s informing what’s going on in your working life today. For example:

Was work something to hate?

Were jobs scarce and hard to find?

Was being in charge the ultimate goal?

Was work something that could bring great joy?

Was success at work seen as something achievable?

Whatever we heard and saw related to the act of working influenced us.

My shift

I used to believe that if things weren’t hard, I wasn’t working. To have really worked — to have put in my best effort — I had to be exhausted, sick, and flat out on the couch. It’s no surprise that I persisted in jobs that are known for a high rate of burnout, and that I spent a lot of my time — you guessed it — exhausted, sick, and laying on my couch.

But I carried this belief underneath the surface — I wasn’t conscious of it, and I didn’t know that it was in the driver’s seat when I made career decisions. I would happily participate in discussions about work-life balance, I would fantasize about what an easeful, well-compensated working life would look like, but those things never materialized, and I could never figure out why.

As I worked with a coach to unpack some money issues (more on that in another article to come!), I also uncovered the belief that “hard” work is the only valuable kind of work. I’ve since designed a life where I work hard and am also fairly compensated and enjoy good health.

What to do with what you find

Once you uncover whatever it is that you believe, ask yourself if you agree with it. Then think about how that belief is impacting your life. What choices is it causing you to make? Do you like the effects of those choices? If you don’t agree with that old belief, decide what you’d prefer to believe instead. Partnering with a coach, or even a therapist, can be helpful throughout the process.

Finally, reflect on what you do want, and let that be your guide going forward, but be patient with yourself and with your circumstances as you explore change. Bear in mind that none of this happens overnight. It’s often uncomfortable to change long-held beliefs and patterns of behavior, but it’s entirely worth it.

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