This article is not about how to be happy through professional authenticity, how to get more done by running further on empty, or another work life balance tactic. It also isn’t about life lessons, revisiting what your parents did or didn’t do for you, or learning another spiritual practice.
Instead, this is a practical way to be happy at work (the place where most of us spend the majority of our time and energy) by allowing who you really are to be seen and contribute in a way that addresses the issues that no one else seems to be able to figure out.
This article is about how your happiness at work naturally makes you the person everyone turns to for perspective because you understand the big picture, inside and outside of your wheelhouse, making you a vital contributor who brings value as a fixer and a leader, regardless of your title.
This means, you’ll stop fooling yourself into gratitude or conscious courage by unwinding the parts of you that hide, and in doing so, understand why you feel spent, frustrated, and stuck.
This will also give you insights into why businesses recycle the same processes by relabeling them as “new” and why so much effort, time and money is spent to get things done.
You’ll learn how to get to what I hear most from my clients: How to show up, be seen, and move the companies they work for in meaningful ways everyday.
You can use the reality of what is, where you are today to fully live your life at work, and not mentally postpone your “best life” until your next vacation or retirement.
The components of happiness at work revolve around how free you are to fully show up. To identify that, it’s easier to start with who you aren’t, the persona you bring to work. This is the false identity that is dependent on circumstances and people outside of you for a sense of fulfillment, such as your job, your children, your partner, or accumulated wealth and possessions.
This false identity is vulnerable to any destabilizing circumstances that affect how you may currently experience happiness, such as an “end of season or cycle” event (e.g., getting demoted, illness, divorce, stock market volatility) which can cause disruption to your footing, leaving you open to be drawn into more “drama.”
Through a process of elimination, you can unwind this false identity, at the root, to clearly see its filters. When they are removed, you have space to use your time and energy efficiently, because it comes from the place of who you really are instead of being diluted towards what isn’t yours, primarily the fear that governs most workplaces.
An example of unhappiness at work spirals down levels like this:
an unquestioned directive that you don’t agree with causes resentment
to “feedback” on performance misses because your recommendations weren’t allowed since they grated against the directive
to a broad consensus about your reputation based on that feedback that you may not agree with
down to a personalized state of deep disillusionment and tolerance of powerlessness.
Work becomes a metaphor of endlessly riding a bicycle in a roundabout, perhaps peddling faster or slower, in a bigger orbit, as a synonym for change and progress. Leaders do their best to address the situation but the fact is they become as stuck as you are to change.
The harsh truth is this: If you give your power away and “fake” your happiness or strength as a leader or team member, you repel people away from you. Those around you can sniff the forced effort, even if you are not as intimately familiar with your colleagues as you are with those who know you best, like your partner, kids or pets.
You’ll get an idea of how this works by honestly answering these unvarnished prompts – the answers are going to be uniquely yours and will lead you to how to go beyond tolerating your time at work to fully living, in the office and beyond.
These will reveal your essential nature through a reflection of the reverse that you will see plain as day. This may make you feel uncomfortable but I assure you it will be less painful than your last offsite retreat and certainly, more insightful.
1. Where do you give your power away?
Identify the root of where you are controlled through the elements of a false identity.
Where do you hide or go on autopilot because otherwise, it appears to be “emotionally” weak and vulnerable to share your intellect without forcing it into the discussion?
This results in perfectionism to someone else’s standards and speaking the culture talk to the point that no one really knows what you’re saying or presenting. Compare that to when a colleague says to you, as you’re processing how rescript your words, “Just say it. Tell us what you’re thinking.” Imagine the relief if you had that feeling everyday, without the undercurrent of manipulation or fear fear that makes your words open to misinterpretation.
Do you blame someone or something else when the unexpected occurs? What do you secretly disagree with? Do you neutralize the surprise by owning your part in the perpetuation of the issue? You would never intentionally screw up so extend that to those involved in the unexpected.
If you are not permitted to, the result is complete contribution shutdown for genuine calls for input because, based on past experience, you open yourself up to judgement when you put yourself out there. These usually have deep chords that you would never consciously admit.
Examples: This company has no idea what diversity is but it’s too personal to tell them how to do it. / “They’re” missing the biggest requirement and this project is going to fail and nobody cares. / I got passed up for the promotion because [fill in the blank.]
What do you postpone until vacation or retirement? What’s your reason for not having that feeling now?
This can indicate what parts of your false identity’s conclusions are being fed daily that allow you to only be happy and free when those constraints (time, money for mortgage or college, etc.) are removed.
The truth is the undercurrent of those constraints will follow you even when you leave your job.
You may have noticed that in other people who lily pad from company to company or team to team, and see the same pattern of unhappiness following them.
These also indicate what encourages you to play it safe to reduce the risk of judgement that intrude into fully contributing your value and being happy at work.
How do you navigate the unknown? Do you use teeth gritting forced fortitude, dragging others on the pavement with you because you’re given the directive to do it? Are you angry that someone hasn't clearly laid out the path? What parts of you resent the manner or method of the directive? A good indicator of this is an internal, silent eye roll reflecting an uncontrollable moment of “I can’t take any more of this. I want to get away.” before you numb it.
This results in jockeying, front-running for a favorable position when a large event such as a reorganization is planned or a new leader is brought into the fold to fend off being deemed redundant or having no value.
Or, do you take it as an expression of bringing your deepest essence to figure it out, without concerns of self-preservation (I’ll be humiliated if I screw up, they’ll judge me if I extend genuine helpfulness), to get it move through it the “right way” that encourages those around you?
Where do you feel numb? Can you even identify what that is? Numbness results in a defeated outlook of “Why should I? It won’t change anything.” If you don’t know if you’re numb, then think about where in your body you feel a reaction when:
- I say, “You’ve been found out. People know the insecurities you’ve been hiding.”
Whatever hooks you (or pulls you into the drama to where you feel you powerless to stop it), holds the unseen inhibition and gives your power away to your false identity.
-the worst possible thing happens such as finding out you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a prolonged illness or passes away, the writing is on the wall that your employment status will be changed, you’ve been reassigned from a respected boss to one who’s perceived as a sloth, you have been moved to the demotion list, or you will lose all of your accumulated wealth in whatever form that takes.
This is not about being irresponsible and abandoning social causes or your family but who you use as a human shield as a component of your false identity.
How many people use a bad boss as an excuse for their happiness? Although bosses can shift your trajectory or make you feel like they control it, you are the one responsible for managing your happiness and network. Their reputation (as well as yours) will precede them, without you saying a word, if you are focused on moving forward.
How do you feel when you’re hired to do something, the “thing” that you aspire to do, and then are “stabled” because your way, doesn’t fit the culture so everyone chimes in, diluting the effectiveness of your talent? You realize, the company is dispersing the koolaid because it fears what real change entails. Do you tell yourself, “It’s ok, I still get paid. I need this job so I can pay my mortgage, bills, save for retirement,” realizing that a failure to perform, regardless of the circumstances that prevent you from doing so, will be reflected in your reputation.
That may numb the insult but over time, the suffocation becomes unbearable motivating one to make moves with the unseen undercurrent of desperation rather than from a place of excitement of being ready for the next thing.
2. Who are you really?
Pain is a strong motivator because it directly correlates to our linear-driven society of logic - it’s easy to trace back to the root cause. The specifics of happiness are harder to identify because they tend to have a more ethereal, nebulous, unquantifiable quality to it.
If being reliant on external definitions has yielded less than impressive results for your happiness at work, then try operating as who you really are, without abandoning the real world, to do what needs to be done day to day.
Have you noticed the collective resistance to fully living life until something like the worst possible thing you can imagine happens? Sometimes, it takes something big like an illness, divorce, being fired, to wake up to the question, “Why am I here? What do I really want to do?” This big events strip away all the meaningless distractions most people operate under and force the question of, “Who are you really? What does happiness mean to you?”
This is a miss because you waste time living a false identity as the days in your work calendar pass.
To capture who you really are and a clue into how to be happy at work, I use the term North Star. It’s a good metaphor to express what happens when you live your true identity – a star moves and exists without effort and yet is powerful enough to be seen hundreds of miles away. It does so without effort.
It is meant to be epic, to be seen, because why else would you be on this earth? It’s always high so you can see it in times of uncertainty and it’s meant to be owned only by you.
So is your influence, your intellect, and your courage when you operate at work daily from the perspective of your North Star.
This does not imply that you abandon the real world, buy a unicorn, quit your job, irresponsibly ignore your family or obligations, and move off the grid. What good can you do with your life when you turtle in?
You know people when they live by their North Star because of the clarity they bring to any situation, their trustworthiness to tell it straight, graciousness to hear all points of view, and ability to bring everyone into a unified vision without pompoms. They effectively manage upwards and downwards without force or deceit, even when the unexpected happens because they see the world in terms of neutral facts and pivot points.
They “bring it” everyday by finishing their projects on time and under budget, all without complaining or manipulating events, and they naturally make space for others. When confronted, they don’t use deceit or anger to make themselves heard. Instead, their usual demeanor and the truth behind their conviction cuts through the noise.
It’s not a new age trick, but rather, what people sense of you that opens up the confidence to trust and listen to what you have to say, much like the results of the false identity sniff test but in the inverse.
If I were to strip away your job title, your annual goals, your role in the family, your spiritual faith affiliation, support of a social cause, or what you give to charity or society in general, tell me who you are.
As much as conventional wisdom promotes these identifiers as the way to know who you are and how you contribute to the world, they take way space from the essential part of you.
You can see this in people who secretly get their value from work. If something happens in the office, you can literally see them close into confusion and rejection. They take it personally at an unseen, undercurrent level. And if they don’t have a North Star, they look outward to the external factors, like their boss, vengeance from a colleague, for the cause of it.
Without a point of the unwavering truth of knowing who you are, you remain vulnerable to conditions that affect your externalized false identity.
When you own your North Star, you can operate in the world with much more efficiency, ease, and impact. It doesn’t take as much time or energy to “do” it.
When your space is violated, as in the case of being taken out to pasture and “stabled,” someone is hired above you to what you used to do, or when you know you’re being moved to the side, do you feel devalued, insulted, or devastated? This is something that is rarely addressed or supported deeply and sincerely in most change management process.
Most companies are fearful of addressing the compressions these events and how they affect your essential self, at a deep hidden level, “because it’s not their job” to care for you psyche. The true intention of business arises in these circumstances - you’re in a at will employment agreement and you are only useful to them from that perspective. That’s a miss because we all know where loyalty comes from and we all know what it’s like to work beyond our normal limits willingly when we love what we do, understand why we’re doing it and who we are doing it for.
Secretly, what people really want is to not take work personally and for the company to step up to do the right thing for them, even though at a hidden level, the company acts as a patriarch for survival through compensation and security.
If you translate your initial, deep visceral feeling of isolation and insult (and what that means to you personally) into its opposite, you’ll get an idea of what your North Star is at the deepest undercurrent. It reveals the part of you that these external events can’t reach.
3. How do you show up everyday?
Feeling vulnerable or forcing courage to show up as you really are reveals an entanglement of what controls you. Being who you are doesn’t take any mental effort or spiritual knowing. You cannot “effort” your North Star.
Showing up neutrally (which is not apathy) and not having space to be hooked when you fully own who you are, allows you to efficiently operate and do what’s right in a way that is mutually beneficial to all.
Your effectiveness goes up because you don’t waste time on the drama that captures those around you or networking/gossiping to find out information that gives you a false sense of power. You step up to help with clarity which eliminates the time waste that accompanies confusion and the energy drain of stress.
This isn’t about:
forced courage from the manipulation of positive thinking, mantras.
forcing your will onto others to make them make things easier for you.
shellacking over the discomfort of solving problems, at the root, to pacify the fear of stating what the real issue is.
It IS about:
letting your North Star lead you in the way that respects your colleagues’ at their essential self levels.
the place where natural clarity and focus surfaces, combined with your acquired skills and talents, that opens the space and safety to do the right thing within your wheelhouse.
the kind of power that moves, influences, and inspires without force, manipulation, deceit or control.
being seen because it’s so rare.
Here’s what happens when your north star occupies your space.
You liberate those around you, in unspoken terms, and allows people to feel safe so they are free to focus on doing their jobs.
The power of your North Star (like the fear of a false identity), feeds your environment. You have the ability to do this because you do it everyday already. The degree of what you do or don’t believe this is proportionate to the level you operate from your false identity.
The refreshing air of you as one who truly owns your power sweeps those around you up and seen as being an effective associate or leader, regardless of your title.
You “see” people clearly, including your adversaries, because you have a stable perspective of yourself and what’s happening around you. This gives you confidence and compassion when you see how someone is operating in their undercurrent, especially when they stumble. This lets you sincerely tell them without words, “You matter, you’re still valuable. I can’t wait to work with you again.”
The future payoff of partnerships is huge because of the rarity of true generosity and kindness. The space you afford others is easy because you have space for your true identity to cleanly operate. Your North Star naturally makes you different. That’s your differentiating characteristic and how you bring your happiness to work everyday.
When you’re full of true identity, there is no room to get hooked by the blame game. This gives you confidence to move forward boldly.
If you are irritated by what leadership is (or is not) doing, it’s because YOU are the one who is supposed to change the course. That can be as simple as saying what you know needs to be done, without the undercurrent of fear of being judged or self-justification that hidden resentment brings.
You bring “it” into your assigned goals for the year by the way you neutrally see what really needs to be addressed, proposing ways to fix it while doing your job, even if it’s formally “not your job.”
This enables you to let that go to the people whose job it is to address it in a “clean” manner, as a partner, without judgement towards them. People sense genuine thinkers who can’t be dominated on an unseen level, allowing silos to be broken down, and welcome the rare partnership without ulterior motives.
Remember, everyone in your company may be unhappy in their false identities, so you can liberate them by just living your North Star.
It’s no one else’s job to live your true life except for you. This isn’t something you can outsource. When you know how you are and bring that to work, you:
give yourself the space to execute on your assignments cleanly and efficiently…and manage expectations without manipulation so that everyone pivots together. You’ll have the focus to know what to do, instead of waiting for permission or others’ opinions.
That builds the professional reputation as a fixer, a go-getter, a get-it-done cheaper, faster, and without introducing risk.
do not leave room to be controlled or manipulated by others, no matter their title.
are clear about what needs to be done now in the “right way,” considering the end-to-end business cycle, including unintended consequences, even when things are unknown or challenging, which leads you to the next step without distractions of what “could” happen or what others will think of you. This gives you liberation of purpose.
clearly and transparently delineate what you’re accountable for so everyone’s level set and highlights where you need help. You don’t have to do it all. This frees up the undercurrent of fear so you can effectively assist others and allow others to help you, when the unexpected happens, or if someone falls short, without blame. This eliminates any veils and trails of ulterior motives.
become a gladiator for improvements to the larger ecosystem when the merits are valid, without political jockeying, because ultimately, when you pull the string, you see the overall cause includes your interests. It’s like that saying, you’re only as fast as the slowest member of your team. Space opens generously, enough so to include others, when you have the space to know who you really are. This makes you a leader, regardless of job title.
calm the controlling and insecure ones by not biting into their game, at the unspoken words level. This makes you someone that people are overjoyed to see as you walk through the hallways, in the breakroom, in meetings. People want you to help them cut through the b.s.
The end game of being happy at work is the legacy you leave behind from the most mundane tasks to the largest initiatives you lead. It’s not solely about waiting to have your name inscribed on a wall or the college fund you give your children. What people remember is how much of you and your North Star helped make things better.
At the deepest level, living a meaningful life daily at work, is the simplest way to “do good” and live your “why” in life. People are more prone to help you if they like you…the REAL you.
Companies don’t change but the people who work in them do...and when they do, they move the company forward.
Being epic, led by your North Star only happens when you’re really ready for it. When you get to the point in your life, saying so quietly that no one else hears you, “I am done with this old way. I’m ready to be seen, heard, and live my life. I…am…ready.”
This is true when:
You think this takes a long time to be be happy at work, or believe it’s complex and painful to get to that place because you sense you’ve bought into the system that wants to keep you small. If that sparks hope that it’s possible it can be easy and fast to get there, then you know it’s time.
There is a part of you that’s tired, has given up, and you know what you’ve been doing up to now isn’t working anymore, then it’s time.
There is a part of you that doesn’t believe it’s possible (the most common reaction). After I invite you to be honest about what parts of you are frightened by this, you’ll find that none of us are not taught in school what it means to be free and full of our best lives beyond the false identity. That leads to beliefs that it can’t be done or you just don’t know how to do it. If you’re intrigued by this, then it’s time.
If you are reacting to these prompts in a way that allows you to unwind them, keep with it.
If you are stuck or don’t know what to do next, then contact me for a free chat and I can tell you exactly what’s going on for you, where you are based on where you want to go. For my own benefit, I developed a system where people plug in their unique experiences as the primary input to unwind their North Stars.
After 34 years in corporate America, across different sectors, I’ve seen the same patterns in every company I worked for. This made it easy for me to navigate on the surface for many years. When that wasn’t enough, I unwound the root cause of why I was unhappy (again) and began to live my truest life in the most unexpected place of financial services. And, it continues to lead me to this day.
#HappinessInCorporateAmerica #DontFireMeForBeingHappy #NorthStar #FalseIdentitySucks #WorkingFasterIsntChange #NoHappinessUnicorn