4 words to ban from your life – and transform your career

This article was updated on August 16, 2021. 

There are four simple words that are eroding your life, and stunting your career.

Four simple words, seemingly meaningless when uttered, as if they didn’t have the power to stop time and kill dreams. They are comfort coma-inducing as they insidiously invade your psyche and innocently usher you down the path of procrastination justification, all the while portraying you to your peers, direct managers, and corporate leaders as disappointed, unfulfilled, and malcontent.

Four simple words: “I’ll be happy when … ”

All of us get but just one fleeting whisper of time on this big, juicy, beautiful planet. Why not demand a big, juicy, beautiful life too? The average person lives 27,375 days. That’s 657,000 hours. Why not love every one of those hours, whether you are at work or at play?

  • “I’ll be happy when I clock out.”
  • “I’ll be happy when I’m on vacation.”
  • “I’ll be happy when I get that promotion.”

What on earth are you waiting for?

In even considering these words, you hand over your power and your happiness to forces outside of your control. You show those around you that you’d rather be anywhere but where you are, working with anyone but your current teammates, and working on any project than the one right in front of you, the one which might mean nothing to you, but certainly does to others. You might as well hang a sign around your neck that says, “Thank you, next.”

If your work isn’t helping you live the life you want to live, then you need to find yourself different work – work that contributes to what matters to you. It should reflect the values you wish to live or the lifestyle you’d like to afford. It should help you build your career. It should help you manifest your values. It should have a purpose for you.

In praise of ambition

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be ambitious and dream big dreams. It’s just the opposite. I’m a firm believer in ambition, a word that has gotten a bad rap of late. Part of the reason we’ve lost ownership of our unspoken dreams is that we’ve been persuaded to allow our ambition to be subsumed into something that is more socially acceptable: faux humility. We don’t speak aloud our ambition of tomorrow, so we silently stew in the unhappiness of today.

Think for a moment about why “you’ll be happy when…” Why do you want to get ahead? What do you want to do with that power? Do you want to change your family, your community, your country, your world? Do you want to make a mark, large or small, on this earth? What kind of life do you want to live? How do you want to raise your family? Do you want to give back? Will an elevated position, an increased salary, and a voice of leadership help you do this? Of course it will. And that makes it no longer just your ambition, but your responsibility.

Figuring out what matters

For your work to matter – for you to be happy “now” and not “when” – it needs to be attached to something that actually matters to you. There is no day in the week called “someday” so stop waiting for it to roll around on the calendar. Instead, decide what matters to you now.

In order to figure out what matters to you, you’ll need to stop listening to everyone else’s version of what matters to them. All that does is put you on a treadmill that speeds up, faster and faster, but gets you nowhere. And, that’s because the problem isn’t how we achieve success, it’s how we define success. We can work endlessly, filing all the right check boxes of generally accepted, externally defined success, but still feel empty. We still feel limited.

And here’s why: You can’t be insatiably hungry, or deeply inspired, or happily fulfilled by someone else’s goals. In order for your working life to feel right for you, it has to actually be right for you. So, here’s what that means for you: Being limitless comes not from achieving externally defined success, but achieving consonance, where what you do matches who you are (or want to be).

That requires doing something different. The first step in throwing off the shackles of everyone else’s expectations and becoming limitless is to ignore everyone else’s definitions of success and create your own, owning how much importance you place on, and from where you derive, the four elements of calling, connection, contribution, and control.

  • Calling is a gravitational pull towards a goal larger than yourself—a business you want to build, a leader who inspires you, a societal ill you wish to remedy, a family you want to grow, a cause you wish to serve.
  • Connection gives you sightlines into how your everyday work (whether paid or unpaid) serves that calling by solving the problem at hand, growing the company’s bottom line, or reaching that goal.
  • Contribution is an understanding of how this job, this brand, this paycheck contributes to the community you want to belong, the person you want to be, or the lifestyle you’d like to live.
  • Control reflects how you are able to influence your connection to that calling in order to have some say in the assignment of projects, deadlines, colleagues, clients, or other use of your time; offer input into shared goals; and do work that contributes to your family or career trajectory and earnings.

To figure that out, I’ve created a short quiz that will build a framework for you to follow to find and conquer your own version of consonance, determining how much calling, connection, contribution, and control you have and you want so that the “what you do” matches the “who you are.”

Here’s the good news: there are no wrong answers. The only right answer is the right answer for you. And the only one who gets a vote in figuring that out is — you guessed it — also you.

Laura Gassner Otting is the author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. Want to live a limitless life? Take her quick quiz at http://www.LimitlessAssessment.com to see what’s holding you back, and what you can do about it.

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