As a corporate professional, you pay dearly for your paycheck and perks – you pay with your soul. Here's a look at the underlying forces that cause you to settle for this relentless grind – and seven straightforward steps to craft a better working life.
Corporate 'life' is a nasty oxymoron.
Jam-packed days, endless demands to do more with less, impossible goals, rally the troops, jump on a plane. Miss your kid's birthday.
You know these painful facts all too well. An existence? Yes. A path to a paycheck? Certainly. But, a life? A well-balanced, appropriately challenged life? No way.
Is it any wonder that you are filled with dreams of escape? You're not alone. Recent Conference Board surveys reveal that four out of 10 employees feel disconnected from their employers, two-thirds of American workers do not feel motivated to drive their employers' business goals and a quarter are just "showing up for a paycheck".
These surveys validate the Gallup Employee Engagement Index Poll which finds that just over half of workers are "not engaged" with the objectives of their organization. Even worse, 17 per cent of employees are considered actively disengaged - to the point of undermining what their engaged co-workers accomplish.
Why, then, do so many professionals stay in jobs they dislike so intensely?
The obvious answer is the pay and the perks. But the real reasons go deeper, and involve the dynamics of fear, procrastination and the challenge of finding the voice that shouts "I deserve better!"
Underneath The Pay And Perks
In our Western culture, we learn early to conform…to fit in…to color inside the lines. Not that this is always bad, but it holds up the larger group as the ideal, and ignores one's personal style and values - which lie at the heart of being fulfilled in work and life.
This conformity is re-enforced as we're urged to 'get a steady job'. We're rewarded for being a team player, and by default, to feel a little guilty if we exhibit behavior that serves our own desires. Before you know it, the familiarity of co-workers and routine creates a warped kind of comfort zone that causes you to suck it up day after day. After all, pain often feels better than S-C-A-R-E-Y old change.
Pretty soon, blaming the corporation becomes a way of life. It's satisfying to be right, to join your colleagues in those misery-loves-company, finger-pointing moments. There is an endless stock pile of urgent work…and not every manager is a gifted leader. While venting has some value, this is a good example of what psychologists call "learned helplessness" on the part of employees who feel powerless to make even small changes to improve their working lives.
Finally, there's the sobering "How do I begin to fix this?" challenge. Like the deer in headlights, there seem to be many directions to move. How do I choose? What are the consequences? How long will it take? Not knowing these answers is one more reason for stoically marching in place.
It's a rough pickle. But the answer doesn't lie in settling for more of the same. Fulfillment requires a shift in perception that shouts "I deserve better!" And the conviction that it is entirely permissible to go after what you want.
How To Save Your Soul
Unfortunately, no magic formula can deliver an ideal working life. The answer is different for each of you. To explore that answer, follow these simple steps:
- Separate the notion of exploring your options from acting on them. This will remove the fear factor and allow you to more fully explore and evaluate all of your options.
- On a regular basis, give yourself quiet time to think about your working life. 15 or 30 minutes per week…while you're commuting or at the gym. Consider what is and is not working. Be as specific as possible.
- Mentally play with what a more fulfilling work life might look like: Staying where you are and making boundary or relationship changes? Finding similar work in an organization that more closely mirrors your style and values? A more significant career change?
- Work with a career coach or mentor – someone who understands both the realities of the corporate world and the possibilities around career fulfillment. Feedback and dialogue will help you clarify your goals and generate a broader set of options in a shorter time.
- Clarify and visualize what you hope to gain as a result of any changes you make. If your gain is not greater than the pain of staying the same, you will not progress.
- When you are ready, move from thinking into action. Set clear, specific goals and slowly integrate the changes you make. If you struggle with moving into action, ask "What is in the way?" and "How can I move beyond this obstacle?"
- Inspire yourself with daily readings and by surrounding yourself with positive people who take responsibility for their lives; avoid complainers and other negative influences.
There are many ways to improve your working life - and all of them are rooted in your willingness to grant a small bit of magnificence to your life and shout "I'm worth it!" All by itself, your decision to explore is empowering and, potentially, life-changing.