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Career Happiness Is A Choice Within Your Control (Article 2 of 3)

How Are You Getting in Your Own Way?

This is the second article in a series addressing career happiness.  The first article (October 1, 2018) discussed happiness at work.  The article today will focus on going a little deeper into developing and maintaining our happiness with others without defeating ourselves and settling for unfulfilling careers and lives.  Specifically, we will address the key question “how are you getting in your own way?”

Perhaps you have a lack of self-awareness.

People tend to be either task / goal focused, or people / relationship focused.  If you are task or goal oriented, you are likely very good at getting things done and making things happen.  However, our greatest strength becomes our greatest weakness if we overplay it.  If we approach relationships the way we approach achieving goals, we may sacrifice the relationships, or at least may come across to others as having the tact of a hammer.  Likewise, if you are people and relationship oriented, you may be very skilled at developing and maintaining a wide network of relationships across many different people, at different levels and within different contexts and circumstances. You can be great at inspiring others but an over emphasis on relationships can mean you tolerate mediocre performance in people you feel connected to and don’t get the results that are possible. Understanding which side of the coin you tend to fall can provide insight into complimentary areas needed for development.  Developing these weaker sides can help to improve your performance and happiness at work and in life.

Do you lack boundaries?  A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.

A lack of boundaries can be a major contributor to unhappiness in the workplace. When we do not set boundaries, we may find that our time is not our own.  Our plan for our day gets derailed, or we spend too much time dealing with other people’s problems. We may also take on too much, which can lead to resentments and conflicts.  Learning to set good boundaries around your work and your time is a key skill to fostering happiness in the workplace. Strong boundaries can also help alleviate conflicts and other problems which can undermine everyone’s happiness!     

Do you know how and when to say “no?”

It can be hard to say no, especially to people who we depend on in the workplace. We may feel guilty, or we may fear that the person will refuse us the next time we need help. However, learning to say no is one way of protecting your own work time and downtime.  While we all sometimes will have to say yes to something that causes upheaval in our day, learning to say no when we really don’t want to or are not able to do something is a key skill.  When we say yes when we really mean no, we may end up resentful of the task and the other person.  This can lead to passive aggressive interactions or outright conflict, which undermines everyone’s well-being.  Trust that saying no will not convey that you are a bad person, not a team player, or otherwise a poor colleague.  Learn to say no firmly but kindly and be very clear about what you can and cannot do in any given situation.  In general practice being more honest.

Do you know how and when to say “yes?”

We may be hesitant to say no, but we are sometimes equally hesitant to say yes.  We may be afraid to say yes to things that are a stretch of our skill set or which pose a risk.  Learning to say yes to things we really want to say yes to is as important as learning to say no.   Be willing to change your plan to take advantage of a good opportunity.  Based on the professional development plan (you created from the last article), be willing to say yes to projects or experiences which take you out of your safe zone and into your development areas.  When we are willing to say yes – whether to a new project or to a little time off – we are also setting good boundaries for ourselves.  Saying yes allows us to grow and experience new things, even if we may be a little fearful of the risk of trying something new or unexpected.

Do you protect your down time?

Often, we find ourselves working through lunch, answering emails on weekends, staying late to finish one last thing, or going without a break all day.  When we do take a break, we might cut it short to help a coworker or address an issue that could have been handled by someone else. This can breed exhaustion, burnout, and resentment.  Learn to protect your downtime.  Start simply, if this is hard for you – make yourself take a full lunch or close your door or go for a walk when you take a five-minute break between projects. Let your team members and clients know that you do not check email on the weekend, or that you only check a set number of times. Be firm, clear, and polite about the fact that you are protecting your “you” time so that you can better serve your clients or colleagues’ needs.  

It’s also important to know when to call it a day! In this age of smart phones and tablets, even if we leave the office at our regular time, work can and will follow us home.  Checking and responding to email late at night (or even just after dinner) extends your workday into your downtime and eliminates the necessary breaks you need to remain productive. Don’t view your personal time as something to easily give away.  Set a boundary with yourself that you will not check email or voicemail after a certain time. If you can avoid taking work home with you, do so. And don’t stay late at the office unless it’s a truly required. When work bleeds into all other aspects of our lives, we can quickly become burned out or overly stressed. While there will always be occasions where work has to intrude on non-work time, making a practice of ending your workday at a regular time can help you avoid overload and burnout.

Do you know how to manage conflict in healthy ways?

Nothing can poison the atmosphere in a workplace like unaddressed conflict! But conflict and misunderstandings are a natural part of working with other humans. Even with the best intentions, conflicts and misunderstandings can arise. One way to practice positivity is to address these things directly and positively when they occur. Approach the person or people with whom the conflict or misunderstanding has occurred. Express that you want to find the best solution and clear the air. This may mean apologizing or seeking to make amends. Rather than seeking to place blame, keep the focus on finding a way to reach a mutually satisfying solution, resolve the situation and restore the relationship. The best way to do this is to ask the other person what he or she wants to get out of the circumstance. For example, if I asked you to share an orange with me, how would you do it?  Most people would cut it in half and give a half to me while keeping the other half for themselves.  What if I was a baker and only wanted the peel to use for zest in a recipe?  If you knew this, you could give me the peel and keep the entire orange for yourself.  The only way to know this, however, is to ask.         

Do you have a support team?

A problem shared is a burden halved.  We are social creatures and have always held the power to emotionally support and heal each other.  Psychologists know the emotional center of the brain (the limbic system) is an open loop, meaning it depends on external sources (other people) to manage itself. For example, research in intensive care units shows the comforting of another person lowers blood pressure and secretion of harmful fatty acids that block arteries. Three or more incidents of intense stress within a year triples the death rate in socially isolated middle-aged men but has no impact on men with close relationships.  Scientists have shown two people sharing a good conversation will sync their physiological profiles (heart rates, etc.) within 15 minutes.

Having a support team at work is key to success and happiness. Your support team isn’t just the team members or coworkers who provide administrative or other support for your work. A good support team is made up of trusted people you can turn to for advice, help, feedback, or just a kind word. As you build relationships with your coworkers, consider who you want on your “support” team (and who you can offer support to). You might include your family and friends, manager or supervisor, people with whom you often collaborate or cooperate, or colleagues with whom you have built more personal relationships. Once you have built your support team, check in with them often. Checking in with your support team might be something you build into your breaks, as it gives you a chance to bounce ideas or seek support if you are struggling. However, be sure to check in with your support team when things are going well, too!  

Finally, pick one thing to improve and focus on that.  And please stay tuned for the third and final article in this series focused on Going Even Deeper.

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