Lately, I've been thinking about the meaning of work in our lives -- or more precisely, what it means to be "happy" in our job or careers. Would you say you're happy or "satisfied" with your current position? Miserable? Want to quit, but can't afford to?
Through my Career Changers TV show, I've met a lot of people who are happy with their careers and love what they do. But in everyday life, I encounter many employees who do their jobs as if they were brain-dead zombies, just clocking in to get a paycheck. The fact is, most of us at some point in our lives, have had to do work we weren't crazy about. Some rise to the challenge and make the most of bad situations. Others, like the hostess at a Kailua restaurant my wife and I had lunch at recently, act so indifferently that you wish you could fire them on the spot. Since we didn't see anyone who appeared to be in charge that I could complain to, I thought about posting a negative review on Yelp, then decided it wasn't worth my time. We just won't go back. I'm pretty sure we weren't alone in that sentiment, judging from the looks on the faces of other customers around us.
While I was brushing encrusted food off the dirty menu in this mediocre Mexican restaurant, I told my wife about a young lady who works in the parking garage booth at Alii Place. I park there whenever I have meetings or TV shoots at Remington College, which is one of my show sponsors. This particular booth attendant always greets every exiting customer with a smile and small pleasantry. She just makes me feel... happy. Let's be honest though: being confined to a small booth all day, handing out change and pressing a button to lift a gate is not the most exciting occupation in the world. Yet this worker actually seems to enjoy her job.
Even if you have to fake liking your work, by making others you deal with feel positive, the task becomes more bearable. Giving off good vibes is contagious. Conversely, employees like the Mexican zombie hostess with the glum face -- mind you, she was the one who "greets" customers -- put us in a sour mood from the moment we sat down. And yes, it affected the tip we left, which is presumably shared with the staff.
Sorry for the digression. Anyhow, there's a key difference between people who go after their dream jobs and slackers who live in a fantasy world where they are paid to do minimal work in a "fun" environment. Those who are living their dream have a clear idea of what they wanted to do from the start... even if they weren't quite sure how they would get to that point. They are the ones who say "yes" to opportunities they believe will get them closer to their goals, regardless of whether there is an immediate payoff or not. Many times those opportunities don't go according to plan. Most successful entrepreneurs have had a few busts along the way. But they adapt and keep going forward instead of dwelling on their mistakes. They are not in the habit of blaming others when things don't pan out.
When I hear younger people or students talk about their future goals, the themes that come up most are generally about making big money, having a glamorous lifestyle, or you know, doing fun stuff for pay -- music, fashion, night clubs/party business, the TV or movie industry. The truth is it takes a great deal of hard work and focus to succeed in those "fantasy job" worlds, and it takes the same qualities you find in people who give their best effort in whatever they do -- whether it's part-time restaurant work or full-time student. Creative types will find inspiration in mundane job situations... they will write stories, songs or movie scripts about soul-sucking jobs and terrible bosses. They punch in every day and do the tedious work that goes into writing or making art. Put an inventor in a "boring" job and they will get excited about possible solutions to a vexing problem they might come across that others just ignore. It will take them hours, days, months, tweaking and perfecting their "simple" product before it ever hits the market place. In short, the difference between attaining your dream job and fantasizing about it is attitude.
However, there is a higher ideal we should strive for in our career choices, which I'll get to in my next blog post. It's about finding meaning in whatever work we do, and the value of enduring difficult times. Too often we talk about wanting to be "happy" when we really should look at happiness as a byproduct of living a good life.