Last week, someone sent me this email, and I thought I would share my response here, since it’s a question I get often. I hope it’s useful for you as well.
ANSWER: Hello lovely! Sorry that took me a little bit to reply. I wanted to have time to sit and reply to your note with the level of attention it requires
First, know you are not alone on this. So many of us feel or have felt this way. I remember reading on Forbes in 2014 that more than have of all Americans are unhappy at work. There’s an epidemic in this society. Most of us feel this enormous emptiness inside, from doing unfulfilling work.
I adore this quote: “There is only one way in this world to achieve true happiness,” said William J. Reilly in 1949, “and that is to express yourself with all your skill and enthusiasm in a career that appeals to you more than any other. In such a career, you feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement. You feel you are making a contribution. It is not work.”
I think you need to create an exit strategy and stick to it, because you love yourself too much to stay in an environment that is bringing you down.
SHORT TERM: 1. As a short-term fix, I would do an exercise called: “The Positive Aspects Of.” During the day at work, focus only on the positive aspects of being there. Example: the paycheck, the nice desk, that one really lovely co-worker, the view from the window, the fast computer, the cold water in the cooler, etc… When I’m in situations or places that bring me down, I have trained my mind to become hyper-focused on the positive; I go out of my way to find the good, the beautiful, the useful… Or I think about someone I love, and I allow that love to spread through my body and bring a smile to my face. I can be stubborn that way, only focusing on the positive; it’s the best kind of stubbornness, IMO. smile emoticon But it takes practice.
2. The importance of self-care is something I’ve learned the hard way. I used to laugh at people who talked about it. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” I literally didn’t have time, but I was forced to make time. And I have to admit, I also felt uncomfortably guilty about practicing self-care, and I’ve seen so many women feel the same. But the truth is, when we don’t practice self-care (which I describe as nourishing yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) we have a harder time dealing with work situations and people, our minds aren’t clear on what steps to take next, and we don’t have the strength to leave.
Just putting these two strategies in place have worked wonders for people in my circle… and for myself too.
3. At some point soon, I think you should find another job. I’m not talking about a permanent job; just one that pays the bills temporarily but is not soul-sucking. I’ve seen many people do that (although they had to make sacrifices, cutting down on expenses) but with a less-stressful job you’ll have more energy to dedicate to the long-term strategy of doing work you absolutely love, work that is authentic to you, fulfilling to your soul, and helpful to the world. Some of us get caught up with the ego saying things like: “that kind of work is below yourself, your skills…” “What would people say?” “You didn’t get a master’s degree for you to work at a flower shop.” When that happens, we must remind the ego that this is temporary, that we have a strategy in place for the life we want to create for ourselves. Following through with a dream is one of the most empowering things ever. You feel you can do anything after that, and according to, again, William J. Reilly “Life really begins when you have discovered that you can do anything you want.”
4. For going solo, I recommend, again, becoming single-focused on knowing yourself and your skills. Who am I? What do I adore to do? What does the world need from me? It takes time to answer these questions. I took me a long time (years) to figure it out, but, of course, it’s so worth the inquiry, and I still have half of my life ahead to do that work.
I really found the concept of Ikigai (attached here) very helpful. I would print it, spend some time playing with it, and put it on a wall where I could see it every day. It’s fun!
5. This last advice can seem less practical, but it’s my favorite, because it’s effortless. Several people have said the same in different ways, but I love how Tom Kenyon puts it: “following your deepest sense of joy will lead you to be in the places where you will most likely survive.” I believe that my joy will always guide me, even if the path ahead is dark. I believe that by nurturing myself and my dreams, doing what bring me joy daily, is the path that will lead me to fulfillment. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s healing. It’s the way!
I hope this is helpful to you. I’m sending you a hug. There’s nothing worse than spending 8 hours a day (40 or more a week) doing work you don’t love. Patience, courage and determination are needed now.
I’ll never forget the day I “woke up” and decided that something had to change. I continue to wake up to different areas that need change, and I give myself a strategy and time-line now, working daily toward that dream.
Much much love to you. Hope to see you at church one of these Sundays.