Quit Already

I’ve met a lot of great people during my journey as a coach. The lion’s share of these individuals possessed great ability and solid credentials. Above all — I feel they possessed a sincere passion for their work.  But, there was only one glaring problem. Most of them held a really bad job. These roles may not have been bad for another individual. However, the match was undoubtedly the wrong one for them.

This is usually the point where we would cross paths — a moment in their career when they were intensely unhappy at work.

Sometimes this presented as an entire department or team. Either the group was grossly under-performing, secretly plotting their exit, or half of them had already walked out the door.  The jobs these individuals held had often led to feelings of anger, bewilderment, disappointment, stress — and in some cases, despair.

No matter how far they had traveled in life, what institution they had attended, industry or personality — the stories are strikingly similar.

Work just wasn’t what it should be, or could be.

It is highly unfortunate. As a coach— this is the normal state of affairs. I rarely interview happy potential clients. I want that to stop. Now.

Of course, the state of today’s organizations plays a role in this dynamic. Certain elements of work life have evolved over time — and the social contract that once allowed us to count on longer-term employment, has been replaced by a quite a different scenario. The economy has made for some unusual job-person mismatches.

However, we are right in the thick of it all. We contribute to the malaise, because we succumb and feel immobilized.

Back in the 90’s there was a long-running television sitcom called Murphy Brown. The name sake of the show, Ms. Brown (played brilliantly by Candace Bergen) was a high-flying, highly opinionated, hot-tempered news reporter — whose over-riding style was to “kick butt and take names”. She was beautiful, witty and well-spoken. However, Ms. Brown also had a penchant for burning through assistants (during the course of the series she had 93 of them). She was, by most standards, a really lousy boss. For most of us, this situation would have been impossible to navigate. She was completely impossible to work for, and this element was a running (and highly entertaining) sub-plot of the show.

However, the really peculiar thing about all of this, was that even though her reputation preceded her — another assistant always appeared outside of her office on Monday morning. (On some level that bothered me. In the real world, I’d like to think that we would have known better.)

Inevitably, we don’t always see the signs of a poor fit. When we do see things for what they are — we’re just not sure how to act. Then work life can develop into what someone aptly described to me, as a “soul sucking” experience.

Each time I connect with a new client, I marvel at how great people have such negative experiences in the workplace. I’ve not only come to the conclusion that there are a lot mismatches out there. I have also come to realize that we play a role in this dynamic. We don’t craft the rules, but we insist on playing by the rules. I fear this can be quite dangerous.

In many cases, even though we are suffering, we feel the need to seek permission to move on. That’s the role I often seem to play. I offer permission to be happy at work. But, we can offer that to ourselves.

As they say, “You’ve had the power all along”.

It can be difficult to explain how these work life scenarios have evolved. We know that recruitment and selection aren’t perfect processes — this is a given. In many cases, we have a clue that things are not right. We may have been hopeful that we could master the situation, or that things would miraculously resolve. But in many cases, this doesn’t happen. As a result, we remain stuck and unhappy.

Many of us do not think it is even possible to claim a better work life. I’d like to think we can change that dynamic.

So let’s at least try.

Have you ever been stuck? What caused you to finally act?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.  She is also an Influencer at Linkedin.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Employing a Life Strategy

raj-eiamworakul-1031067-unsplashAt times, we’ve all lost our way  — and finding our way back to the right path is imperative. This process can prove both confusing and painful. Often, we believe that the root problem lies externally; the wrong boss, team or organization. But, are we overlooking the obvious? In fact, looking inward might just be the best place to begin. Truth be told, we put enough obstacles in our own career paths to last more than a lifetime. When it comes down to it — we are usually right there in the mix, adding to the fog.

What if you could find that vital guidance, that mantra of direction, to actually get out of your own way once and for all? Well, developing a life strategy may be the needed prescription. It’s not fluff — it’s just plain smart.

We assume we’ll traverse through our careers (and our lives for that matter) without taking a single moment of pause to formulate a plan. (An organization wouldn’t think of moving forward without first considering a clear-cut path.) Strategy, can allow us to focus on our goals. Because at the inflection points that challenge us, we often forget to stop, breathe and look in all directions.

A great read to find that needed path is Allison Rimm’s, The Joy Of Strategy. (Her concept of the “Joy Meter” is a stunner, and that alone is worth the read. Apply the meter to your work life — and you will never view work or career, in quite the same way.)

A few things The Joy of Strategy would also like us to consider:

  • Listening more. Not to everyone else — to yourself. Stop shopping for the advice that would allow you to support what you already know you need from your work life. Trust that inner voice. What have you left behind? As Rimm describes so aptly, “Don’t die with your song still inside of you.”
  • Taking another look at purpose. We can easily confuse being busy with purpose — and defining a “clear intention” can help to filter out the “noise” surrounding our most important career decisions. When I began blogging two years ago, a colleague was less than enthused with my career pivot. This caused me real stress. But, when all was said and done — the path fulfilled my purpose to help others gain fulfillment in the workplace.
  • Visualize, visualize, visualize. Where do you really want to be? What would you be doing? What do you really want to accomplish? One solid strategy for change, is to thoroughly consider the “future state”. Go there — dream a little — it will help you master your future.
  • Defining what you really need. Be brutally honest. If you could move forward to build your best career life, what materials would you collect to ensure your success? A trusted mentor? More opportunities to lead a team? Sharper communication skills? Take the time to define these.
  • Time and Emotion.  We spend our time — but what do those moments really offer us? As Rimm explains, “We should all derive some measure of joy from our work.” I couldn’t agree more. That indeed, is a winning strategy.

How have you built your own life strategy? Tell us a little about that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

More Options for Today’s Working Women: Leaning “Homeward” vs Leaning “In”

Work life balance

Many women would opt for time away from the traditional “9 to 5” work life to remain home with children — and a growing body of research supports this.  I reached this inflection point a short time after finishing my degree. Happily entrenched in a growing HR consulting firm (with a fair amount of career momentum on my side), it became obvious that my best laid plans for melding home and work life weren’t going to materialize. At the time, my decision to “lean out” may have appeared ill-advised — but as time would pass, it became clear that it was truly for the best.

Our young son didn’t sleep nights. He couldn’t tolerate formula. He seemed particularly distressed when we left him with a sitter for even a few hours. When I compared stories with other working mothers, things just weren’t adding up to a “lean in” scenario. The guilt and compounding stress were overpowering. I was torn between two disparate worlds that just weren’t meshing. My instincts told me to stay at home if at all possible. Luckily, after weighing both emotional and financial concerns, the option to complete some project work at home came into play. I happily chose this option — too exhausted in the moment to even begin to evaluate the long-term ramifications of that decision.

Knowing what I know today about work life integration, I would have sought a more permanent part-time solution (with an option to return when home life became more predictable). A recent article in The Atlantic, Moms Who Cut Back at Work Are Happier, explores the often difficult quest for women to find balance with their ever-evolving roles. The piece discusses research which reveals that many married moms would indeed, rather work part-time at specific points or “seasons” in their career — “leaning homeward” instead of “leaning in”. Furthermore, many who have the opportunity to embark on such a career “sacrifice” are happier overall. A recent CBS/New York Times survey echoes this sentiment, where it was found that nearly one-half of working women with children under the age of 18, would prefer an option to work part-time.

The fact remains, that it is challenging for many women to carry on their careers after children, as if nothing has changed. Dialing down the pressure should be a viable option — but keeping meaningful work in plain sight should also be part of that equation. With women making a significant investment in both their education and career, this has become a growing necessity — as we should have the opportunity to continue to contribute in a manner that remains fulfilling.

We are indeed making progress in this area. However, widespread acceptance of part-time options will likely not materialize until we acknowledge the need for a pervasive change in mindset. If you have had the opportunity to read, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — you’d know exactly where I am going with this. We have to step up and vocalize what we really need to remain both happy and productive. With a healthy dose of transparency, these changes may come sooner than later. We  should discuss the realities of melding work and career life, openly and often — because the essence of being truly happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do — as much as what we can.

Suffice it to say, that my instinct to remain at home was on target. I needed to be there for a variety of reasons. Years later, it is apparent that I’ve had a fair amount of explaining to do in reference to the gap in my career. However of late, I no longer feel the need to either hide the reason — or the fact that I did so without hesitation.

I would like to think that in the future — working women won’t have to make these decisions bleary-eyed and exhausted.

Have you shared a similar experience? Were you able to adjust and work part-time? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

Joy at Work: How about a little “Arbejdsglæde”?

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

In response to a post about positivity in the workplace, a very kind reader (Casper P.) let me know that in his language, a very unique word existed. The word was “Arbejdsglæde” — translated into English this means “happiness at work” or “work joy”. Here is his comment:

Scandinavian countries have a single word for “Happiness at work” — Arbejdsglæde. This site posted a great video on why we need more of it: http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com

If only we could only bring more Arbejdsglæde into our work lives on a daily basis. Arbejdsglæde is the positive feeling that develops when you simply love what you do. It stokes motivation and serves as an reliable source of energy. In turn, the work brings a keen sense of satisfaction. Of course, this is something we should all readily seek — and a bit of joy may be exactly what we need to affect the troubling lack of engagement in the workplace today. More joy at work? As a psychologist, that is something that I can certainly live with.

Here is an example of Arbejdsglæde in action — the moment the rover Curiosity lands on Mars. (More great videos at http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com)


Ultimately, joy and work should co-exist — but we have been resistant to offer ourselves permission to seek this out. In her HBR post Joy at Work: It’s Your Right, Allison Rimm describes how she has utilized a joy meter in her coaching practice. When clients would enter for a session, they would rate the level of joy (vs. hassle) they were currently feeling from their work. The underlying premise? We all should derive some measure of joy from our work.

We might encourage joy at work through the expression of gratitude, developing hope and encouraging camaraderie. But we can also grow joy, by aligning our work with our strengths — and learning to express what we really need to derive satisfaction from our work.

So, let’s bring a more joy to our workplaces — ourselves, our clients  and our colleagues.

It’s a good thing.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.