How to tweak your current gig until you land your dream job
In this excerpt from her new book 'Emotional Agility,' Dr. Susan David explains how ‘job crafting’ can help you feel more fulfilled at work.
Take This Job and Tweak It
In a perfect world, we’d all have a job in which we were constantly in a state of flow, with the weight evenly distributed on our Teeter Totter between challenge and competence, all the while saving humanity, lunching with glamorous people, and making zillions of dollars to boot.
In the real world, jobs like that are a little hard to come by, and even if such a job awaits, and we’re focused on it like a death ray, we’d still likely have to start a few rungs farther down the ladder. If you’re still figuring things out—like my younger self was when I worked in technical writing—you also might have to experiment with different pursuits before figuring out which ladder it is you really want to try to climb.
So what do you do when you know your dream job is somewhere up there at the top of the ladder, or out there on the far horizon, but for any number of predictable reasons—having to do with money, timing, location, economy—you still need to keep the job you’ve got? You Show Up to what you’re feeling (“I’m bored”), you Step Out and create distance from your hooks (“I can’t do better than this.”), you examine what is important to you and your Want To motivations (“That said, my co-workers are great”), and then you start tweaking, by taking actions that are workable—that will serve you for the long term by bringing you closer to a vital, engaged life.
Tweaking your job, also known as job crafting involves looking creatively at your work circumstances and finding ways to reconfigure your situation to make it more engaging and fulfilling. Employees who try job crafting often end up more satisfied with their work lives, achieve higher levels of performance in their organizations and report greater personal resilience.
The first step to job crafting is to pay attention to what activities—either at work or outside of your job—engage you the most. Maybe you’re not in a management position at the office, but you love coaching your son’s Little League games on the weekends. Can you start an office mentoring program in which you provide advice to younger workers or institute a Take Your Child to Work Day within your company? Or perhaps you’ve noticed that, even though you’re in the sales department, you’re constantly coming up with marketing ideas—some of which have actually been received and implemented by other divisions of the company. Could you can ask to sit in on the marketing department’s weekly strategy meetings? Could you offer to provide your sales perspective to help with the process?
You can also practice job crafting by changing the nature or extent of your interactions with other people. Maybe you have recent immigrants on the shop floor. So go talk to them. Maybe set up an ‘English as a Second Language’ program. Maybe get their cultural perspective on your company’s current product line and use that perspective to diversify the company’s offerings.
You can also change how you see what you do through job crafting. Maybe you just got a big promotion, but now, instead of doing the work you love, you’re stuck doing managerial housekeeping. Are you just another bureaucrat now? Well, that depends on what you see as important. If you value being a teacher and mentor, a leader helping people fulfill their potential and improve their lives, then you can find plenty of creativity in managing people.
Job crafting, of course, has its limits. You can’t just stop doing the task you were hired to do while you experiment with different career options. And it’s possible your company won’t have the resources to help you implement your lofty ideas no matter how great they are. That’s why it’s important to be open about the process. To get ‘buy in’ for your job crafting ideas, you have to focus on ways to get what you want that also create value for the organization. You also have to build trust with others, especially your supervisor, then direct your efforts toward the people who are most likely to accommodate you. Your manager may even be able to help you identify opportunities for redistributing tasks in complementary ways. After all, your dreaded assignment may be your coworker’s dream opportunity, or vice versa.
No amount of crafting will allow you to create the perfect job (as if such a thing existed anyway) when you’re starting from a position that’s just totally wrong for you. Job crafting was never going to make me happy, for instance, as a technical writer in New Zealand, no matter how much I tweaked my situation. Which is yet again is why it is so important to Show Up to all your emotions, and learn from the negatives as well as the positives.
By being emotionally agile, we can use the wrong job to gain the perspective, skills, and connections necessary to get to the right job. In the meantime, we can use emotional agility to make the most, every day, of the job we have now. That’s how we make sure that we’re not just making a living, but truly living.
Excerpted from EMOTIONAL AGILITY by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016, Susan David PhD
Author photo: Dana Patrick Photography