While I am blessed to work with many people that really enjoy their jobs, I still meet way too many people in positions that they are really not enjoying anymore. If they ever did enjoy their job. For a long time, I thought that these folks were just exceptions and that most people loved or at least liked what they did for a living. However, when looking deeper into the question, I started to see a different picture appear.
According to Gallup (see here for link), worldwide only 13% percent of people are engaged in their work. The rest is not engaged (the majority) or actively disengaged, meaning that they really hate their job. The study is a few years old (2012), but in more recent articles, it seems the numbers haven’t changed much.
Even in the Nordic countries, often considered to be outstanding from a “workers” perspective by other regions in the world, the numbers are dismal with engagements levels of 16% for Sweden, 21% for Denmark, 16% for Norway and 11% for Finland. How can it be that countries that are consistently ranked as the best places in the world to live, build companies and raise families (which I can personally attest to be being the case, having lived in Sweden, in total, for more than 12 years), still see such low numbers in employee engagement? And how, as a society, can we accept such a monumental waste of human capital?
After having thought about this for quite a bit, my current belief is that, for the vast majority of people, this is a lack of taking responsibility for your own life. It is very easy to blame the government, industrial-financial complex or some other vague, abstract concept for your situation. Even more typical, it is easy to blame the company or organization you work for. However, it is important to remember that there is only one person responsible for your happiness, satisfaction and contentment: YOU!
Of course, there is a whole misinformed culture of “follow your passion”. I say misinformed, because the blind belief that just by being passionate about something will make sure things will turn out fine is plain naive and stupid. I am convinced that at least some of the many non-engaged and actively disengaged folks are those who tried to follow their passion and got smacked in the face with the results, ending up is dead-end, soul-crushing jobs.
Instead, the best path forward is to build rare, valuable skills that you care enough about because these feel meaningful to you. Once you build your skills, you will notice that you actually become increasingly passionate about these skills and related topics. As you chose a valuable skill, you will be able to monetize it and increase your income over time. However, don’t spend this newfound financial stability on buying things, expensive cars and big, flashy houses and other external validation as you’ll end up wearing “golden handcuffs” and you’ll end up in financial trouble if for whatever reason your life is disrupted. Instead, to use your increasing financial stability to continuously increase your autonomy. If you’re valuable, your employer will be much more willing to let you work part-time and/or remotely. It will be easier to become an independent consultant and avoid the office politics and the boss you hate so much. Perhaps you want to take sabbaticals or mini-retirements? All this is feasible, but only if you have something rare and valuable to offer to the world.
As Daniel Pink explored in his book Drive, our motivation, joy and contentment in work is driven by three factors: mastery, autonomy and purpose. So, building your rare and valuable skills will allow you to be achieve mastery. Once you have that mastery, it allows you to increase your autonomy. Finally, you can use that autonomy to ensure that you focus your life energy on things that you feel are meaningful, allowing you to live a life with meaning and purpose.
2018 is looking to become a totally amazing year. Are you going to stay in this job you think sucks, using the excuses that you’ve always used of why you are stuck there? Or are you taking control of your own destiny and start working your way towards gaining control and autonomy and focusing your energy on what feels meaningful? It’s really scary to do this, because you might fail. In fact, you’re likely to fail many times before you have found the path towards a meaningful life that gives you the control, autonomy and even passion for your life that you are looking for. But what is the alternative? Staying where you are and some day figuring out that your life is over without you never even having lived? Choosing what makes your life meaningful and then actively working towards it is critical for a living good life. Remember that it’s all up to you and that blaming anyone else is just a cowardly excuse. Take charge already!