According to Gallup, 70 percent of people who work in the United States are not engaged in their careers. If this is you--if staying home to scrub your kitchen floor sounds like a better use of your time than clocking into your job--what are you going to do about it? According to experts, either you need a change in attitude, or you need to start trying new things. In other words, it's not the job's fault you're unhappy. You're the only one who can change your situation.
"Find your passion" is terrible advice
It's because being open to new interests is what really opens doors in life. Researchers have found that people who believe there's one thing they're really passionate about end up limiting themselves to that single area of interest (called a fixed theory). People who believe they can learn or develop new skills and interests--completely outside of what they're good at right now--end up seeing more opportunities in life (growth theory). It makes sense: Imagine you believe yourself to be good with words and bad with numbers. In college, you'll probably go for a liberal arts degree and avoid the sciences. Instead of pursuing a career as a nurse or an engineer, which you could have found lucrative and fulfilling, you end up going into public relations or writing.
On this subject writer Stephanie Buck interviewed psychologist Paul O'Keefe, a professor at Yale-NUS College in Singapore and one of the authors of a recent study titled Implicit Theories of Interest. O'Keefe holds the opinion that people don't need to be passionate about their work because in reality not everybody has a true passion and if they do it might be just one.
If you're not happy with your career -- maybe you're just good at something but you don't like it -- a fixed theorist may be more miserable than someone with a growth theory. A fixed theorist might just have thought initially that it was a passion, and they've lost passion for it. People with a growth theory, they're probably able to find some cool things about their job that keep them going, because they're more open. But they probably also have these other interests that they indulge in on the weekend, or at night. Maybe they're in a band and playing pubs, and that helps keep them going and happy.
He likens it to the debate regarding soul mates. If you believe there's just one person who's perfect for you in the world (fixed theory), you're more likely to reject people who are OK, but not fantastic. "But someone with a growth theory might go on a first date and have a nice time and think, "There's something that could grow there. And that growth takes time. So let's go on a second date, and a third date, and a fourth date,'" he says. "It's this expectation that it's a process."
The people happiest with their careers are proactive about finding a balance between necessary hygiene factors and motivators
According to Clayton Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon, the authors of the bestselling book How Will You Measure Your Life, hygiene factors are things like compensation, job security, work conditions, company policies and how your boss treats you. If hygiene is bad, you'll dislike your job. If it's good, you won't be dissatisfied with your job but it doesn't mean you're going to love it, either. To love your job, motivators need to be present. They include challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth.
If you haven't yet found this sweet spot, they suggest getting out there and experimenting with life and various jobs until you find the right balance between hygiene factors and motivators. What's certain: sitting in an ivory tower and doing nothing won't get you anywhere. "Strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities," they write. "What's important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests and priorities begin to pay off."