I recently had the amazing opportunity to provide some insights for a piece written for VICE (a media channel focussing on investigative journalism and enlightening videos). The article was titled Crying In Your Cubicle? How To Know You Need to Change Jobs. I jumped at the opportunity because I personally know too many people who are struggling with lack of motivation at work. They’re unhappy, feel dejected, and have lost their drive and sense of purpose. I’ve even been there myself and I know firsthand that it’s not fun. About five years ago, I felt the only thing I could do to change my deflated state was to change careers. So I did, and honestly I’ve never looked back. But now that I know better, there are so many other things I could have done before taking that leap.
Here are my full responses (only part of which was shared in the final piece).
What makes us feel productive and valued in a workplace?
Have you ever thought about what makes you feel productive and valued at work? Is it about having a good leader? Is it maybe how supportive your team is? Or perhaps it’s whether you have a flexible environment where you’re trusted to get the job done. It’s probably a combination of all of these. Mostly, we feel productive and valued in a workplace when we’re recognised as more than just a number… more than just a contributor to the bottom line of the business. When we’re respected for our diversity, for the different strengths we bring and our unique perspectives, this is when we feel we can bring our whole self to work – and we all know how good that feels. Authentic self for the win!
People perform best when they’re part of a workplace culture of inclusion and diversity. What does that mean exactly? Well, when you feel included, when collaboration is the norm, and when everyone you work with holds a deep respect and appreciation for the unique differences that everyone brings, teams really can achieve amazing things. When differences of perspective and experience are embraced (rather than feared), you’re actually more creative and resilient. You’re more likely to consider alternatives and more positive generally, which also means people don’t shy away from failure. In fact, experimentation becomes a way to learn. When you work in a positive environment where you and your colleagues are free to think differently, challenge convention and are empowered to make a difference, this is when you truly feel as though you’re part of something bigger than yourself, feel more productive and valued, and needless to say, perform at your best.
How do you tell the difference between simply feeling frustrated and disengaged, or if you’re actually dissatisfied for a bigger reason —because you’re in the wrong career?
We’ve all experienced being disengaged at some point in our careers, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t started to think about whether it’s because we’re actually in the wrong career. The answer to that question could have pretty large consequences, especially if you’ve invested a big chunk of your adult life following a particular career path in a particular industry. Knowing the difference between “I’m feeling disengaged” vs “I’ve picked the wrong career path!” is entirely subjective – everyone has their own reasons for feeling disengaged or for feeling that they’re unhappy in their careers, whether due to boredom, feeling unchallenged, being part of an unsupportive team or lack of recognition. I work with clients and corporate groups to help them uncover the values that drive them, their “why” (as Simon Sinek would put it), and then we look to whether this aligns to the industry they’re in. More often than not, it isn’t the industry that is wrong, but the particular organisational culture they’re in. If you’re having to spend every work day with people who are, on the whole, negative and who don’t like change, working for leaders who are authoritative and micromanagers, in a workplace which is toxic, it would be easy to mistakenly think you’re in the wrong industry. I actually thought this myself when I worked for a top commercial law firm early in my career and decided the law wasn’t for me for many of these reasons listed. My escapist mentality kicked in and I jumped industries, moving to something completely different. Maybe if I’d just moved to a smaller boutique law firm with a more positive culture, rather than flipping industries, I could’ve thrived. I’ll never know.
The key questions to ask yourself are:
If you dig deep, and importantly, talk to other people to seek different perspectives, you’ll find that it could become quite clear to you what the root issue is.
Sometimes, through a process of coaching and prompted self-reflection, my clients realise that it’s actually their attitude that needs to be changed, not necessarily their role or their industry. Something as simple as recognising that every role has a purpose, whether to make us more resilient, teach us new skills, or even to be the catalyst for us to change our career path, is empowering and makes people feel that they have greater control over their destiny.
What practical and strategic advice would you give to someone looking to find their passion, and not sure it’s possible in their current career?
The first thing to be aware of is that what you do for work, and what you’re actually passionate about, could be two very different things… and that is absolutely ok! When I first started out in my banking and finance career, I was doing pretty boring work. Nothing, ground-breaking, and nothing all that stimulating either. I certainly didn’t love it. But I approached it with such enormous enthusiasm that I developed a passion for it. It wasn’t because the work itself got any better, but because I could see others becoming excited by my enthusiasm. I realised that every role has good parts and not so good parts. It’s all about what you choose to focus on. Whatever you do, if you approach it with a positive attitude and see it as a path to learn something new or grow in some way, you’ll find a whole new sense of purpose.
But, of course, if you’re really feeling unfulfilled in your current career and have in inkling that it’s because you’re ‘passion-less’ (yes, I just made it a word…), then the three things I would suggest you do are:
The choice is yours.