I Wish You Happiness: In pursuit of professional peace
**Warning – you may quit your job after you read this**
One of the things I learned during the writing of my book, Powered by Happy, is that there are some things, no matter their abundance, that simply won’t bring the happiness we seek.
It’s hard not to be lulled into thinking otherwise. We envy the pictures in our social media feeds…of exotic vacations, lovely homes with beautiful furnishings, covetous social lives taking place at only the trendiest establishments. As humans, we are wired to be strivers. That we want what others have, or envision a bigger, better life is both understandable and exciting. The question is…at what cost?
Sometimes I dread those professional networking events where I hear a continuous chorus of: “So, what do you do?”, “What’s your position?” or “Exactly how big is your company?” Success is so often defined in terms of title, ownership, and “making the big bucks.” In the same way we can be lulled into other bad habits, it’s easy to allow our careers and our pay stubs to be the sole definition of who we are. In reality, there are so many other ways to define happiness.
In my change practice, I have the honor and the opportunity to work with many brilliant and talented CEOs, senior leaders and professionals. They’re people who are driving businesses, leading massive transformations, and overseeing hugely successful companies that employ thousands. By all measures, they’re the epitome of success. Yet, I consistently see a longing for more of something else. That something else isn’t money, power or responsibility. It’s peace.
Believe me. I’ve been there. In my twenties I traveled the world for a job I loved. I was also was a young mother. Let me tell you, I was “handling” it! Then one night in London, I called my daughter Tiffany to say goodnight. Instead of hearing about her adventures staying overnight with Grandma, she burst into tears. “Mommy, please come home,” she begged. I booked the first flight back. Sitting at the airport, still reeling, I told my “tragic” story to a complete stranger. He said to me, “you seem like a bright young woman. But at the end of the day, nobody ever says they wished they worked more. They say they wished they spent more time with the people they love!” A month later, I quit my job. I was determined not to be the female lead in Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The new role I subsequently landed didn’t pay as much, wasn’t as glamorous, but it kept me closer to home.
It was a good reminder for me that “rich” wasn’t about having money. Like all kids, my girls would sometimes ask, “Mommy, are we rich?” My answer was always “Absolutely! We are rich in BLESSINGS.” I learned to focus less on the material things others had and more on the intangible things I was so lucky to have.
During that time, I worked with Clayton, a great guy who was the CFO of our business. Most days, he logged 12-14 hours in the office. From the outside, it appeared that he loved what he did and he never complained. One day, he walked into my office to announce he’d resigned…..because of me. A few months earlier, I’d told him about the stranger in the airport. He said his two daughters were growing up without him and he wasn’t going to be the guy dying with regrets. He left corporate life to become a teacher and he coached his daughters’ softball games. He never looked back. He felt peace at last.
These moves were big and bold, and probably sound completely unrealistic for most people. That doesn’t mean you can’t find your equivalent of a bigger, bolder move toward happiness and professional peace. In my book, I encourage people to take the small step of actually defining what happiness ACTUALLY means to them. This is an easily attainable “micro goal” that everyone can do. Write it down. What would actually make you happy? Then take a hard look at whether your professional life, a need to maintain a certain “lifestyle” or other obstacles are tamping down your dream.
I’ve stood many times in front of groups of hundreds of people on speaking tours and asked ‘how many of you have actually done this?’ The show of hands is always barely 10%. Had I asked how many of you have thought about the kind of person you want to marry, the religion you want to practice, the politics you want to align with or the money you want to make, raised hands would fill the room.
I recognize that getting there is a journey. You may need to take small steps. Instead of quitting your job, it may mean offering to move into a smaller role. Instead of drastically cutting your income, it could require letting a few things go so you can work toward being more financially independent. And if money really matters to you, consider whether the stress of working to earn it means you may not live to enjoy it. My father saved his entire life for a great retirement only to die at 58 of stress-induced cancer. My mother would have easily traded the money for more years with him. Instead, she died seven years later of a broken heart.
I’m finding that our younger generations are wiser about this. They’re more focused on happiness than we ever were. They seem to be less driven to “get to the top” and more interested in flexible work that is values- and purpose-driven. Grinding through 10-hour days at the expense of everything else is unattractive to them. Some brand this “lazy” thinking. I find it brilliant. In our company, the “what” is about delivering performance for our clients, but the “how” is up to our employees. Long hours and long days don’t define success and they can poison the pursuit of professional peace.
I was inspired to write this post because I love being a coach. Nothing is more energizing and motivating to me than seeing people realize their true purpose and find even deeper contentment. I’m grateful for all the mistakes I made in my own career that allowed me to change the course of my thinking and my life.
And all things come full circle.
That same little girl….my daughter Tiffany…..who begged me to return from London that awful night gently reminded me of that not too long ago. Now in her 20s and a professional success in her own right, she became intrigued by the long list of things she found me praying for one evening. She said, “Mom, all you need to pray for is peace. Once you have that, you have it all”.
About the Author:
As CEO of Change 4 Growth, the best-selling author of POWERED BY HAPPY and a frequent global motivational and keynote speaker on topics such as Leading Change, Culture Alignment/Powered by Happy and Women in Leadership, Beth Thomas is truly enjoying growing the organization she started in 2017 after 12 successful years building a consulting practice for another organization and then purchasing it in 2017. She has over 25 years of experience specializing in Transformational Business Change & Readiness, Leadership, Learning & Development, Culture Shaping and Employee Engagement.