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5 assumptions that destroy career happiness

Tuesday, October 7, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Kathy Caprino

I’ve been doing a great deal of speaking lately about how we can identify our passion, fuel our work with it and make a great living doing so. I’m beyond excited to be able to talk about this topic with some hard, concrete evidence and research, because 15 years ago, I was on the other side of it: miserable in my corporate job, lost, depressed and feeling like my talents and abilities were being utterly wasted.

One reason professionals like me stay trapped for so long in a career we dislike is we make critical assumptions that form the foundation of our operating system in the world, yet they’re hidden from us — we don’t even realize we’ve made them.

Related: "3 ways to unstick your career”

There are five crippling assumptions I see countless professionals make that hold them back from being happier in their careers:

Assumption 1: "I’ve done this for so long, I can’t change.” This was me. I was in marketing and product management/development in the corporate arena for 18 years, and there just seemed to be no way I could chart a new course.

People in my career-success training programs start out saying the same thing: "I’ve been in [advertising, branding, finance, marketing, etc.) for 15 years. I’m too old to make a change, but I hate this.”

You’re not too old to change and there is a way out, but not the way you think.You don’t need to chuck everything that you’ve learned. You want to find a new path that taps into everything you know, draws on all the talent, experience and insight you have, and repurposes it all to achieve new outcomes that will make you happier. This assumption — that you’re stuck because you’ve been in this one direction for so long — keeps you locked in inertia and stops you from even contemplating what a new direction could look and feel like.

Tip: Start exploring yourself more deeply and open your eyes to what change might look and feel like for you. (Take this survey as a start.) You don’t have to figure out the hows yet — just start exploring and brainstorming first.

Assumption 2: "A fabulous career that makes a difference in the world is for someone else, not me.” When we’ve been hacking through life’s challenges for years, we often forget what we’re capable of, and we stop dreaming and hoping. People who are chronically unhappy in their careers feel listless, exhausted and dejected, and make an assumption that forging a great career that is enlivening and exciting is for someone else. They don’t believe in themselves anymore and don’t think that what they’ve got inside is compelling or special enough to be important to anyone.They see others doing exciting work that they envy, but believe that they somehow lack what these others have.

Tip: Stop failing to recognize that you’re important and valuable. Think back to a time when you made a difference to someone or something that mattered. What were you doing then that made an impact, and how can you bring that forward?

Assumption 3: "The reason I’m not happier in my work is someone else.” I receive hundreds of emails a month from unhappy professionals who share a core belief: "I’m miserable because the people around me are making me miserable.” I certainly know there are toxic behaviors all around us. (Here are the 6 most common toxic behaviors that push people away). But whether it’s blaming your toxic boss, or focusing on the backstabbers and liars at work, or hating the folks around you who kiss up to get ahead while you toil and labor — you’re focusing on all the wrong factors.You’re looking at what’s outside of your control for why you aren’t happier.

This is a harsh statement, but your unhappiness is not because of anyone else. It’s about you, and how you view the world, operate in it, and interact with others. If you believe that everyone else is to blame for why you’re stuck in a lousy career that you hate, then you’re dooming yourself to remain in it for your lifetime.

Tip: Get some 360° feedback today. Ask five people whom you trust to share with you their candid views about your work, your talents, skills and contributions and how you can modify what you’re doing to be more effective, successful and impactful in what you do.

Assumption 4: "I’d never make this kind of money if I changed to something more meaningful.” This might be the most common assumption today among professionals — "I can’t make the money I need to and do work I love.”I get pushback continually from people (mostly men), who assure me they couldn’t have the life they wanted — or do what they want for their families — if they left their high-paying corporate job to pursue something more meaningful to them.

I can’t change your mind about this — and it’s not my aim to.But I can tell you that if you want to justify your professional misery with the money argument, then nothing will sway you, and you’re welcome to stay in your unhappy career until you retire.

But there are ways to bring more meaning, purpose and passion into your work without foregoing everything. You don’t have to chuck your high-paying career and become a pauper. But you can find a meaningful cause to contribute your time and energy to, something that brings you a sense of value and contribution.You can transition to a new niche that allows you to utilize your skills equally well, but lets you focus on generating important outcomes that make a difference to you and will bring you more satisfaction.

Tip: If you’re 100-percent wedded to the salary you earn, what adjustments can you make right now that would allow you to do work that matters more to you and makes you happier? Brainstorm three new endeavors you could start, find or contribute to that would bring more meaning into your life.

Assumption 5: "Other people are more creative, talented, and innovative — I don’t have much to offer.” We often don’t recognize our own unique abilities, talents and gifts. I recently I led a"Find Your Passion and Impact the World with It”workshop in New York City for a truly amazing group of girls ages 13 to 18. We did an exercise where the girls were asked to address the question, "What are your special talents?”

Many said, with embarrassment, "I don’t have any special talents,” but when they began to share what they’re doing in school and in their communities, they each had incredible talents that blew me away. One worked in hospice, another volunteered in three animal shelters and shadowed veterinarians to learn more about healing animals, and yet another tutored others in math and longed to start a club to help encourage more girls to focus on STEM subjects. We don’t see what comes naturally and easy to us as our unique gifts, but they are.If you think you don’t have any creativity or talent, you’re simply not looking deep enough.

Tip: Think about what comes very easily to you, that others say, "Wow! I could never do that.” Ask your family and friends to share with you what they think are your talents and gifts. Then host an idea party at your house with friends and brainstorm ways you could bring your unique talents forward in the world. (To help your teen girls find their unique talents and impact the world with them, check out ThinkPeaceWorkshop.)

Kathy Caprino is a nationally recognized women’s career and leadership coach and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. Author of Breakdown, Breakthrough, Caprino is a contributor to Forbes,Huffington Post and AARP. Follow her on Twitter at @kathycaprino.For Kathy's original post on this topic, visit her Forbes Leadership blog "Career Bliss.”

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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