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Are you "Career Happy"?

It’s easy to be jaded in my business. After two decades of helping people define their careers and companies find the talent they need, the core problem lingers. Most people simply aren’t happy in their jobs or career of choice. On hearing this, I often find myself screaming inside my head… “get over it, dude– put on your big boy pants and move on like everyone else!” 

Are you "Career Happy"?

However, this time it was different. Sitting next to one another on a flight from Dallas to San Francisco, we had plenty of time to swap stories. Three hours and 46 minutes to be exact. Sadly, I left my noise-cancelling AKA “office in the sky” headphones at home. I was fresh meat for the fellow in seat 5A.

Just after takeoff, he launches the question. “So, what do you do?” After fighting back the urge to tell him that I am a professional wrestler on suspension for beating up random people on airplanes, I caved and told him the truth. “I am a headhunter. Well, actually I lead a $250M technology recruiting and consulting organization.” “Oh….” he says. “I get calls from recruiters all the time.” Little does this guy know, he’s not that special – our line of work requires us to call anyone that may fit a potential job opportunity. 

He then lays it on me… “I am thinking about making a change to a better job. There’s a lack of leadership at my company and things are too political. Our industry is changing. Things just aren’t the same as when I joined. I’m just not career happy.” 

Career happy? This was a new phrase for me. I was intrigued and listened in, forgetting about my lonely headphones back at home and the Michael Jackson, Styx and Journey that makes these flights so much more tolerable.

I’ve been doing this job a long time and continue to hear the same statement from candidates, friends, neighbors, or even seatmates on long plane rides. “You know, I am just not happy in my job.” Like any well-trained search professional, I listen intently and ask probing questions. Digging into their psyche, work habits, intrinsic motivators and reward mechanisms, the all-too familiar picture becomes crystal clear. People join companies – but leave bosses. Sometimes the newness of a job, role or relationship wears off quickly- and other times it takes decades. But, once the honeymoon is over and “new normal” sets in with the employee, trouble enters stage left. Sometimes innocuous, like a change in health insurance plans or change in company strategy. Other times, it’s a new supervisor that “only cares about the bottom line” and how to make themselves look good without regard to the team they are charged with leading. Unfortunately, leadership in today’s workplace is lacking at alarming rates. To be fair, companies are under tremendous pressure to produce results and profits. The demands to respond to competitive threats and internal politics is at a pace and intensity that’s unprecedented. Resultantly, the excitement, productivity and overall satisfaction of the once highly motivated employee slip away. The mantra of “doing more with less” takes its toll. 

I would submit that most professionals don’t seem to grasp who’s in control of their own “Career Happy.” Most workers place their hopes of career happiness on their boss, company or co-workers. The reality is, career happiness is up to the individual. Not their momma, not their college professor, not their spouse and certainly not their boss. Please don’t get me wrong. I am a huge advocate for authentic leadership that engages a person and team to accomplish big goals. Unfortunately, that level of leadership is the exception, not the rule in most environments today.

To take control of your own “career happy” quotient, I suggest the following;

  1. Build a career plan that is custom for you. Revisit the plan twice a year. The odds are that what you’re doing today is different than when you joined the company. The pace of change and disruption in the business climate is at an all-time high. Take the time to be intentional about strengthening the skills, experiences and abilities that make you special in the workforce. What are you good at doing? What do you enjoy doing? And, what are employers paying for these skills? Know how these are valued in the market and adjust accordingly. Don’t join the ranks of the masses who leave their career planning up to the next review, layoff or industry shift. “Own” your career.
  2. Invest in your career. Plumbers, doctors, lawyers, accountants and pilots all are forced to keep up with changing regulation, standards and rules for their profession. What are you doing to stay atop the changes occurring in your industry? Staying aware of the macro trends in your chosen profession keeps you relevant and out in front of changing conditions. This keeps you less likely to be negatively impacted by change. With each passing year, you are getting either better or worse in your career. And, getting better doesn’t happen by accident, it takes intention and investment.
  3. Know your value. If you’re not producing greater value to your employer than they are paying you in total compensation – you’re in trouble. Be sure you know how your value is measured in your organization, by your boss, customers and industry. Knowing this allows you to make necessary adjustments along the way. Use this economic formula to secure your career security: your value > your pay = career security. If you’re consistently delivering more value than you’re receiving in pay – odds are there’ll always be a seat at the table for you.
  4. Build your tribe. If you’re working, it’s a challenge to keep a network fresh and alive. But, maintaining a vibrant network is an asset that makes you better at your current job while building a hedge of protection and leverage should you need to find another one. Networks are like water wells, they need to be in place long before you really need them. And, don’t be just a consumer in the network game. Be an asset to those in your network and provide value to others. For a network to be authentic and valuable, it must involve give and take.
  5. Have fun. Study after study proves this point. Having fun in your job produces better results with less stress and greater creativity. Don’t wait on someone else to make the fun happen – take the initiative and enjoy the benefits.

I didn’t expect my new friend in seat 5A to teach me something new about careers on the way to San Francisco that day. We can take a cue from the 80s rock group Journey. To find your “Career Happy”, Don’t Stop Believing it’s possible and do your part to ensure your own happiness.

As you wrap up the end-of-year projects in your job, be sure to take time and focus on your career. Set aside time between now and January to evaluate your own “career happy” meter and adjust where necessary. If you’re interested in getting my Top Ten Tips for protecting your career in 2018, follow me on Twitter @careerexpert.

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