In my 20s I had a friend who went through jobs as if she were speed dating. A year here, a few months there. Nothing seemed to stick. Just when I would finally memorize her new email address, she’d be on to the next opportunity. Her reasons for leaving sounded a bit like Goldilocks: this manager was too strict, that team was too immature, this company had a weird culture… nothing was “just right.”
In the years since, I’ve seen variations on this theme in my coaching work. Some people float from job to job, looking for (and not finding) the perfect fit. Others stay in a job they don’t find fulfilling and mentally check-out. One thing I’ve learned from helping people work through this: almost to a person, the problem is RARELY the job. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the mindfulness professor said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
What is this “internal driver” that determines who is happy and who feels stuck? From my observation, the dividing line seems to come down to being clear on your personal values and purpose. (And I’ve found some external support for this: Jim Kouzes, author of “The Leadership Challenge,” cites a study that finds people who are clear on their own values/purpose are more likely to find their work satisfying than people who understand the values/mission of the organization.)
Is this ringing any bells? If so, you may want to spend some time mapping out your own passions and values. Here are a few prompts to help start that process:
- When is the last time you were so immersed in something you lost track of time? What were you doing?
- If money were no object, what would you do with your time?
- What are you doing when you feel you are living most fully?
- What are you constantly reading about or talking about?
- Think of two people you admire fiercely – one whom you know personally and another who is famous. List what it is that you admire about them, then rank those qualities from most to least important or admirable. These are some of the qualities you value.
- What is missing from this list that’s important to you?
- Look at your calendar and your expenditures: how are you spending your time and money? (These should point to things you value and/or are passionate about. If you find that your time and money aren’t pointing to anything, you may be out of alignment.)
Once you’ve started to identify passions and values, you can find ways to connect them to your work. Often you’ll find that you don’t need to find a new job – you may just need to find new ways exercise your passion and values within the job you already have.
For the leaders out there, I’d propose a variation on this theme. When’s the last time you encouraged your team to discover and express their core values or passions? It might feel a bit “off topic” or soft, but helping people connect those drivers to their work is a great way to engage and retain your team.
Back to my friend. I’m happy to report she is no longer hopping from job to job. Somewhere along the way, she realized that she loves helping and empowering women and has found a role where she’s able to do that, in addition to her actual job responsibilities. Instead of chasing a title, she pursued a feeling – and it’s made all the difference!