Can You Afford to Stay in a Job You Hate?
How to map your talents and character strengths to find your zone of greatness.
Posted Sep 18, 2015
Just for a moment, let’s be really honest. Lately, have you been struggling to find the energy to drag yourself into the office? Are you working ridiculous hours worried that if you don’t, people will finally discover that you’ve never really been “good enough” for your job? Do you feel stuck in a role you no longer enjoy, but need the money to survive?
Back in 2007, this was my life. Although I was living in New York with my beautiful family, had a job that paid me more money than I could spend and was in good health, each day it was getting harder and harder to find the energy to drag myself into work. You see the constant stress to prove myself in a job that had no real sense of purpose was slowly but surely draining away my confidence, my energy and my happiness.
Yet, despite the creeping sense of greyness blanketing my life, I needed my salary to support my family and jobs at my level were hard to find. As a result, I wound up feeling completely stuck and helpless.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. The truth is less than 30 percent of people around the world describe themselves as “flourishing,” when it comes to feeling engaged and energized in our jobs—most of us are struggling.
But can we really afford to have jobs that we enjoy?
I have to confess that as I lay in bed one morning in our New York apartment repeatedly hitting the snooze button on my alarm, I tried to reconcile myself to the fact that sticking with a job I loathed was what it meant to be grown up. It was the realistic and responsible choice given where my life was. Or was it?
You see, studies have found that if we don’t have the opportunity to regularly do something we enjoy—even if it’s more of a “passion project” than a core part of our job—the odds of having high wellbeing physically, psychologically, socially and financially rapidly diminish. In fact, it appears that people who enjoy their work are more than twice as likely to be flourishing in their lives overall.
It turns out there is a big difference between being well off and having wellbeing. Surely the people I respected and loved deserve a wife, a mother, a friend and a colleague who was thriving. And maybe, just maybe, I was worthy of a job I loved.
The challenge is how can we pull this off?
Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to have job descriptions designed around our strengths—those things we’re good at and enjoy doing. Generally, our bosses appear blind to what we do best and more interested in fixing our weaknesses. Keeping up with all the tasks that have been set takes up every spare moment we have.
After completing a Master's in Positive Psychology however, I discovered that no matter what my job description or what my boss said, by spending just 11 minutes a day of doing what I did best—of developing my strengths—I was finally able to create the career and life I loved. And you can too.
Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the world’s leading teachers and authors on wellbeing, suggests that when it comes to putting our strengths to work it helps to map out where our zone of greatness lies—where what you love to do, what you care about, what your calling is, and what you’re good at all start to overlap.
He suggests mapping this out by:
First, completing the Gallup Strengths Finder survey and uncovering your top five talents and listing these inside a circle with the heading “What I Like To Do.” These are the things you want to be paid and recognized for. For example, I would list my top five talents as: strategic, learner, maximizer, achiever, and activator.
Then, complete the free VIA Survey to uncover your top five character strengths and list these in an overlapping circle with the heading “How I Like To Work.” These are things you’ll do whether anybody recognizes you for them or not because they’re aligned to the value you hold. For example, I would list my top five character strengths as: zest, gratitude, hope, curiosity, and creativity.
Finally, he asks people to think about when these strengths have overlapped to unleash their best moments in their jobs. For example, I found that when my talent as a learner and my character strength of curiosity come together to discover tested ways to improve our work, not only do I become completely absorbed in what I’m doing, but I add great value to teams I’m working with. And when my talent as a maximizer (who loves to take something that’s good and make it great) is combined with my character strength of creativity, I find that it’s easy for me to get in the zone and deliver innovative solutions that get results.
I realized that this intersection between my talents and character strengths are where my moments of greatness are consistently found. It’s when I feel more confident to show up, to truly shine in the projects I’m undertaking, and to succeed by delivering my very best work. And more than a decade of research suggests these results are not unique to me.
Understanding this has made it much easier to explain to bosses, clients, and colleagues where I can be of the most value and seek out more of these opportunities. It’s also been my north star as I’ve sought out ways to transition slowly but happily from my corporate job to my own business over the past decade. Best of all, it enables me to flourish for the people that I love.
So where might your zone of greatness lie, between what you like to do and how you like to work when you’re at your very best? For a free play sheet to help you map your talents and your character strengths click here.
If you need help mapping your zone of greatness by discovering how talents and character strengths can be integrated to do more of what you do best, check out my 6-week online strengths program Show Up, Shine & Succeed.