We are clocking a lot of hours at work these days, often interacting more colleagues than our own families. In fact, according to Gallup, full time employees in the U.S. are not stopping at 40 hours, but averaging 47 – almost another full work day. About 4 out of 10 of us log 50 hours a week. Given this reality, we better love what we do. Unfortunately, many of us don’t. So, how can we help ourselves find more meaningful work that aligns with our individual interests? And why do we need to?
Studies reveal that if we’re happy at work, we’re more productive. Up to 12% more productive. However, according to a report shared Human Resources Today, only 13% of American workers report being actively engaged in their work. So how can we fix this?
I am grateful to have carved out a communications career in industries I am passionate about – the outdoors and health. This focus, however has not always been the case and I recently learned a hard lesson about the ramifications of straying too far from the roots of my inspiration.
For decades I happily specialized in the adventure travel and outdoor apparel realms via a variety of marketing communications roles. In recent years, armed with more seasoned skills-sets and a burning desire to test-drive the fast-growing tech space, I was lured away from my outdoorsy comfort zone by consulting roles with various Seattle-based creative agencies.
In short, this breach from the norm was a good thing and work opportunities grew beyond the agencies to include a few fast-growing tech startups and larger established brands. I was able to hone pitching skills and build relationships with a broader range of contacts who challenged me – promoting growth in greener areas. It was invigorating, yet I felt frazzled, unanchored and attributed it to the ever-increasing workload.
After several years of juggling the intense 24/7 communications needs of multiple brands, I received a pivotal response from a straight-up, no chaser editor. His words were few but sobering. He simply stated, “Where are you?” I honor feedback, all of it, from the gracious and constructive to the downright brutal. How else do we fine tune our skills, cultivate new ones and grow?
Oddly, this input elicited an interesting, different response – relief. That feeling of relief made me pause. My typical follow up response to work related feedback is renewed energy. The challenge of trying to nail a stronger angle, write better copy or rework an entire project typically surfaces, yet this feedback yielded freedom. It was the impetus needed to slow down and reassess. Clearly, powerful BI solutions, robust cloud-based business management software and video conferencing, while vital for us to run our businesses seamlessly, were not aspirational to me. This scenario became reflective in my work.
So, if there is no connective spark motivating you to engage and your resulting work becomes flat, it’s time to reboot. While I clearly knew that not all brand stories we must tell are earth shattering, the fundamental will needed to dig for intriguing angles coupled with the associated desire to share them, needed to be at my core. It wasn’t. That grit to dig in and engage is inherent when a brand, product and industry resonates with your personal interests and goals. Connection is the key.
If your work is feeling rote, take these 5 questions for a test drive to gauge whether your fundamental core interests are in sync with your current role? If they are not, it might be time to reboot.
(Passions) What are your foundational core interests?
(Brand Connections) What brands do you feel the strongest connection to via their products, services, community or communications?
(Dream Job) Which brand would you most love to work for and why?
(Growth) What are the key areas of growth you want to achieve in your current or future roles?
(Current) Does your current role sync with core interests and do you feel a meaningful connection to the brand you represent? What are you willing to sacrifice?
Here are a few tips to get the most out of this Q&A process.
Take your time answering the questions, despite their simplicity. This will enable your thoughts to percolate affording more meaningful and possibly surprising responses. If you pound out the answers, the takeaways might prove limited at best.
I gave myself about a week, tackled one question a day for 5 days, and left them to marinate over the weekend. Upon revisiting the responses the following Monday my answers themselves were not surprising. It was the potent impact of my own words reflecting how dramatically off course I had strayed that rattled me. This Q&A process, albeit simple, provided a necessary nudge to reevaluate work areas gone awry. It became abundantly clear that several consulting projects were weighing and impacting overall work quality.
My core passions, brand connections and dream roles were centered on health, wellness, the outdoors and humanitarian efforts, yet a good portion of my time was being allocated to the drafting of communications about business intelligence platforms and cloud-based software solutions. The content was methodical and factual yet lacked an emotional connection necessary to ignite the recipients and myself.
Redirect and Refocus
It was time to complete consulting contracts in less personally inspiring arenas and affect change. I made a personal pact to opt-out of new opportunities unless the brand or project had a meaningful thread back to my core interests, regardless of how lucrative an opportunity it was. So far, so good.
All new contracts are well vetted, synced with core interests, the content flows more seamlessly and I feel engaged.
Get Real and Make the Most of it
In short, try not to settle for siloed work and individual passions. Seek out like-minded brands you connect with and engaging work will naturally follow suit. While this sounds lovely, the reality for many is that quitting your day job is not a viable option. All is not lost. Consider folding in volunteer, contract or consulting options that keep your current role in tact yet tie more closely to your heart.