I've got a question from a reader today. Ashley wrote:
"I haven’t been happy in my job for years and recently I went off work after having an anxiety attack at work. How am I supposed to have a career that I love when I can’t even go to work everyday?"
Ashley, great question to be asking. As you're probably figuring out, you can't. You can't find a career you love when you can't go to work everyday.
Just like you aren't going to find a career you love when you're depressed or panicked about your day to day expenses or on the verge of a divorce or mourning a big loss.
Because all those things trump your career and need to be addressed first.
Your work is important. It does matter how you contribute, how you earn, and how you feel day to day as you engage in your work.
But having a career you love does not fix other challenges in your life. You've got to get those big life things settled, and then invest your energy in finding a career that feels like home. Your life, health, and relationships don't have to be perfect in order to do this, but you do want a comfortable level of stability in your life before you attempt another big change. And a new career is a big change.
We think it's about where we report on Monday morning, but it's sooo much more. It's about your identity as a person, your personal contribution to the world, learning and sharing who you are at your very core and making that the focus of your work. It's about service and relationship to others. It's about how family and friends will think about you as you step into your new role. It's about self-expression and power and confidence. It's about leading with who you are, not just what you can do. These things take courage and a solid foundation.
Your career is the cherry on top of a happy, healthy life.
Think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow envisioned human needs as a pyramid with our most basic needs constructing the base, and the height of our potential at the apex.
At the bottom of the pyramid you have physiological needs: the basic things you need in order to survive like air, water, food, shelter. Then comes safety needs, which in our culture often means having a financial safety net, job security, and health. Beyond that, in the middle of the pyramid, is love and belonging. Friendship, intimacy, and sense of belonging are real needs, and loneliness and depression can set in when we don't get them. The level after that is esteem: self-esteem and self-respect. And finally, at the top, is self-actualization.
Self-actualization is the level at which we can can reach our potential to be the very best version of ourselves. We can be better spouses, tri-atheles, or oil-painters. This is the level where fulfilling careers exist. You don't get to skip the bottom 4 levels of the pyramid and jump straight to the golden ring. You've got to consciously get those bottom layers sturdy. Again, not perfect, but sturdy.
In order move yourself towards a job you love, start at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up.
- Are your basic needs cared for? Do you have food, water, and shelter (this means rent money, too)?
- Do you feel safe? Are you healthy? What can you do to shore up this level?
- Do you feel loved and that you belong? Invest in your personal relationships and find communities where you feel supported.
- Do you respect yourself? Or do you constantly rely on the praise of others to define your sense of worth?
Once you feel you've adequately answered those questions, then you're ready for a career you love. Then you're ready to do your best work, serve the world, and be financially rewarded for who you are.
How does visualizing the pyramid change how you think about the pursuit of your future career? Let me know in the comments.