Labor Day: How do you feel about your work?

Hello and Happy Labor Day 2018!

This week and on this Labor Day, I am going to tag onto an idea from Gretchen Rubin through her Happier podcast. She is promoting Labor Day as a time to check in with ourselves about where we stand with our work. As a health coach, one of the 5 key areas that I explore with clients is their career (the ‘C’ in SCERF). But I consider this concept broadly, if you aren’t working for a paycheck, there may be other work such as raising children and supporting the work-for-money that a spouse is doing, or volunteering actively in retirement. Here are some questions for you to reflect on today (some from Happier as well as Happier in Hollywood, a podcast also promoting the idea, and others just from me). Get out a pen and paper and write out your responses to explore your work and set your intentions for the coming year.

  1. Do you define yourself by your career? And if so, do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing?
  2. What do you like about your daily work?
  3. What do you dislike about your daily work?
  4. If there were no barrier, no fear, no concern about money, what is one thing that you would change to how you spend your work hours?
  5. What are your goal(s) for the coming year related to your work life? This can be small such as bringing a picture or plant to work to create a more inviting space, it might be figuring out how to create a better relationship or how to avoid altogether a troubling co-worker, it may be starting a side hustle or reading a book to explore a new path. Or, maybe you recognize that you are satisfied and will bring gratitude to your situation each day. I am NOT pushing change, just awareness and intentional actions.

My story:

I have been trying to answer the questions above for the last 18 months and the result is both exciting and excruciating. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted my work to define me. I didn’t dream about a high-paying job, rather I just knew that I wanted to do something that I loved and that would define my existence. I didn’t really want anything else. I didn’t want to get married or have kids or own a big house. My middle school dream was to be single, live in a cabin in Alaska, with two big dogs, and to be a teacher. Now, of course we all have ideas about work as a child that tend to be far from reality and what we want as adults. Indeed, I am happy that the cabin I dreamed of is now a house in Alaska, I am happily married (though still do not want kids), and I have no interest in being a teacher – at least not a grade school teacher. But this concept that I would have a career I love and that I wanted it to define me has persisted. Unfortunately, I am still searching.

I went to college right after high school because I am fortunate enough to come from a family where it was expected of me. It wasn’t a great fit and I felt lost and unsure where I wanted to head, so after my first year I took some time off and attempted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a long story that doesn’t belong here, but after 72 days I made a decision that is the biggest regret of my life to this day, and I went home. I returned to college after just a semester away, and graduated after another three years with an economics degree. A major in a subject that I enjoyed, but not something I saw leading to a career. I still had no idea what I wanted to do for work, though I still longed for something I LOVED to do that I could dive into and spend too much time doing. Three years later I went to law school because I didn’t know what else to do. School was what I knew, it was something I loved, and I didn’t know what other type of graduate school to do. I didn’t want to practice law, but I figured it would open more doors.

I loved law school and had a fabulous three years. I never did particularly well in school, but I thrived in law school and graduated 17th in my class. I didn’t really try to do particularly well, I just liked what I was doing and had a knack for it. I graduated in 2010 and have had six different legal jobs since! I cannot believe people keep hiring me to do different things given my rate of moving on! But they do, so I move, each time thinking that this will be the job I love, the job I stick with, the work that defines me.

As you can guess, it hasn’t happened. I am still not sure if there is a legal job out there that I will love. I still think there should be, but maybe not. In my years of searching, I wasn’t being intentional about it and wasn’t letting myself consider options outside of a legal career. Thanks to a group health coaching program which started January 1, 2017, I began to admit to myself that perhaps law wouldn’t be the fulfilling career that I would devote myself to. I began devoting considerable time to exploring if there was something else that I would enjoy. I am sharing many of the resources that I have used below. [Spoiler alert – I want to be a health coach, a writer, an entrepreneur, and maybe more but I have no idea how it will all eventually fit into my life and how I can begin making a living doing what I love]. I am confident that I will not give up until I am happy with my work, but I cannot deny that the search has taken its toll. One day I am absolutely sure that I should quit my job and follow my passion to do health coaching and other side entrepreneurial activities. The next day I am absolutely sure that I need a full time job until I pay off my law school loans no matter how miserable and draining the day to day work is. In each moment I am absolutely positive I have the right answer.

I will figure it out I am sure, but right now I am in the midst of a big, big shift and thought it was only fair to share this struggle with my readers. No matter the path, whether coaching full-time or as a side-hustle alongside other full-time work, I intend to keep writing. One thing I know for sure is that finding something (health coaching and blog writing) that I love to do makes me happier and my life better.

If you do decide that you want a shift in career, whether small or big, here are some practices and resources that I have found useful over the last year and a half. 

  • The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. By Guy Hendricks. I have listened to and read this book somewhere between 3-5 times in the last 20 months. It is short, easy to follow, with a ton of nuggets. He will push you toward doing what you love and reaching your goals even if it just means spending an hour a week doing that thing.
  • Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. These two Stanford professors in the design school started teaching a class to undergraduate students that applied design theory to planning (designing) our our lives. It was a huge success, so they wrote a book and have workshops for non-students as well. I love the concept. I listened to it which is fun, and the authors read it, but they have a lot of activities that you are supposed to do along the way, and most of which I did not do. They recommend going through the book with a group who does activities together and can help the other participants design their lives. If you are interested in this, let me know – I would love to do it with a group!
  • The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Richby Tim Ferriss. This is a super practical book about how to create and market products that will make money for you passively (with little time and effort on your part). He is a huge proponent of starting this on the side rather than diving in headfirst and quitting your day job. And when I say practical, I MEAN practical. He provides websites and names to help you figure out what you need to know from how to become an expert in a field, to sourcing products, to setting up payment systems.
  • Asking yourself what are your strengths. How can you play to those strengths and use them to your advantage? If you are unsure what your strengths are, here are some ideas to figure it out:
    • What do you find easy that others find hard?
    • Ask friends, family, and maybe co-workers what they view as your strengths.
    • Strengthfinder, Character Strengths Survey, and other personality tests so that you get to know yourself better.
  • What hobbies did you like as a child? This might help you get to know yourself better and may help you tap into a side-hustle or possibly a whole career.
  • Ask yourself who you look up to and who/what are you envious of? Dig deep and be true to yourself, not what society tells you to want.
  • Side Hustle School podcast. 
  • Meditation. I have used both the Headspace app, and taken the Ziva Online Course. Both highly recommended. The Headspace app is a cheap way to begin. Ziva is a bigger financial commitment, but has been beyond worth the investment for me and that practice is now what I stick with. My mediation practice has helped me get through the ‘noise’ and in better touch with my own self and my own intuition. As a side benefit, my afternoon meditation at work, often around 3 or 3:30pm, often gives me a huge boost of energy to get through the last couple of hours of my work day. It’s like a reset for the afternoon when I am ready to just be done.

What did you learn from this exercise? Moving forward, what is your intention for the next year related to your work life? Share answers to both questions in the comments or on Facebook.

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