I would guess most readers aren’t working for themselves and exchange their time for a paycheck. I came across a parable while off this last week of the three bricklayers:
Three bricklayers are asked “What are you doing?”
The first says “I am laying bricks.”
The second says “I am building a church.”
The third says “I am building the house of God.”
The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling. I think for most of us we find ourselves in a position that when we look back is a series of random events that have lead us to where we are today. While most of us would probably want to be the third bricklayer, I’d guess most, including me, identify with the first or second ones. That’s ok. Providing for your family is a noble thing that we should take more satisfaction in. When we start to align our values with our vocation then we can start to build a career. Perhaps it doesn’t unlock every puzzle piece of your soul as a calling, but a career that you can build on and sharpen through the years is something most of us should be striving for.
As I look ahead to the next year, and reflecting back on the past several years, I had a few things I wanted to share on the topic of employment.
If you are Miserable, you have to find an escape plan
There are a million ways to make a buck or a million of them. If you aren’t the entrepreneurial type, you end up trading your time for a paycheck and ultimately only have limited ability to choose who your mates are on the ship you’re on. Sometimes your co-workers or manager are solid, other ships they are rapscallions. We have to find a way to do our role and integrate into this microsociety, and hopefully find some satisfaction doing this. But sometimes, even if the job has some rewards, the soul sucking that you pay to get those just aren’t worth it. The previous job I had I was miserable. One of my key clients was an awful company with awful people I was forced to work with day in and day out. It was poison in my life. I couldn’t sleep. I self medicated to deal with the mental pain and stress and to escape. Though I was getting paid better than I ever had up to that point, and was well respected in my company, it wasn’t worth it. So I did what I had to, sending out resumes, interviewing at positions that were both in my wheelhouse and were well outside my box. Eventually I returned to a previous employer in an advanced role, but my point is that if you HATE your job, you have to find a way to get out.
All things considered, I ended up making the same amount of money, but I would have left for a job making 10-20% less if it came down to it as life is way to fucking short to end up having PTSD from your work experience, which I believe is more common than people think.
Find ways to be more valuable
Whether you are happy in your job, or looking to change, or perhaps switch careers entirely, finding ways to expand your skills and make you more valuable is a path to a higher paycheck. Most people would like more money, so finding that soft spot where your current skills can benefit from additional training or education, or maybe shadow a colleague in a different department, and then making it happen is a way to make sure you’re employed and find happiness in your job. You can begin to follow your interests as follow-on education, and if an internal position doesn’t take advantage of your newfound skills, you’ll gain them for the next one. In 2015 and 2016 I did a professional development course that required reading assignments, in-person training sessions, and advanced accounting training. In 2017-2018 I’ll be doing an internal management class with a few select others that require additional college level classes and other time sucking obligations that I actually find pretty interesting. But by doing this, I know I’m continuing to be a valuable cog in my company’s machine, and it continues to give me satisfaction as my career advances. This isn’t my calling, but most of the time I like my job. It takes sacrifice. There are free classes you can take at places like Open Education Database. You can start to bolt on skills onto your already solid foundation and either start to take you in a totally new direction, or merge the old and the new into some Frankenstein skillset that is now more unique. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want improvement you have to work for it.
If switching jobs, negotiate
When you are first starting out, you are happy to have a job. When you’re jumping ship like a rat off the Titanic, you’re happy to just get out. But regardless of if you’re going after your first job or your tenth, this is an opportunity to negotiate on everything. Salary. Bonuses. Stock options. Vacation. Working from home. My wife and I have become very adept at this strategy over the years, and while you’re unlikely to get everything you dream of, you’ll come out way ahead than if you simply took the first offer. Harvard Business Review has a nice article on this here, and my experience in this area is as follows.
If you’re a white collar professional like me, when switching jobs it is usually after an interview and formal job offer. After receiving the offer, you know they want you. For small companies you may be dealing directly with the owners or managers, for larger ones, you may be dealing with HR who has done their salary research and have slotted you into a likely category range. You can do your own research at sites like Payscale. The important thing is you have some justification for your request. If they say $60k, do your research and come back with the high-end of your stretch range. Other things to look at are vacation or paid time off (PTO), and other ancillary things they can often flex like bonuses or working from home. After the initial offers over the last several jobs, my wife and I have almost always come back with higher salaries, more PTO, and a more flexible schedule or ability to work from home. Sometimes we’ve gotten everything we ask for, other times there are company policies that prevent them from doing that or a salary slot that wouldn’t match up. It is a negotiation, so using tact and diplomacy is a good idea since you’ll be working with these people and you don’t want to leave a bad taste. We’ve had second round of negotiations, but at that stage either you’re starting to line up or not, so prepare either to accept or cut bait.
If you’ve never come back to the table after the initial offer, it can be an intimidating thought, but rest assured, any company that has been around for a while has dealt with this type of thing a million times, and it never hurts to ask for more.
Be the squeeky wheel
If you’re good at your job, or are a more indispensable member of your team, don’t be afraid to ask for more. Maybe that is more flexibility (negotiating say, working from home one day a week with your justifications), or more salary, or more responsibility. What I’ve seen, both as a manager and an employee, is those employees that are vocal about their raises or bonuses and where they expected it to be. Employers invest a lot in training making sure you’re good at your job, to replicate that in a new hire is a huge time and money suck, so it is usually cheaper to just give in to the employee if they suspect it is enough to have you start looking. Keep in mind though, that you can really only play this card a couple of times before you get seen as the disgruntled employee who will never be satisfied.
Don’t be afraid to change
Finally, don’t be afraid to change. If you aren’t happy, aren’t improving, have low pay, or are otherwise unsatisfied, MOVE. It takes momentum to get over that mental hurdle that your life could be better, but once you do, the dominoes will start to fall. Yes, in the short term the stress can be tough, but before you know it you’ll be on the way to a better tomorrow. Set a plan for how you’re going to make that change – be it a new job or new skills – and then start going at it. The grass may not be greener on the other side, every job has its pluses and minuses, but don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you in a place where you aren’t happy or know you’re not being used properly or are making less money or have less joy than you should.
The non-job stuff
Finally, a few non-work type tips to that may help you both be better at your job, and be happier.
- Get some blood moving in the middle of the day. That means getting outside for a short walk. Getting down and doing some pushups or air squats. Sneaking away for a jog or doing some kettlebell swings in your cube if you have to. You’ll end up more productive (up to 15%) and is a brief pause in the workday to promote new ideas. I’ve been a proponent of the lunch-time workout for most of my working career, and have had great breakthroughs on dealing with acute problems while on lunchtime workout or walk. Additionally, for those time-crunched, it is often a way to get a workout in with minimal impact to family life.
- Find hobbies and purpose outside of your job. Finding some meaning outside of work is super important for that work-life balance thing. While the Millennials I work with have less issues with this than Gen X’ers or Boomers, many of us still struggle to make sure we have a life and identity outside of the four building walls we spend in the office. Knowing you have a BJJ session, or an Improve class, or are going to be working on your garden can help to motivate you to be efficient and gives you joy to get through those shitty parts of your day. Those without this go from work to a blah existence outside of work. Not exactly inspirational. Plus, like the gaining valuable skills above, you never know what will translate over to your work life. Make finding or delving deeper into a hobby a core goal for 2017. At the end of the day a Job + Outside Purpose should equal a complete package and satisfy your soul.
- Get more or better sleep. For me, 2017 has meant no Facebook and less screen time, but especially before bed. Not only is turning off your phone/ipad better in general, but doing so before bed is better for your melatonin production and will help you sleep better. This helps you recover better from workouts, makes you mentally fresh for work or not-work, and is more healthy in general. If you were like me and developed a bad screen-time habit, I get it, but if you have to have it on, at least use a blue-light filter app at least 2 hours before bedtime so your melatonin production isn’t jacked.
It is a New Year, so start some new beginnings to a better future. We spend so much time away from family so we can have a life, so it certainly behooves us to make that time as happy, productive, and meaningful as we can. Start a plan for the next chapter and start the ball rolling instead of being stuck working for this guy where you hate your life: