Who wants to be happy at work?
Which would you choose for your future career:
a) 40 years working in insurance for the same company, or
b) Variety and challenge, travelling the world and living in exotic cities?
Of course there’s no right answer. Although a) might sound boring to many, there are plenty of people whose prime need in work is security - and gaining that security in a job that doesn’t sound like it will push them too hard is appealing.
Nothing wrong with that and the most important step in identifying what will make you happy is to understand yourself. What do you enjoy now and how might that change in the future as you develop more knowledge and skills? This is where a career coach can help you get to grips with your own personality and preferences. Their role is to help you get to a place where you feel happy and inspired in your career. Hiring a career coach makes the process of pivoting your career faster than if you were trying to do it all on your own. My guess is that, if you are reading this, you are likely to be someone who would jump straight to answer b). You want to challenge yourself to do different things that stretch you and provide real job satisfaction. In my long career I like to think that I achieved that and that, maybe, I can offer some pointers as to how you might too. When I was asked to write this, it was suggested that I might make five key points. I’ve cheated and sneaked one in already (understanding yourself) - but here are my real five:
1) Variety…. within reason
Doing the same thing for years on end is unlikely to be the way you want to go. But constant chopping and changing might lead to frustration and a feeling that you don’t see things through. It’s a balance. To become really good at something you have to do it for a while – but too long and you become stale.
What worked for me was to change roles about every five years. Naturally, each role needs to have variety within – five years is a long time. Most importantly there needs to be a progression – each change should build on what has gone before. Progression doesn’t necessarily mean promotion; it’s about using what you have learned to step forward. So, when you look at a new role, ask yourself what you will learn, how it will help you grow and what might follow?
Variety isn’t just about tasks. Working in different places, travelling to different countries and living in new cultures can all make life much more interesting. I was lucky enough to live in London, Seoul and Sydney and to travel extensively to South Africa, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, various parts of Europe …. I could go on. When you look at a possible new employer, consider its global activity and potential opportunities it could offer you.
2) Work with clever people
Any fan of team sports will know that good players are made better by having great players around them. It might feel good, short term, to feel like the star but, eventually, you will want to be part of something better.
It’s the same in work. I had the pleasure of working with some incredibly talented people. Some were ace technicians (medical practitioners, engineers, geneticists, actuaries and lawyers to name a few). Others were experts in relationships and leadership. Whatever the talents, something will rub off on you. No liberties can be taken – you are pushed to perform at your best. That’s tough at times but, when people like that tell you you’ve done a good job, it’s quite a feeling.
3) Volunteer to go out of your comfort zone
I have a confession - I wasn’t good at this. But I was lucky and often found myself doing things that led to healthy anxiety, even without volunteering. The reason I pick it as one of my five is that, when I think back to the things I feel good about, most are related to doing something I doubted I could handle. You don’t even need to do brilliantly - just better than you thought you could. My best example is from an international trip. Like many I had a phobia towards public speaking - which I didn’t think I would ever crack. While in Taiwan I received a fax (anyone remember them?) that my visit to a client the following day had been converted to a seminar for two hundred sales people. There were to be no other speakers - just me for a full day. I had very little suitable material with me.
It wasn’t my best night’s sleep but, somehow, I did it. I even remember thinking, while on stage, that ‘this isn’t that hard’. If only I’d volunteered, I could have told you about the courage I’d shown.
During the following years I spoke at many international seminars - I never got to the point of enjoying it (and still didn’t volunteer!), but overcoming a fear provides deep satisfaction.
4) Don’t take it all too seriously
Please don’t misinterpret this. You should always do your best and not be satisfied with anything that dips below that. But you will make mistakes sometimes and there is nothing to be gained by beating yourself up about it. Except for a few occupations, nobody is likely to die as a result of your errors. Money might be lost or people disappointed – in the big picture of life that simply ‘ain’t that serious’. Learn from the mistakes and go again.
5) Learn, re-learn and learn again
Learning never stops and this is where the organisation you work for becomes critical. There are firms that simply want to use the talents of the people they have and not give anything back. There are also many great organisations out there that devote time and energy to developing their people – they know they get back far more than they give.
6) Choose your employers carefully
I was hugely fortunate here. Throughout my career I attended countless courses – some technical, others skill based. Many were fun – others not so much. But I came away from all of them with something new. So there are my five (well, maybe six). I still have two more.
How was I so lucky to get variety and challenge and end up travelling and living in some great places? I did it by working in insurance for 40 years in the same company. Which gives me my final two pointers:
- Don’t believe stereotypes and make sure you research industries and roles that may not sound terribly exciting. They might not seem sexy on the surface but - dig a bit deeper and you may be surprised. To understand risks in insurance requires knowledge of medicine (and medical advancements), engineering, avocations, statistics (a lot of statistics) and law. Leadership and relationship management skills are paramount in many roles. Many other, apparently boring, industries could say something similar – although obviously not banking, ha!
- 40 years in the same company may sound horrific (it would have done to me when I started out). But if you find the right company – one devoted to learning and development and which can offer global opportunities – there is something deeply satisfying about it. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from changing employer when the opportunity is right. But don’t write off the one you are with without exploring everything it has to offer.