Quite a long time ago now, I was pondering why people fall into three distinct groups when it comes to happiness with their working life. The first group are happy, energised and driven, whilst there are others, in the second group, who are more ambivalent and stuck in their daily routines and just follow the course. Finally, there is a third group who are clearly unhappy. Their Sunday nights are full of dread as they think about what they must do the following morning and the week that looms ahead.
Why are some of us highly energised and others seemingly without any spark at all?
I started to reflect on my own journey and my very first role. Initially, I started off well but went downhill over a period of time. I realised that there is a pattern that some people get into that potentially perpetuates a life of working doom! Why was I so energised in the first 6 months of my first real job, only to have that energy slowly creep away over the next 6 months, until a further 6 months later, I realised I needed to ‘get out of this place!’ And that’s exactly what I did.
Here is what I believe happens to many of us.
Most of us go into life post-schooling somewhat uncertain as to what we want to do with our lives. This is, of course, unless we have pre-determined a path which obviously some do, but even they can still follow the path I am about to create. When we graduate (from University College or High School) we have this sudden realisation that we need to find a job. We want to go out with our friends, or save up for a car, or just want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. It may be an obvious choice based on the subjects we have just mastered, or it may be one that is a steppingstone until we decide where our careers should go. Either way, day one is exciting (and somewhat anxious) as we move into a rapid learning curve with our new employer. We learn and grow quickly, taking on more complex tasks and feeling like we are contributing to the success of the company that has given us the opportunity.
I believe that for some this excitement and growth lasts about 6 months, until we have an unusual feeling of despair or uncertainty. When we reflect on what is happening, we think externally. We don’t think about the role not being what we want to do, due to the fact that we were excited for the first 6 months, so we start to look for other reasons for our growing unhappiness. We persevere for another 6 months only to find that we are becoming even more despondent. We start to look for more outside reasons for us being unhappy and start to blame our leader or the culture or other apparent causes.
Eventually, we make the decision to leave – but what will we do now? As we have significant experience in this area we apply for similar jobs, but guess what? We now get promoted and paid more due to our experience. This excites us once more as we start a whole new journey in a different company, with different people and different opportunities.
Then about 6 months in, we start to get those feelings back.
Why am I feeling down?
Why am I not as excited to come to work as I was before?
We start to think that maybe this company or this boss is no better than the last, but we hang in there as we are paid well, and we know what we are doing. Eventually, it all happens again, our unhappiness at work becomes too much and we leave.
At this point, we feel we are too far in to pull out now. We are possibly 5-6 years into this industry. We have quite a lot of experience working with two different companies. But guess what? Other companies in the same industry find that exciting and offer us an even better job!
I am hoping by now that you can see the dilemma that so many people face, as they fall into a career without evaluating how aligned it is with their purpose, and it has then become their path. The reality is that way back in our first role when we had that feeling, it probably had very little to do with the company or our leader. Instead, it had everything to do with the fact we were in the wrong job!
I believe that there are many people out there who have fallen into the wrong job rut, and as result, they can become quite successful in some situations and yet still be fundamentally unhappy. Almost locked into a life of surviving the path that they have inadvertently taken.
In coming up with that reflection, I started to ponder why I had a very successful career in supermarkets (for 21 years) and yet I discovered that I too, was in the wrong job. It was this reflection that sparked the analogy of being in the wrong groove. This is how it looks.
I want you to picture an LP record (I know I am going back some time, picture the large, black, plastic circle with a hole in the middle). The record itself has a groove that spirals around and around until it stops at the centre of the LP. Whilst it is only one long circular groove, I want you to now picture a line going from the outside of the record to the middle, which would then make the single groove about 100 individual grooves.
Now think about each one of these grooves as a role/job in life. My belief is that for us to be truly happy and successful in our careers we need to find the groove that belongs to us. The one that is what we are actually here to do, the one that is aligned to our purpose and the things we are most passionate about. The reality is that if we find our groove and turn that into our career, we will always have the passion and therefore energy to succeed and be happy.
So why was I so happy and energetic in a role that was not in my groove? It was because whilst it was not my exact groove, it was really close! I spent most of my 21 years in Supermarkets leading teams. My first team in my early twenties was made up of 35 people, spanning all the way to my last team at the age of 38, which was made up of 14,800 people. What I loved doing was coaching people, leading and working to build great teams. The outcome was twofold. I loved what I was doing, and I was really great at it. But it was when I was 36 years old and running a Supermarket company in Singapore, that had that first feeling of something not being quite right. I didn’t act on it early on, but as time progressed the feeling got worse. This was until I stopped and started to reflect on what was actually creating this feeling of unhappiness.
In that moment, I realised that I needed to do something different, and whilst I was still mostly happy and energised, the path that I was on was not sustainable. I realised that I was not in my groove! But the reality was that I was close to my purpose. Working with so many people that I could support and help to reach their potential led me to realise that I was in fact living out my purpose. It was also then when Corporate Edge (the company I started 24 years ago) was truly born. Well… in my mind anyway (as it was 4 years later when I actually started it).
When we are lucky enough to be close to our groove or even luckier to have found it completely, we will not only be successful, but happy. When we are a long way from our groove the opposite happens. We struggle through our careers and possibly through life, wondering why it is not as energising and uplifting as it should be. It is important that we all look for our groove, find that thing that we love to do, that thing that makes us happy, that thing that allows us to make a real difference in the world.
Have you found your groove? And just as importantly, have you helped others to find theirs? As leaders we have a responsibility to look for people who are not suited in their roles. Instead of making them feel like they are not competent or successful, help them to see that they have a future in another role that hopefully will bring out their passion and their drive. Allowing them to find the self-belief necessary to succeed and be happy, contributing at a far greater level.