Only 45 percent of us are happy with our jobs. Here’s how to put some zing back into your career
By Kadesha Thomas
Dee Dee Osobor vividly remembers when her exciting, new job dissolved into a stressful daily grind. Three years had passed since her Christian faith empowered her to drop her substance abuse habit cold turkey. At first, her new position as an accountant for a posh entertainment company on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles seemed like a dream. But the company’s financial struggles made each morning a fraught game of hide-and-seek.
“When people called about a $200 invoice, we were avoiding them because we were struggling to pay the rent, pay my bosses, pay myself,” recalls Osobor, who was 29 years old at the time. “It was very stressful because I was trying to cover up and hide for other people. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place: I needed to start looking for a job, yet I was trying to come to work, pay my bills and stay in the groove.”
Osobor’s church involvement led her to want more from her life and her career. Two years after starting the job, she took a leap of faith and quit.
Time to Take Inventory of Yourself
Only about 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, according to a survey of 5,000 households published in January 2010, by The Conference Board, a business and economics think tank based in New York. The report states that job satisfaction has been on a steady decline for the past two decades for workers of all ages and income levels.
Osobor’s job rut stemmed from job insecurity, stress over the company’s financial demise and her desire for more fulfillment. For others, a lackluster professional life might come from boredom, poor relationships with colleagues or from feeling stuck in a job that does not reflect personal passions and interests.
Getting recharged at work starts with self-reflection—acknowledging your dissatisfaction and uncovering the reasons behind it, says business life coach John M. McKee, founder of the Business Success Coach Network in Los Angeles and co-author of The Plan: Personal Balance, Career Success, Financial Strength. “If you’re not excited about getting out of bed in the morning, listen to the universe on that,” he says.
Exhaustion, irritability and changes in appetite could also signal time for a change. Step one is identifying the gaps between what is actually happening and what you’d like to be happening. McKee often instructs his clients to do a SWOT analysis, evaluating individual strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. “This could tell you what to build on and what to watch out for,” McKee says.
Another self-assessment exercise is to write a draft of your own obituary or, a less morbid option, imagine you are writing a letter to a friend 10 years from now about how your life has gone. McKee says “after doing this, my clients realize that the life they are living is nothing like the life they want.”
With a clear snapshot of the future, the next step is to make a plan. And not some vague, romantic aspiration to be “rich and happy,” cautions McKee, but rather a series of mini-goals that outline how you will achieve larger career objectives: “What do you want to do and by when? Could you say to someone with 90 percent confidence that you could do those steps in that time frame?”
For example, when McKee’s clients want to change careers, the smaller goals include steps like re-crafting a resume or refreshing interviewing skills—all pegged to a realistic deadline.
Putting the Plan into Action
Sometimes the biggest obstacles to a more vibrant work life can be addressed with small changes. Infusing personal interests and preferences into your workday can help. “Suppose you love being outdoors, but you’re stuck in an office. See if you can get a window,” says Sharon Birkman Fink, president and CEO of Birkman International, Inc., a Houston-based business development firm that created the Birkman Method, a personality and professional assessment tool. “If you love to cook, plan the next staff lunch. If you love to be active, help organize a company sports activity.
“The idea is really like the ruby slippers—we have the power within us to make our careers more exciting,” Birkman adds. “Your boss is not going to seek you out and say, ‘You’re looking kind of bored. What can I do for you?’”
Birkman also advises talking with your boss about making changes within the company, such as working more closely with a favored colleague, switching to a new position within the company or taking a class to learn a new skill. “But if you can’t find a way to bring the spark back to the job, if it’s a toxic environment, then you may be misplaced,” Birkman says. “Many people have chosen the wrong occupation [or the wrong employer]. In that case, your situation is doing you a favor because it’s inspiring you to make a change.”
In retrospect, Osobor, now 53, says the rut at her old accounting job was perfect timing. After quitting, she served as a missionary with her church in Nigeria. When she returned, she started her own independent accounting practice. Today, Osobor is a financial services manager in Chicago and also the founder and executive director of a faith-based, nonprofit organization SISTAH (Sisters in Sobriety, Transformed, Anointed & Healed), which provides recovery services to women after treatment. “I really had to pray,” Osobor recalls, “and know when God said it was time to move.”