Welcome to 99U’s monthly Book Club, where we take a look at recent releases that challenge us to think deeper, explore new perspectives, and spark a better understanding of the nuances of a creative career from leadership and community-building to productivity and everything in between.
Being happy at work is something that has become the gold standard in a way that wasn’t necessarily true for our parents and grandparents. Given how much time we spend working in our always-on society, we’re looking for something meaningful and fulfilling. In current uncertain times, many are reevaluating their priorities and work/life balance.
We want to make sure what we do professionally aligns with our values and gives us a sense of purpose, but what exactly does that mean? Should I stay at my current job? Leave it for a new one? Start a business of my own? Depending on where you are in life, the answer to any of these questions may be yes. You may even love your job, just not the toxic nature of the workplace. These are all real scenarios in the modern era, and not necessarily anything school prepared us for.
London-based happiness consultant Samantha Clarke has been exploring these dilemmas with clients for years, and now is sharing them with the world in her new book, Love It or Leave It: How to Be Happy at Work. And no, happiness is not all fluff. Clarke’s training includes Gross National Happiness Facilitator qualification where she studied Bhutanese philosophies and practices that promote happiness and well-being.
Don’t assume Clarke had her life all figured out to end up as a happiness consultant. She shares her own struggles and career pivots from advertising to dreaming of being a shoe designer to her work making career happiness a priority, all while learning to manage living with sickle cell anemia, which can throw her off course at any moment. Throughout the book she uses her story to showcase how all our past experiences can fit together to get us on the work journey we’re meant to be on.
Love It or Leave It is full of questions and exercises to get you thinking critically about your relationship with work, which can be particularly useful during downtime at home. Here are some key lessons to help open your eyes to the fact you really do have what it takes to be happy and fulfilled at work. Whether you’re working a full-time job for a company or are your own boss, here are takeaways everyone can use to thrive at work.
Reframe how you think about work
Mindset is everything from how you react to situations to your openness to learning. It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset that you are your job title, but that’s not the case. We’re past the days of putting job titles on pedestals.
Instead, think about creating a “work umbrella” to describe what you do, mixing skills and experience to frame a wider view of what you bring to your job. Clarke uses the umbrella of “happiness consultant—helping individuals and companies make work happiness a priority” to describe the work she does. This includes writing, coaching, public speaking, hosting a podcast, consulting with companies, and so much more.
Know your strengths
Clarke warns that when asked to list your strengths most people go blank or freeze. It’s so much easier to think about our weaknesses. (Congratulations, you’re not alone!). Three things to consider when thinking about your strengths:
- What makes you feel like the day flies by?
- Where do you have more confidence and less stress?
- What makes you feel more engaged, creative, and satisfied with your work?
Knowing your strengths can help you better negotiate and apply them at work, or determine how to apply those skills to a new endeavor.
Close the skills gap
It can be easy to let thoughts like, “I could never apply for X role because I don’t have Y background,” creep into your head. Just because you don’t have a traditional background doesn’t mean your previous experience (work and otherwise) doesn’t count and you should write it off. You have an entire toolkit built of strengths, skills, passions, and values. You may just need to make a bit of extra effort to help others realize what you bring to the table.
If you take the time to break down your skills and strengths in your current role and past experience, you’ll likely uncover the very qualities that are needed for the work you want to be doing. In the process you may also discover the gaps. You can then work to build new skills and bridge the gaps. Having a “growth mindset” means you’re open to learning and trying new things. Keep building your skills as needed.
Build and nurture relationships
Whether you’re staying put professionally or moving on, the relationships you have will be essential to your future success and growth. In the process, build your own personal board of advisors you trust and can turn to for support and expertise.
When it comes to networking, it’s not a matter of only taking and receiving. Get to know others in the process and consider what you can do to help their growth as well. We all have the power to be influencers, connectors, and advocates for others.
Don’t stop there. As you blossom on your own journey, be sure to communicate and share your achievements with your connections. According to Clarke, “it’s like a ripple effect in that they may open up new opportunities for you to shine and take on new responsibilities for you and those around you.”
Make a plan before jumping ship
The “love it or leave it” approach doesn’t mean making rash decisions. It’s about thoughtful reflection and intentional planning. Clarke never recommends diving into something new without taking steps towards what’s next. This also includes making sure you have the financial stability to go along with it. (There are resources to help with that in the book!).
Your plan should also involve knowing what success and workplace happiness look like for you. When you jump too far without a plan, you risk being back where you started before too long. Clarke sees having a workplace happiness plan as choosing the right course, evaluating your toolkit, taking action, and keeping momentum.
Create a ‘portfolio pie’ mix
Maybe a full-time job isn’t for you after all. A “portfolio career” is when multiple strands of work become a cohesive career and individual projects add up to the equivalent or more than traditional a full-time job. This may consist of part-time, freelance, or self-employment.
In addition to diversified income with money coming from different places, it can also mean experimentation with working hours and the kinds of work you take on. While it can sound like the dream, Clarke created a “pie” framework to ensure clients consider where their revenue is actually coming from:
- Star work: High budget work that is delivered in a shorter amount of time, such as public speaking.
- Bread and butter: This work allows for a continuous flow of money and regular, predictable income. It may be a regular external client, or a predictable offer you run.
- Learning opportunity: A situation where you can test out new products or ideas on a new audience. These opportunities allow you to build your skills while gaining audience insights.
- Semi/passive revenue: This involves up front work (and time) that will later generate income without day-to-day investment. (Think: online training or products.)
- Freebies: Freebies are a way to teach others about your services and offerings to help spread the word about what you do. This could be a newsletter, podcast, downloadable, or discovery call.
Embrace the delicate art of being comfortable with being uncomfortable
Clarke suggests “making friends with change” and poses two questions:
- When was the last time you challenged yourself to try something new?
- When was the last time you took a bold step and pushed yourself?
Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, trying something new, or learning/mastering a new skill, there’s nothing easy about it. It’s all a process. The speed at which you move may be different for you than for someone else. However, it’s through doing things that may make us uncomfortable that we reap the biggest rewards.
First you have to try in order for any change to take place. It’s also not until you try that you’ll know if that thing you want is really what you want. Testing ideas and small experiments are essential to determining whether you love your job or should leave it. Better yet, give yourself a timeframe to try things out. This will provide you with insights in order to better make decisions.
Think of discomfort as a way to work out what you really want. Clarke is the first to point out that any transition can feel like four steps forward and two back, but it’s still progress.