Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Money Makers: Careers, Balance, Failure, and Success

In every survey of the top things teens and young adults worry about, right up at the top is a combination of grades, college, career choice, and making money. In short, their futures. What’s worse, most “mature” adults seem to hate their jobs. How can you avoid becoming a statistic?

“Your career is not a life sentence, and your degree is not a lifetime pass to a good life,” says Kat Shalhoub, PhD ("Coach Kat") in her forthcoming book, Futureproof. “It’s merely an entry ticket into the races. Pick the race that matters most to you, because the hard work begins the day after you’ve got it.”

I had a chance to interview her to learn more.

What contributes to so many people being disengaged from their jobs?
The latest report suggests that up to 86% of the global workforce is either disengaged from their work or indifferent. That a lot of percents. Whenever we talk about job engagement we have to realize that there are external factors (like a militant boss or a poorly managed company) and internal factors (like hazy personal goals or lack of work-life balance) that impact how we feel about the work we do.
Assuming we can’t control the external factors and they are as average as we can hope for, the ones we can leverage are the internal factors. The biggest reason we’re disengaged is that our motivations for working are unsound. Many people still only work for the money, without putting deeper thought into the value and contribution of the work itself.

What psychologist Barry Scwartz explains in his book, Why We Work, is that a huge number of people don’t find meaning in the work that they do. For work to feel good and to keep you engaged, the work has to provide you with a few mental, social and emotional perks beyond the end-of-month paycheck. The primary three include mastery, connection and meaning. These align very strongly to self determination’s theory of competence, connection and autonomy driving personal motivation and growth.

If we work in a place where we are able to develop our skills and expertise, where we have plenty of opportunity to work in teams and connect with colleagues over coffee and lunch breaks, and we are able to find a higher purpose or meaning in the work we do, then we are fulfilled.

The problem arises because more often than not, we expect our workplace to provide these things for us without advocating for ourselves. We simply don’t give these things enough deliberate thought or attention in our lives because it hurts to realize we are unhappy and that a big part of it is dependent on our own choices. Instead we numb ourselves in countless other ways.

We should be taking charge of the elements of our lives that are ours alone. The elements of our lives that we aren’t in charge of are beginning to change in some places too. For example, Ernst & Young Oceania are changing their policies to address growing demand for more flexible working environments and more time for people to go after their passions outside of work hours.

“Kate Hillman, people partner for Ernst & Young Oceania says millennials are “driving demand for flexibility, as their preference for diverse and stimulating career experiences overrides traditional workplace structures and timelines.” These new policies have actually increases employee satisfaction at the firm while employee engagement rose by 11%. So it’s important that you make sure you have clarity on what motivates you internally, while also speaking up at the workplace and asking for more of the perks that will allow you to practice them.

What are some daily habits that can set people on the path to happiness?
They say the difference between happiness and misery is your attitude. As long as you’re not starving, that is so true. Here are three of my favorites mental habits that help you tune up your attitude for happiness:

Morning: Set your morning alarm to remind you of the meaning or purpose your life is serving today. If your work doesn’t cut it, then the meaning is in being present for your children, cooking a nice meal for your best friend, calling your lonely mother or simply enjoying the day for no other reason than giving the planet a return on its investment in you!

Noon: I attended a retreat once where the photographer had his alarm go off every day at 11:11 am. When I asked him about it, he said it was his gratitude moment. Regardless of what he was doing (and I witnessed this!) he would pause for a few seconds, and make a silent note of the things he was grateful for in that one moment. I’ve practiced this since with my kids at breakfast and dinner. Remembering what we have has made us all happier.

Night: Ask yourself, how was I a contribution today? I’ve had days where my entire existence felt like a failure, days where I burnt the baby food, spoke only to a drooling infant and didn’t manage to get out of my pajamas. Every mother has at least a couple days like that. And the only thing that makes those days worse is berating yourself about the colossal failure you are. How do you counteract this success/failure thinking (which is totally constructed by humanity to inflict more misery)? Benjamin Zander, author of The Art of Possibility, says to throw the whole construct out with the bathwater. The question, how was I contribution today? shifts the paradigm of our thinking entirely. Simply feeding an infant is a contribution. So set a reminder on your phone that asks you: How were you a contribution today?

Why is it important to set priorities for career-life balance early?
I actually think it’s more important to understand where you are in your life and what matters in that moment over setting work-life balance priorities. In college and my early twenties I was all about work hard/play hard. There was no balance but this was what I needed then. I was the girl taking 21 credits a semester, playing three different sports and working part time.

When I became a mother, the importance of work suddenly flew out the window and my priority became taking care of my babies. I still dabbled in different things to keep my mind busy and I read voraciously, but researching organic foods and child development became my biggest focus (of course I had the luxury of a working husband to be able to do this!). I spent too many years as a new mother beating myself up about not having a career. Balance would have been to enjoy that stage of my life.

Now that my kids have a good level of autonomy, I feel my life click into another stage where career has moved front and center. With a few courses and certifications under my belt, I’ve started working again. I find it’s healthy for my kids to see a mom who is motivated and driven to accomplish big things. It inspires them to be more of who they are.

I think what’s most important is being able to authentically recognize and provide what you need for yourself at each stage of your life. In the end, balance is the cumulative sum of many moments strung together and averaged over time. Sometimes trying to achieve balance is more stressful that giving all your attention to the most important thing at hand; trying to find balance may end up stretching your mental abilities much more than they need to be at any one stage.

Instead of setting priorities you may or may not be able to live up to, I would say aim for the cumulative average of your life to be balanced and ask yourself, what do I need right now? The most important thing is to be unafraid of change when you need it. Don’t hesitate to go back to school, quit a job, or find an ‘internship’ regardless of your age.

What role does failure play in being successful?
The way humans work is by collecting information, tools and skills to use towards success. So it stands to reason that the more information you gather into your world view, the more capable you become of making decisions and choices that lead to success.

I’m a big believer in the value of failure. From the moment we begin life, we ‘fail’ at certain aspects of growth, like eating successfully, walking, speaking. The more we try though, the more we expand our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. The whole concept of practice is built on failure, isn’t it? Let’s say you’re learning to play the piano. You are given a set of notes to play in a given order. You try to play them until you make a mistake. Technically you’re going until you fail. This failure informs you of two things: 1) What you’re capable of right now, and 2) What you haven’t mastered yet. These pieces of information radically expand your awareness of yourself and light up the path to success. Why? Because now you also know 1) Where you need to improve, 2) What you need to improve on. 

Success comes about when a series of probabilities for positive events actually happen. So if we were going to look at this mathematically, the more you try, the higher the probability is both failures and successes happening. The value of the failures is added information. The value of the successes is self explanatory.

Dr. Katagyna Shalhoub, PhD, ACC (known as Coach Kat), award-winning author of Futureproof!: 13 Things Your Parents Can’t Tell You About Tomorrow, is a personal development coach. She is also an ICF-certified coach, nominated as one of 100 Best Global Coach Leaders in 2017.

As a coach, Katagyna helps people redesign their lives, unlock their creativity and become the heroes of their own story. Coach Kat speaks Arabic, French and English fluently.

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