Are you getting the kind of results you want at work? If you’re like many professionals, the answer is no. Perhaps you’re stalled mid-way up the career ladder and you’re not sure why. Or maybe you’re just feeling vaguely unfulfilled. You may assume the problem is your boss, or your company’s culture, or even the industry you’re in. But before you change jobs — or worse, resign yourself to a mediocre work life — ask yourself: Am I really giving 100%?
Many people get stuck in a cycle of sleepwalking through the workday and we don’t even realize it. We tend to look for some outside cause for our feelings of restlessness when the truth is we aren’t fully engaged. What we really need to do is ask ourselves: What do I want my job to be like? And how can I create it?
Most of us work the same way we live. And sadly, very few of us really consider what kind of life we truly want, let alone take steps to make it a reality. We’re living a life that was chosen for us, or one that we made by default, or one that we accepted out of fear that we couldn’t do any better. As a result, we’re unfulfilled, burned out, and unhappy.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We all have the potential to lead an extraordinary life. That includes an extraordinary work life. The vast majority of us could, if we so chose, perform at a much higher level. We could reinvent our job to be more fulfilling.
So why don’t we? It’s because most people see the world through “filters” and rigid belief systems we’ve developed over time. We’re filled with fear, confusion, judgment, and a sense of separateness that makes life, and work, feel purposeless. This blocks our ability to innovate, problem solve, and connect with other people in an authentic way.
The key is to become more conscious. When we do, we can transform every area of life. My book, Uncovering the Life of Your Dreams, conveys this message in the form of allegorical fiction. It follows protagonist Scott Billings as he moves from “sleepwalking through life” to awakening to a new reality that yields unprecedented career success, stronger and richer relationships, and a newfound desire to serve others.
The reader follows Scott through the “uncovery” process: Removing all that is mind-fabricated until only purity remains. During his journey he passes through five “portals” — Awareness, Acceptance, Knowing, Presence, and Freedom. Based on the insights gained through these portals, here are four steps to wake up to the work life of your dreams.
1. Get self-aware. What thoughts and beliefs are shaping the way you perceive your job?
We all have experiences and expectations that shape our perception of the world. We make up stories and interpret our environment based on how things seem to us in the moment, not stopping to consider how these perceptions match up to reality. We are too close and personally invested in the situations and circumstances of our lives to perceive them accurately. We need to strip away ego-generated thoughts and beliefs that keep us from seeing things as they are. Only then can we make intentional adjustments.
Ask yourself: Am I overthinking why things happen in the workplace? Am I assigning motives to people that they don’t really have? Am I making assumptions based on things that may have happened at a previous job? In short, understand that you bring your own perceptions to the workplace, and they might influence how you feel and even how you act in certain situations.
To improve self-awareness, imagine watching your life as though it were a movie. Try to detach yourself from the outcomes and just take in the show. Focus on the things that happen without trying to contextualize or interpret them.
One degree of emotional separation will open your eyes to the problems we create for ourselves just out of a lack of awareness. Don’t let these sap your energy. Be very intentional about taking a step back and realizing what’s real and what’s a product of your mind.
2. Stop judging. Start accepting.
Many of us spend far too much precious time and energy judging the world around us. We get personally attached to what we view as the “right” outcome or the “right” way to handle a situation, so we fight what is. We are also quick to make character judgments about other people when they do things we don’t agree with. This non-acceptance causes most of our emotional suffering. We get stuck in a judgmental mode of thinking and as a result, come to view the world — and the workplace — as painful, unjust, and disappointing.
Have you ever felt really sure that things should happen a certain way, only to later find out you didn’t know the variables? Most of us have experienced this. We get all bent out of shape and take things personally. We are really invested in being ‘right’ when in the end it doesn’t really matter.
Even when a coworker does something you’re sure is a mistake, it’s better not to judge. In reality, we are all trying to feel safe; we are all seeking love. True acceptance is understanding this and knowing that most of the time, the mistakes we judge other people for making are born out of ignorance. We need to get to a place where we can accept all possible outcomes and make peace with how things happen.
When we embrace acceptance as a part of who we are, we release any emotional connection to a particular outcome. The idea is to accept and embrace all experiences that life provides, not judging them as bad — or good. Mastering acceptance allows you to experience life open-armed and with a sense of joy. One way to start to cultivate acceptance is to keep a “judgment journal” so that you can become aware of all the judgments you make on a daily basis.
3. Stop shutting down your intuition.
Intuition is a powerful force that can point us in the right direction. It’s knowing something without knowing how you know it. Intuition comes in many forms. Some people have bodily sensations that inform them — literally, a feeling in their gut. Some people hear a voice inside; some people see images. We need to first recognize our intuitive experiences and “language;” then we need to listen to our intuition and let it shape our actions.
In the workplace, where decisions tend to be more evidence-based, we tend not to speak up about our intuitive feelings. This is especially true when our intuition is telling us to change course, or when it points to a problem in something we believe in. We’re afraid of appearing ignorant or vulnerable, and most of us fear the unknown, so we push forward despite our instincts telling us to readjust. But, when we have a strong gut feeling we should at least mention it.
Get fear out of the equation and tap into your inner wisdom. We need to practice listening to our intuition from a place of acceptance and awareness. Keep an open mind. Don’t look to your intuition for confirmation of what you believe or want to be true, but instead be open to hearing whatever your intuition has to say. Remember: Intuition can help you only if you don’t have any emotional attachment to a particular outcome or result.”
4. Master the art of presence.
Many of us tend to stay so focused on the past and future that we don’t really engage in the present moment. Yet the only time we have the power to really effect change in our lives is in the present. Worrying about the past, future, or anything other than the present moment splits your focus and saps your productivity. In your work relationships, being present helps you actively listen to and engage with the people around you. Being present for whatever you do enables you to perform to the best of your abilities.
Do you ever find yourself going to a meeting and kind of zoning out? You’re present physically but you’re not fully engaged and participating. We’re all guilty of this kind of thing from time to time. It’s not always easy to be fully in the moment, but that’s how you bring value to your job. One solution is to begin a meditation or centering practice. Even a few minutes in the morning will increase your ability to focus and be present for the rest of the day. There are many meditation apps and free videos to get you started.
The secret to a fulfilling life is to accumulate a lifetime of fulfilling moments. It takes effort and intentional thinking to be present for these moments and to not let them pass you by. And yes, that includes being fully engaged in the time you spend at work. Not only does this make you a top performer, it’s the source of the joy and fulfillment you want to derive from your work life.
When you master these four steps, you are finally free to really wake up and start living the life of your dreams. That includes reinventing how you approach your work.
These skills free you to stop going through the motions and get fully engaged in your work. When you do, you may be surprised by how differently you perceive your job. And you’ll finally be able to shape and nurture a professional life you can be proud of — one that brings you true joy and fulfillment.