Have you ever been frustrated by your career or wished you were doing something different? I remember years ago driving into work and thinking, “Only 19 more years until retirement.” I was in a in a job where I was not using my strengths and felt completely powerless to change the situation.

I called my mentor to complain about my clogged career-pipeline, pointing out that my boss was not giving me juicy work and the culture was not advancing women fast enough. My mentor sternly advised, “Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers, Tracey, plant your own garden!!”

I had no idea how to plant this garden other than getting my resume together and putting myself back into the job market. I knew I needed to take charge and own my career but struggled with the specifics. I also feared leaving one bad job just to move into another bad job. I kept thinking this slump was just a knowledge gap or a culture fit and I did not know how to solve it without leaving my employer.

I began to research career development models, frameworks and strategies. In time, I became more frustrated as I realized that my career gap – where I was versus where I wanted to be – had more to do with my own emotional fulfillment and that planting “Career Flowers” would not grow if my inner soil was not grounded. Forget the garden, I was stuck in my own career swamp!!

I also discovered in my research that I was not alone.

  • The US Census Bureau claimed Americans will hold 7 to 8 different jobs before they are 30 years old;
  • The Institute of Workplace Health reported that 40% Americans think their job is extremely stressful;
  • Career Builders reported nearly 50% of Americans gained weight because of their current job, with 13% reporting an over 20 lbs. weight gain;
  • USA Today reported over 64% Americans canceled their vacations due to work demands (even when reporting they really needed one);
  • A recent Deloitte study claimed 80% polled were dissatisfied with their job.

The sad news is that we spend 90,000 hours at work over the course of our lifetime. Our career well-being makes up, not only the time in our lives, but the emotional fulfillment we cultivate daily. Gallup correlated that people were twice as likely to have higher overall well-being if they scored high on career well-being.

Like my mentor warned, many professionals are waiting for their boss or company to give them deep meaning and career well-being. I know many people in the corporate world frustrated by not feeling a sense of purpose or in their ability to do what they do best to advance.

Gallup discovered when they asked what strengths people use at work or what they did best, many working adults had a difficult time articulating where they excelled.  Gallup then created the StrengthsFinder Assessment Tool to help people articulate what made them “get up every morning without an alarm clock”.

How many times do you hit snooze button to know there is a career purpose gap?

I took the StrengthsFinder and learned my 5 key talents that I naturally brought to my work. These themes were very helpful for self-reflection. However, there was still something missing. I needed more information about how I was showing up to myself. What did I really want? Was it a bigger title, more money, creative work, connection with my true purpose? And if I did not know my purpose, how would I uncover that aspect of what would get me out of bed with enthusiasm? In addition to not knowing their strengths, I also discovered that many working adults are not in touch with who they are, how they “tick” and knowing their own wants and desires around their career.

To really own my career, I needed clear ownership of my own desires and then the ability to clearly articulate these desires to other people like my boss and mentors.

I thus began the journey to my own emotional intelligence to increase my career well-being.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to notice and name my experience while it is happening. It is articulating what I think, feel and want in a way that moves me to positive actions with self-accountability. Often confused with social intelligence, EQ is the efficacy of the relationship I have with myself and how I self-manage what is happening in my own perceived reality.

Emotional intelligence is the key to getting your needs met at work and re-energizing your career purpose.

I often describe emotional intelligence as the ability to step outside of myself, to see myself with curiosity and neutrality when I am ready to make a change in behavior that serves my highest good.  When I understand that my thoughts, feelings, and wants are all interconnected within my brain – I can change my thinking. The cognitive scientists call emotional intelligence a thinking skill.

At work, we are managing the emotional chemicals in our bodies with thoughts and feelings. Feelings are simply a manifestation of chemicals generated in our bodies caused by our thoughts and actions.

When we are doing what we love, we are thriving at work on dopamine and just the right amount of adrenaline. When we are working in the swamp of despair, we suffer with high amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. And when we are working around people with whom we are connected, oxytocin is our drug of choice and we stay at our jobs through social embeddedness theory (it hurts us physiologically to leave it).

And if you are in a management role, you are impacting the brain chemicals of the people you are leading by your thoughts, feelings, wants and actions. We are all connected by mirrored neurons.

Leaders are pushing emotional drugs to their employees all day, every day.

How do you get out of the Career Swamp?

Here are a few techniques I recommend to alter the chemicals in your brain at work.

  1. Start Meditating Every Morning for 10 minutes. Set a timer and clear away the mental clutter – even if your brain wanders off, do not get up until your timer rings. This is about clearing your mind from unwanted mental debris for better clarity.
  2. Keep a Journal for 2 Weeks on what you think is your “career narrative.” Track how many examples of stories you are running in your brain about what is happening at work, where you think you are stuck, and name the feeling that that that story is generating. Do these stories still serve you?
  3. Re-write Your Story as if you were someone else not in the swamp. How does the feeling change when you take a new perspective on your story?
  4. Write on your Ideal Day as if you were more connected to your career purpose, what would you be doing, saying, whom would you be working around and how would you be feeling? Be as specific as you can.
  5. Take a Strategic Retreat. Companies have known for years that holding strategic planning sessions change business focus and perspective. When I was in my career swamp, I took a weekend getaway to the mountains. I created a vision board with pictures and new ideas for what I wanted around my work purpose. Two weeks after I came back, I got a call from a leader in my company wanting to talk to me about a new role for a new project. Magic? Who knows, but my change in thinking created a new situation to come forward.
  6. Write a Desire List. List as many things as you want for your career and on the other side of the paper, list all the things you don’t want.  As you write, keep asking yourself “what do I really want” and then “what do I really want from that”… go deeper into the emotion. It is never the thing we want, it is always the FEELING that the thing generates that we are really chasing!!
  7. Once you are clear about what you desire at work, practice clearly articulating where you see yourself to others who care about your success. Start with your friends and family. Do not focus on the title only, rather, what are you doing, feeling, and who are you working around. Let your emotional intelligence guide you to your vision.
  8. Act Yourself Out of the Swamp. Try going into work and acting as if things were different. See the people around you differently, dress differently, get your hair cut, wear something new. This action is all about changing your emotional intelligence from the outside-in, which really does work if you are stuck on the inside!!
  9. Once you are grounded in your wants and your emotions are shifted, Ask For Help with your new-found clarity. In a recent study from Lean In, women in particularly, are more likely to be promoted when they asked other senior leaders how to advance their career. Take good notes, and then act on what they recommend.

The relationship you have with your career purpose is directly related to the relationship you have with yourself and your ability to be emotionally intelligent, integrating your thinking, feelings, and actions. You step into your power when you can change your reality by changing your mind to increase your purpose well-being.  As Oscar Wilde was quoted “all of us are steeped in a swamp, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

The emotionally intelligent one is choosing where to look!!