You can’t go into work anymore without a full-body shudder.
The thought of doing whatever it is you’ve been doing for a couple years today is insufferable. Lately the only way you’ve been able to eek through the day is to fantasize about that big fat career change, and how much better life will be when you’re actually doing what you want. Which is basically anything but what you’re doing.
So you find yourself putting in job applications. Work somehow becomes tolerable when you check email in gleeful anticipation of your golden ticket: the second interview. You’re finally going to have meaning! You’ll be able to wake up and know that what you did counted! Most importantly, you won’t be stuck here anymore.
But I have a question for you...
What’s to say you’re not going to repeat this process after you’ve been doing your next job for a couple years?
Fact is, changing your job will only change your job. If you don’t manufacture meaning in your life through consistent personal growth and giving, you’re still going to crave change no matter how awesome your job is. So, before you submit another quick app on LinkedIn, and before you take that second interview, there are a couple things you should do first.
(If you try these suggestions for a month and still wake up in cold sweats about going to work, then it’s definitely time for that career change!)
1-Start a regular giving practice
Part of desiring a career change is wanting to make a difference to people. You want to know that you’re exerting a positive influence through your skills and resources because you’re human—we need to feel connected to others, and that we’re using our talents. But what would happen if you started a giving initiative outside of work? How might that change the way you feel at your job?
Studies show that charitable giving leads to greater happiness and satisfaction, which spills over into workplace satisfaction (no matter what job you have). You can tap into this instant sense of meaning by designating a portion of your paycheck—5-10%—to causes you’re passionate about or people you have compassion for, both locally and globally.
Start a new bank account specifically for giving and set up an automatic transfer. Then every week, or twice a month, depending on how much you want to give at a time, take an hour on the weekends to research where your money can make the biggest difference. Sites like YouCaring.com have a bevy of fundraisers from social causes to medical bills and disaster relief. (I particularly recommend YouCaring because their service charge is optional, unlike other sites.)
Another option is to start a note tab for giving and simply pay more attention to people’s needs: in your community, in your circle of friends, in your family, and in your country. Write down ideas as you read the news or whenever you hear of an opportunity to give. Not only will you end up giving to more meaningful causes that you’re closely connected to—which studies show has a more positive impact on your wellbeing—the habit of note taking will make giving a more substantial and active part of your lifestyle, which multiplies the benefits.
2-Start planning for more of what you love outside of work
As adults, we get in the bad habit of making life about work. We prepare for work, we work, we come back and do things to relax from a hard day’s work, then we sleep so we can go to work again. Which kind of makes you feel empty at work...because life isn’t just about work! But if you don’t plan on doing the things you love, and doing them consistently, you’ll pin more of your happiness (or lack thereof) on work. Which might not be fair to your job.
So start planning for joy.
Right now, write out a list of the things you’ve really wanted to do or haven’t done nearly enough of over the last few years—things that maybe you’ve been too tired (or hungover) to do, or that for some reason never seem to happen. They might be fun trips, sporting leagues you haven’t joined, dance classes you haven’t taken, language lessons you forgot about, volunteer meetups you put off—anything that would bring you joy and that you could improve.
Then every weekend, spend ten to twenty minutes drafting up a weekly list of the activities you’d love to do most and that you refuse to put off. Write down enough activities to where you feel excited about doing more than what you normally do, but not so much that you feel anxious about having to do all this extra stuff. You’ll strike a balance after a week or two.
Use a blank hard-backed sketchbook for this planning activity.
Then every morning, in the same planner, refer to your weekly list as you draft up daily goals. Pick the things that are most realistic or appealing for that day. For instance, if you get off early on Wednesdays, or can work from home on Fridays, those would be good days to organize pick up basketball, or to drop in on that cooking class you’ve been dying to take. Then write out the goal with a big checkbox next to it. You’ll know what to include when you take 5-10 minutes to plan out your day each morning. Last, you’ll want to set reminders in your smartphone that alert you of the activity you want to do.
Once you start consistently planning for, doing, and improving at the things which bring you joy, you’ll feel a whole new world of opportunity open up for you. And your work life will improve because of it.
None of the advice in this article suggests that you remain at a toxic work environment or a job that doesn’t challenge you and enrich your life. Sometimes a big career change is exactly what you need. But oftentimes the case is that you’re not putting enough effort to make life great outside of work, which makes work the scapegoat, and which makes your “dream job” a will-o-the-wisp.
If you transition into another career or job without having brought meaning to your personal, your work can never actually make you happy.
So start a giving habit first. Then plan out (and do!) the fun things and learning experiences you want to accomplish as a daily habit. If you do this consistently for a couple months and still do a Sideshow-Bob shudder every time you walk into work, then go for that second interview!
And if you need help with the whole personal fulfillment thing, or switching careers, check out my coaching.
The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!