How to REALLY address Job and career dissatisfaction

A recent Harris Interactive survey* uncovered the following statistics on American job satisfaction:

Clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement in this picture. 

Typically people conclude that a job or career mismatch boils down to a mismatch of passions/interests, or skills/ strengths. But at least as often I find that clients’ dissatisfaction stems from three other things: the failure to identify what really matters to them in their work life, the disfunction that has crept into the web of relationships that are involved in most kinds of work, and the hidden “messages” imparted by family and society that limit one’s sense of agency.

Identifying what really matters in one’s work life is far more involved than what is normally revealed in a typical career test (a key reason why I hold such tests in low esteem). The best vehicle I’ve found for discovering the underlying truth about this can be found in the book Designing Your Life, described by me in this post:

But even this invaluable resource doesn’t really address what to many is a whole other set of critical issues: while the majority of my client work centers around job and career, I am also a marriage and family therapist, and my years of training and experience provide a perspective on dissatisfaction with work life that has interesting parallels with relationship issues.

Simply stated, the vast majority of jobs are embedded in a network of relationships, whether those be relationships with bosses, co-workers, subordinates, clients, Board members, and/or stakeholders. Diagnosing the disconnects in those relationships and prescribing appropriate corrective steps have enabled me to dramatically boost the satisfaction and fulfillment of many of my clients.

The factors governing the success of what I’ll call personal relationships (within families, with a significant other, or with friends) are complex. It’s not simply a matter of whether the other parties in the relationship are “right” for you. It’s recognizing the multitude of factors – ranging from the personality types of those with whom you’re in relationship  to their embedded notions of what’s most important in those relationships (affection? emotional support? shared vales? security? etc.). Becoming aware of these factors, and making adjustments that better align you with your relationship partners (whether in work or in personal life), Is  key to more success in navigating them and having them serve as motivators rather than as demotivators.

Finally, in order to fully address problems related to work, it’s critical to uncover the hidden influences, narratives, and biases that shape your reactions and interactions with the many variables that can profoundly impact  your satisfaction. So often I hear expressions of discomfort like “I feel like I’m an impostor,” or “I’m uncomfortable putting myself out there,” or “I just don’t feel right taking credit for things.” Many of these come from messages absorbed in the formative years of childhood or adolescence, others come from unconscious adaptations of society’s unstated but powerful “rules” around gender, age, or race.

I characterized these influences as “hidden” because very often they’re completely invisible to those trapped by them. But an objective and trained observer can spot them pretty quickly. Having the privilege of holding such a position vis-a-vis my clients explains part of why Ive been so helpful to so many who come to me dissatisfied with their jobs and their careers.