Finding happiness and living your story: a daily checklist

Just like life -- every day can reflect your entire life story. Photo via:

Just like life — every day can reflect your entire life story. Photo via:

It has been quite a year of transition for me. I finished my marketing degree, extended my work at Concur and moved into my own apartment in Oakland. Those are all fantastic developments! Of course, this welcome lull in intense demands on my energy has afforded me time to focus on higher-order needs again.

Lately I have been thinking about what the perfect day looks like for me. I’ve been thinking about balance and how an excess of any one thing quickly chips away at feelings of happiness and contentedness. For example, if I work constantly for several days, I crave down time. But after spending an entire weekend on the couch watching television, I still end up feeling unfulfilled.

Where is the sweet spot?

I’m thinking the answer has to be balance. Isn’t balance always the answer?

Now, I know I’ve come to this realization before, and even wrote about it a year ago for Jayme Soulati’s blog series on happiness. (So there’s another truth for us today – realizations come and go and everything is a process.)

But I tried an experiment yesterday. I asked myself the following question:

If this were my last day on Earth, what would I do?

This is what I wrote:

  • Visit the Farmer’s Market — leisurely.
  • Talk to someone I love.
  • Have a meaningful human interaction.
  • Help someone.
  • Take care of my business — close loops.
  • Take a nap.
  • Enjoy some exercise and feel physically tired and ready when I close the book at the end.
  • Oh, and LAUGH.

And then I set out to do it.

One day at a time — over and over again

Looking at my list, I found I had created more than a blueprint for a final day on Earth. This list is a recipe for making any day feel happy and complete. And extending that idea outward, isn’t a life well-lived simply an accumulation of days that feel happy and complete?

Another piece of the puzzle — tell your own story

It occurs to me that another way to approach the goal of structuring life for maximum contentedness and satisfaction is to view it from a storytelling perspective. If your life is one long story, then each day should be able to function as a standalone episode mirroring the arc of the bigger story. Maybe, just as Zen teaches us to live and die with each breath we take, we can approach each day as a whole and complete cycle.

And similarly, if we view this through the paradigm of communications strategy – which is a little nerdy, I know, but it’s obviously something I think about all the time – when we know the story we want to tell, we just have to align the majority our actions with that story to give it life.

So, I think with some minor modifications, I’m going to work on using yesterday’s list as a framework for today, and tomorrow, and all the days after that.

By the way, I accomplished all of the items on my list yesterday except the exercise one – unless the bike ride to the Farmer’s Market and my daily dose of stair-climbing counts. Let’s just say it does. And yesterday felt great.

What do you think about all this? What would you do with your last day on earth, and can you use your answers as a recipe for steady contentment?

Career changes are GOOD news in the new economy: 3 ways to make an easy transition

Are you happy in your career?  Have you ever felt like maybe you wanted to follow another star toward more happiness in your work life?

Today I was watching a live video chat featuring Porter Gale and DJ Waldow from Marketo. The talk was mostly about technology and how it is changing the marketing landscape, but Porter said something else about working and careers that really resonated with me. She said that as a marketer you have to ask yourself if you are really passionate about the product or service you are offering. If you don’t feel passion, she said, it’s time to take a step back and think if you need to be working on something else, because you need that passion to fuel the best work possible.

Her advice crystallized some thoughts I’ve had during my post-school job search. I’ve noticed lots of job descriptions that demand “rockstars,” “gurus” and people “obsessed” with data, email marketing, A/B testing, or one of any number of tactics. In some interviews that I’ve had, the job description has been tossed out the window and the interviewer has turned their focus squarely on me and where my interests and passions are. I’ve heard, “let’s just talk about you and what gets you excited, because I believe people do their best work when they are doing what they love.”

This was surprising and disorienting to me, I have to admit, and those interviews made me more than a little uncomfortable at first.

The career game has changed

I think my confusion stemmed from the fact that the job market and the structure of business have changed so much since I came of age in the 1990s. I’m from Generation X, the first generation that was told it probably wouldn’t be as well-off as its parents’ generation. Pensions dried up, healthcare costs skyrocketed, and the economy bucked jobs like a bronco on multiple occasions. I thought that you had to be willing to take any job for which you had the skills, and those skills would be more than enough for the employer. I came of age thinking that a career change was a luxury. I come from the worlds of “Reality Bites” and “9 to 5” before it.

But those worlds are definitely long past, at least in the knowledge worker category. Now people are expected to have multiple jobs spanning more than one career.

Welcome to the new hiring criteria

Times are still tough, but a massive shift has occurred, at least here in the red hot Bay Area technology job market. Hiring decisions seem to be made based on exact fits or specific potential. The economy here is booming, but it’s still an employer’s market — there is still fierce competition for each open position. You need the skills, the experience and the “obsession” with the job function as well as the product or service you’re working on. You can’t just be the President — you kind of need to be a client, too.

So, this probably sounds a little scary to a lot of us. After all, a huge percentage of American workers are unhappy in their jobs, and changing careers can be a daunting task, even if you haven’t had it drilled into you that it’s a luxury you can’t afford.

But here is the big, beautiful silver lining — these changes mean that you are only doing yourself a favor if you move toward a career that really resonates with you and makes you happy. Having begun reading Porter Gale’s book, I’m certain this is the place she was coming from in the chat this morning. Maybe these changes are the permission that so many of us need to reach out for happiness in our careers instead of telling ourselves the story that work is never fun and that weekends are when life really happens. I see so many people living that TGIF life, and I have always, always told myself that I don’t want that to happen to me.

Moving on to a career you love is a win/win for everyone

When you move toward your happiness, you open up your position to someone who is “obsessed” with the tasks that have bored you to tears. You give your company the opportunity to hire a person who can propel the business forward. And most importantly, you open yourself to the possibility of true happiness and fulfillment every day of the week, not just Friday evening through Sunday morning. You make it more likely that you’ll experience quick success in your job searches. Changing careers can be daunting, but look, I did it! And I know others who have done it as well.

It could be a separate, more in-depth post on its own, but here are some beginning thoughts about how to make a change in your career:

1. Research and do internal work.

You’ve got to know where you’re going! Seriously, read Porter Gale’s book for help on figuring out where your north star is. I haven’t finished it yet, but I can say that the first few chapters will motivate you to make positive changes that will move you forward. Maybe see a career counselor, if you have the resources. Ask your friends what they think really gets you excited. They’re the ones who see the change when your eyes light up if conversation turns to working on cars instead of HR…or vice versa.

2. Take one class at a college each semester.

It can be daunting to throw everything off at once, but you can get the ball rolling by studying what you love while still in your current career. Your happiness will improve and momentum will build if you set small goals like finishing one class on the way to your grander vision.

3. Volunteer!

When I first moved to San Francisco, I made my first career change. I wanted to switch to working in non-profits from financial information publishing. I started volunteering like mad. There are organizations in every town and city that would accept your help — and write you a fantastic recommendation on LinkedIn afterward. Non-profits need all sorts of help in nearly every business function, so building experience while helping your community at the same time is another win/win.

You’ve got this!

For a lot of us who came of age in a very different era, it can be hard to give ourselves permission to go for exactly what we want in a career. But the new reality is that you must be invested in and stimulated by your career in order to be attractive to employers during your next job search. I did it, and others have too. Reach for happiness!

I don’t know about you, but I think these changes are exciting, and I hope it’s a sign that Americans are tired of subscribing to the idea that work is miserable, you pay taxes, drink beer on weekends and nap by the Gulf in July, and then you die. That is bleak. This new reality is bright!

Have you made a career change? How did the process go for you? Have you found job searches easier since the change? Let’s talk in the comments below!

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Lesson learned

I learned a lesson today. Read the rest of this entry »

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My name is Dwayne Alicie, and I am glad you are here.

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