“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t walk run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means keep moving.” Martin Luther King Jr.

When Jack was five, one day he asked me, “What’s the meaning of life and the purpose of meaning?” I was flabbergasted and did not have a clue how I was going to answer this, so I asked, “What do you think it is?” Jack responded, “Happiness.” The boy’s a genius, I thought. I asked what made him think that. “I saw it on the Simpsons,” he replied – proving the old adage that wisdom can sometimes be found in the unlikeliest of places.

But what does happiness mean in the world of WorkLives? Of course, there is not one definition, but rather a general consensus that little things count and can make a difference. Happiness is linked to motivation, and in WorkLife people are often happy when they are trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach, and are taking steps to fulfil their aspirations and dreams.

A Case Study

Patricia’s Story: The Beauty of the Little Things in Life

Take, for example, Patricia, whose workload was causing her to feel completely unhappy in her job. She was unable to stay on top of things, and as a result was working long hours, having little quality time with her husband, and was constantly exhausted. Something had to shift, but it did not happen overnight.

She began by taking a lunch break. Not a full hour, but enough time to get out of the office, walk around the block to a nearby park and enjoy her lunch al fresco. This small shift energised her for the afternoon, and once a week her husband joined her, which reminded them of when they were dating and would often meet like this. These little changes had a big impact on Patricia’s happiness, and the solace she enjoyed helped her workload seem less daunting and more manageable.

A Case Study

Wayne’s Story: A Life Lived with ‘What If?’

Wayne was pretty happy with his WorkLife, and he had a lot to be happy about. He lived a good and fulfilled life in many ways, but he also lived with a ‘What If?’ You see Wayne’s passion from a very young age was writing. He followed through with this by studying Creative Writing, but on completion of his degree he took a job in investment banking. His father was instrumental in his decision and choice of career, since he did not believe Wayne could get a ‘real’ job within the arts. He did not believe it would allow him to do well in life, and he did not believe that it would allow him to provide for himself, and in time for his family. His father also wanted him to continue the family line of investment bankers, which went from Wayne’s father, back to his grandfather and great grandfather.

When I met Wayne he was at a turning point in his life. He had done really well in his career, which allowed him to be in a secure and stable place financially. He was not in a position where he could stop working, nor did he want to; but he was at a point where he wanted and needed to consider where he should go next in his WorkLife.

External influences had brought Wayne to this point. The bank he was working at had been taken over. He had been offered a new position, which was a higher in terms of responsibility, with which came a higher salary, as well as an increased demand on his time since he would be required to travel extensively. 

There was a lot about the takeover that caused Wayne concern: the bank had a reputation for being very aggressive in how it operated; it was known to be ruthless in how people were managed, and what was expected of them; and it was all about profit to the detriment of employees. Customers too, and small local businesses were not supported in the way Wayne’s current bank operated, they were not known for having a good community ethos. All of this flagged up a lot of concerns for Wayne. The reality was his WorkLife was about to change, and his happiness was potentially under threat. He needed to make a decision as to where he wanted and needed to go next at this turning point.

He considered he had three options:

Option One: To accept the new position he was offered. This was his least favourite option, and he knew he needed to act quickly to find other options. 

Option Two: This caused Wayne to reach out to Sean, a trusted head-hunter, whose services he had engaged over the years when bringing on new employees. On his behalf Sean began to have conversations with community-based investment banks within a short radius of where Wayne currently worked and lived. From this an opportunity came to light for a bank which was less than an hour’s drive away. Of course, this meant a two-hour daily roundtrip, which was not ideal. But the ethos of the bank and its values were in line with Wayne’s own. There would need to be a trade-off in terms of time travelling; however there would most likely be an opportunity for Wayne to work from home, one or more days a week, which would alleviate this.

Option Three: Would be for Wayne to leave banking to pursue his passion in the arts: to get back to writing, and to try to establish himself in this way. To follow his ‘What If’. His wife was fully supportive of this. She worked part time as a teaching assistant, a path she had chosen when their son began school to allow her WorkLife to fit her wants and need to be there for him. Their son had now graduated and had begun his own WorkLife.

There was time pressure for Wayne in needing to make a decision. With Option One being a firm offer, he managed to buy himself two weeks ‘thinking time’ by taking annual leave, which he had accrued. This allowed him the time and space to explore Options Two and Three. Wayne set up an initial exploratory meeting with people at the community-based investment bank. During the two weeks Wayne intended exploring what establishing himself as a writer entailed.

Wayne felt an instant connection with the people he met at the bank. He really liked everything about them: how the bank served the community; and how it helped individuals, as well as small to medium and large businesses. This feeling was reciprocated. Wayne was open about not wanting to commute daily, and they asked about other options he was considering. He let them know about the offer from his existing bank, and also that he was also considering a career change into the arts. 

Both Wayne and the people he met with wanted to find a way of working together, and this brought about a fourth option: consultancy-based work two to three days per week. Wayne would consult with businesses to support their business growth. Helping people and businesses to grow was a part of his work that he really loved, and it allowed him to draw upon his creativity to find solutions. It would require him to build relationships, which was something else he loved. This allowed him to get to know the people behind the businesses, their aspirations and challenges. He would also be involved in community-based projects: a new motorway infrastructure meant that the town would now be by-passed, and the business community needed help in putting them back on the map, giving people a reason to visit. This supporting of his local community was something that really excited Wayne. 

Working two or three days a week meant that Wayne could get back into writing. His exploration of art as a new career path had allowed him to realise he was not ready for that – not yet anyway. He was not actually sure if he even wanted to. However, he did know he wanted to bring writing back into his life, and to make time for this. To be in a position to explore it properly, he needed it to be more than just a hobby.  He wanted it to be something that he committed to doing, and this is exactly what he did two days a week: he began to develop his collection of work, which included short stories and poems. His intention was to publish his work. He considered this would allow him to make an informed decision in time as to whether he wanted to follow his life-long passion to work full-time as a writer; and importantly it would resolve his ‘What If’ that he had been living with for all of his WorkLife.

In pursuit of maintaining his happiness, Wayne listened to his gut instinct. He followed this through by exploring the reality of his options. He instinctively knew that he did not want to take Option One; but the reality was he still needed to work, and before he could turn this down he needed to have something to replace it. He knew Option Two was really good, and he also knew he did not  want to take it as it initially stood. He knew this was his time to ask for what he really wanted. He came to know that he was not ready to take Option Three – at least not at this point.

All of this allowed him to know that he needed to find a compromise. He did this by reflecting on what would make him happy, what would bring happiness to his life on a day to day basis, and what would maintain the happiness he had experienced in his WorkLife to date – the happiness he has carved out for himself. He knew what he did not want, and what would detract from his happiness, and indeed perhaps even destroy it: that was Option One. He knew that he wanted to make the best decision at this turning point he found himself at, that this was the time to consider his ‘What If’, and that he was in control of knowing what that was meant to be. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story

Achieving happiness requires the same approach as training for a marathon. It is not instant, but rather is a gradual build-up of training that needs to be done consistently. Marathon runners will set targets to allow them to reach their ultimate goal of running the marathon. Happiness is like that. Build and maintain happiness in your WorkLife story.

Your WorkLife Happiness Assignment:

There are two ways you can approach this assignment depending on where you are starting from. If that is a place of unhappiness, as was the case for Patricia, begin by asking yourself:

What’s not going well in my WorkLife, that’s impacting my WorkLife happiness?

For example, Patricia could not seem to stay on top of things, and as a result she was working long hours, having little quality time with her husband and was constantly exhausted. 

Or, if you are starting from a place of knowing that circumstances or external influences are going to upset the status quo of your WorkLife happiness, as was the case for Wayne, begin by asking yourself: 

What are the potential threats to my WorkLife happiness?

For example, for Wayne, the ethos of the new bank in how they treated employees, customers and the local community was completely against his values. The extensive travel required would mean an increased demand on his time.

Then consider your To Stop Doing List, or your To Not Do List (opposite of a To Do List). Things to stop doing or to not do because they are keeping, or will keep, you from, for example: time with your family and friends, your creative pursuits, or from doing something that is important to you.

For example, Patricia stopped working through her lunch hour; she stopped eating lunch at her desk. And Wayne did not accept the job outright; instead he bought himself two weeks ‘Thinking Time’.

Then consider how you are going to replace what you stopped doing or not doing with something you want to begin to do.

For example, Patricia got away from her desk, took a short walk to the park, ate her lunch alfresco. And Wayne used the two weeks ‘Thinking Time to explore his other options.

From here identify something you really love doing. It may be something you have done in the past, or did recently. Then consider ways you can do more of that thing.

For example, for Patricia it was having lunch in the park one day a week with her husband. While for Wayne it was negotiating a new WorkLife, which incorporated the aspects of his work that he enjoyed, while also giving him the time and space to explore his passion to work as a writer, to resolve his long-time ’What If’ question.

These are simple steps for bringing and maintaining happiness to your WorkLife.

The Moral of this Story

Recognise the greatness in everyday situations, and identity the small steps you can take to have more of these in your WorkLife.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Start paying attention to all the things you do every day, week or month, and ask yourself what you want to do more of, or less of, or what you do not want to start doing at all.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

A simple way to do this is to ask three insightful questions:

  1. What is going well?
  2. What is not going well?
  3. What is required for a happy future?

Words of Wisdom

Do one thing today that gets you closer to living your WorkLife from a place of happiness. Whether that is starting or stopping something, or not starting something. You can make it a resolution: remember you can start a New Year’s Resolution no matter what day of the year it is.

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank You. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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