How To Make Sure You Are Happy At Work And In Life?

happy life, meaningful work

Talking about work without addressing life outside of work paints an incomplete picture. If we start to reimagine the future of work, we have to consider what the future of the rest of our lives will look like as well. Clayton Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life? is helpful in that pursuit. In the book, Christensen provides a series of guidelines to help people find meaning and happiness in life. He also discusses the traps into which high achievers fall when they focus too much on their careers and forget to consider the impact their choices have on the rest of their lives.

Christensen attended Harvard Business School. Many of his classmates went on to become very successful executives, consultants, and entrepreneurs, making considerable amount of money. However, what Christensen noticed is that many of them were extremely unhappy despite all of their professional accomplishments. In an extreme case, one of his classmates, Jeffrey Skilling, the disgraced former CEO of Enron, was in jail.

Christensen wanted to know how we can make sure that we are going to be successful and happy in our careers, have positive relationships with our family members, and live our lives with integrity. He saw that many people choose their jobs for the wrong reasons, then settle for those jobs, and let too much time pass by to the point when making a change becomes enormously difficult. People often choose careers based on hygiene factors, such as compensation, status, job security, and work conditions. Not surprisingly, income is often the most relied on hygiene factor.

The irony of choosing a career mostly based on its financial growth potential is after a while, these super successful people start to resent their jobs. Yes, their lifestyle allows them and their families to live comfortably, but they feel stuck. When they were in college, they might have had dreams and aspirations to do something different, maybe something more impactful. However, they chose their high-paying jobs, expanded their lifestyles to fit their compensation, and now they cannot rewind. They are trapped. From the outside, it might seem that they have “made it,” but that is the problem. Christensen cautions about focusing too much on the tangible aspects of our jobs. Otherwise, people can start chasing a mirage, thinking that if they had only one more promotion or raise, then they would be happy. Christensen says it is a “hopeless quest.”

The quest to make an ever increasing amount of money is not enough for most people, whether or not they realize it. The real motivation comes from achieving something meaningful, learning, and collaborating with others. Christensen recommends asking yourself a different set of questions from the ones most people are accustomed to asking. He recommends asking:

  • Is this work meaningful to me?
  • Will I be able to develop at this job?
  • Will I learn anything new?
  • Am I going to have greater responsibilities?
  • Will I be recognized for my accomplishments?

These are the questions that help us discover what truly motivates us. We cannot ignore money completely. The hygiene factors, mentioned above, are not bad or wrong to consider when choosing a career. However, these hygiene factors have to be balanced with the pursuit of our goals and aspirations, which sometimes leads to unanticipated opportunities. Christensen believes that people should experiment in life, learn from their experiments, adjust, and continue with the process until they discover a path that clicks with them.

Christensen advises against trying to figure out the rest of your life. Not only is that wasteful in terms of time, but thinking too much about where our life will take us may prevent us from seeing unexpected opportunities.

Christensen made another observation about his classmates and high achievers, in general. High achievers often focus most of their attention on “becoming the person they want to be at work - and far too little on the person they want to be at home.” It is ironic, similar to the way people choose their careers in the first place. When asked, many people will say that family is the most important part of their life. However, those statements are usually not congruent with how people allocate their time. The reason for that is it is easier to focus on the short-term results (i.e., professional accomplishments) than on long-term pursuits (i.e., raising good children).

While work, and especially meaningful work, can bring us a sense of fulfillment, we have to remember that cultivating personal relationships with family and close friends bring us enduring happiness. When we define what success means to us, we should avoid marginal thinking, take a long timeframe view, and consider all of our life priorities, rather than just work.

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