5 Things You Think Will Make You Happier at Work (And Actually Do)

I came across this article yeImagesterday on my metro-ride home and read it in about three minutes.  If you didn't click the link already, the article is entitled, "5 Things You Think Will Make You Happier at Work (But Actually Won't)."

This writer succeeds in two areas: 1) writing for FastCo and 2) setting newly-minted job seekers up for failure.

Enrollment management and career services, in my opinion, are inextricably linked. As the world of higher education continues to shift, institutional outcomes are becoming more apparent as key decision factors in prospective students' decisions. As an aside seven sentences into this post, I was excited to see today that my alma mater's AVP of EM has a new title, AVP of EM and Career Services. I think this is a path more institutions should take.

But back to the article. It's timely as we've just celebrated Winter Commencements across the nation. Those students are looking for jobs, and articles like the one I'm about to dissect are a really big problem.

The writer suggests that the following things do not [always] make for a happier you:

1. A shorter workweek 2. More vacation time 3. A promotion or raise 4. A new job 5. "More Meaningful" Work

To all of the winter graduates, I have the following to say:

This is bogus. Particularly number 5.

So, in reverse:

5. Finding "meaningful" (and I'm not sure why she put it in quotes) work should be your primary objective. Doing what you love provides you, and I know from direct experience, with a sense of purpose and provides worthwhile goals to set and attain. #EMchat and an unannounced work-in-progress provide me with an unimaginable sense of professional self-worth. If your actual career isn't providing that for you, get a hobby. Celebrate your passion in whatever manner you need to, but make sure that you never let it die. It might take some time to get things figured out on your professional front, but always make sure it aligns with your personal ethics and aspirations.

4. A new job won't always provide you happiness, she's right. But, if you're job seeking, hopefully you're looking for a career that provides you with #5 above. A new job comes with a smorgasbord of new experiences to work through, including all nouns: people, places, and things. No job will be perfect. And you know what? If it's not what you're looking for, leave. In one of my less-proud moments, I quit a job after 3.5 weeks because I knew it was an awful fit for me. I'm happier because of that. Much. Happier.

3. A promotion or raise. "Money doesn't buy happiness and titles are just words." That's not a quote from the article, just something I read somewhere, once. The author points out that once we get a raise, we're cool with it for a while and then set a new goal for success. Here's a fact: no matter what job you have (or if you don't have one yet), if you are not continually setting, reassessing, and enhancing your goals, you're career will be stagnant. Whether you want more money, more responsibility, or more challenges, set each goal higher than the one before. It's not a crime to want more, and you shouldn't feel guilty for recognizing your ability and worth. Anyone who tells you otherwise is, well, wrong.

2 & 1. We can lump these together. A shorter workweek and more vacation time. The argument here is that we don't know HOW to use our time off. Okay, that's understandable. Here's how you do it: unplug from work. Aside from the fact that my work phone is a Blackberry and the worst device ever known to man, I don't take it home with me on weekends or vacations. If there's a real work emergency, I'm still accessible. If you're answering emails on weekends and vacation and you don't absolutely love your job, that's on you. The author makes this point, that we need to make sure we make sure we're fully engaged in our time off. Well, if you do that, a shorter workweek and more vacation time will absolutely make you happier.

So here's my advice--based on my experiences--to new graduates (and congrats, by the way!):

  • Don't settle for a job that doesn't provide you with meaning, either personally or professionally.
  • Don't take a job that pays you less than you believe you're worth. The only time this is semi-acceptable is if you need to break into an industry and that's the only option. In that case, set your goals high and move fast.
  • If you work for a shitty boss, whether they're ineffective managers, road blocks to your career, or just a miserable, mean person, you don't need to pay your dues unless you REALLY want to. Quit.
  • Use your vacation days every year. Negotiate a flex schedule if possible. Do this before you're hired.
  • Get a mentor. Whether formal or informal, find people in your life who will offer advice, motivate you, and help you succeed.
  • Don't read articles that tell you what won't make you happy in a career. Read ones that suggest avenues for success and happiness. Your job should be a positive experience. The things you read about it should be, too.
  • Be selfish--it's your career, your future, and your life.