Source:  Imgur

Source: Imgur

When we are young, we often have dreams to do something special with our lives. 

As we grow older, society’s expectations set in and push us toward a fairly standard path that looks more or less like this:

School  College → Job → Graduate School → Another, More Stressful Job → Retirement (if you’re lucky)

As we move further down this path, pressures mount and fewer opportunities for self-discovery and exploration present themselves. We get a stable job, a mortgage and a car loan, but we do this at the expense of pursuing fulfillment.

Indeed, the 2017 Gallup State of the American Workplace report finds that two out of three workers in the US report feeling disengaged at their current workplace. 

We are burned out, over-worked, and unhappy because we work for a paycheck (or status, or recognition, or because that's what you know).

What is causing this ‘epidemic’ of dissatisfaction? 

There is a complete disconnect between how we ready people for the world of work and the reality they run smack into when they enter it. We are taught  —  at school, from family, and from the media  —  that we can enter into a job and have an immediate impact.

The reality is far from this. We run into major resistance and quickly feel powerless. There are corporate politics, bureaucracy, and inertia that no one prepared us for. For those who are further removed from school, the encroachment of work into all hours of our day plays a major role: email 24/7, calls from home, working on weekends. It feels like a on-going onslaught and we would rather be doing anything else.

This gap leads to generations of people choosing a career direction based on outdated markers (external pressures, prestige, income potential, stability) and subsequently working in fields that are out of touch with who they are as people.

yet, our best work comes out when we are aligned with our purpose.

To make a massive shift toward prioritizing well-being over well-earning, it is our social imperative to figure out how to help more people design work that would make them happy.

How would one even start?

First, let's realize that we are not alone. When we gather people together to tackle the possibility of changing careers, many discover this for the first time. They had been stuck inside their heads feeling like they were “the crazy ones” listening to that little voice telling them to take the road less traveled. In our programs, they quickly realize that they are not crazy and they are not alone. The sense of relief that comes from this is a powerful catalyst for change.

Second, let's understand that everyone needs support to make change. We need a community to hold us accountable to making small steps in new directions. To get closer to our fullest potential, we have to commit to shifts in mindset and behavior and test our comfort levels all the time. No one can go through this journey alone.

Then, let's find our way back toward the dreams and aspirations that got buried under our ‘adult’ obligations as we grew older. The first step is to acknowledge the expectations we are burdening ourself with. We recently ran a workshop with MIT Sloan MBA students and like everyone else, they were struggling with unrealistic expectations  —  expectations of status (to reach a certain job type and title), of success (how quickly they should “achieve”), of focus (because you’re paying $100k for graduate school, you should “know” what you want to do).

Once we unpack these expectations, we start to move towards a more authentic self by changing the lens and focusing on activities that unveil what makes us feel alive. One fun way to do this is to take an afternoon and go on a mini-retreat. We leave the technology at home. We take ourself somewhere where we can more deeply connect with a wider perspective  —  we go on a hike, walk through the woods, let ourselves wander. We let our curiosities overtake us and see where they lead. Getting rid of distractions is key to quieting all the other voices.

"But I need to support and provide for myself and my family. How should I balance this very real need with pursuing my passions?"

We often hear this question and we approach this in two ways.

First, we need to make a plan. Understanding what we definitively need to keep our family comfortable is critical information.

Second, we challenge people to rethink their definition of success and financial security. If you have a partner, there should be many conversations around success. You’ll be surprised by how many people have come back to us and said their spouse doesn’t care if they make half as much if it means they carry a smile around the house.

What is one thing we can do right now to get on a path toward a more fulfilling career?

We can email 3 friends. We can ask them to describe a moment in our life when they witnessed us as our best self. This could be a moment when we were incredibly happy, a moment when those around us felt touched by our presence, a moment when they witnessed our greatest energy.

Insights like these  —  from the outside in  —  play a huge role in breaking through the repetitive thinking we often find going on in our own heads.

These are the breadcrumbs to start us down a new path.