Six questions to find happiness in your job

By Stefanie Krievins, coach and founder, The Heart Projects

An expert in leadership development and human behavior, Marshall Goldsmith says we simultaneously need happiness and meaningfulness in our lives in order to be fulfilled.

As nonprofit staff and volunteers, we often have jobs that are meaningful or at least contribute to a worthwhile mission. Happiness requires us to have courage in order to get our own needs met. While we’re busy serving others’ needs, we often put our own happiness at the bottom of our priorities list or allow others’ expectations to define it.

The secret is that only we can define happiness and meaningfulness for ourselves.

In Indiana, according to the most recent figures from Indiana University, our charitable sector is employing nearly 350,000 people, accounting for almost 10 percent of the Hoosier workforce. This is a large number of people working to help and find meaning through some of the most important work in our state.

It would seem that most of us dive into this work wholeheartedly and with noble intention. In fact, when I speak with nonprofit staff and volunteers, and those who want to be in our sector, they consistently say one of three things: “I want to make a difference. I want to leave a legacy. I want to help people.”

Over time, however, we allow work and volunteering to take up too much of our time. We allow others to trample over our boundaries; we trample all over our own boundaries: checking email at 11 p.m., working on Saturday and/or Sunday; routinely working 50 hours a week because we’re saying, “Yes,” to too many projects. While the work is still meaningful, we don’t leave enough time for happiness, and the stress overtakes much of lives.

Learn to say, “Yes,” to yourself.

This very desire to help leaves us putting our own happiness at the bottom of the priority list. Once someone is reaching out for support through coaching, mentoring, or even therapy, they are usually battling one or both of these emotions:

  • Guilt: We feel as if we have betrayed ourselves and those we serve because we’re not bringing our best selves to work. We feel guilty for not loving the work anymore.
  • Blame: We tell ourselves that our bosses, organizations, strategic plan, client, (any external factor) are the cause of stress and unhappiness.

Neither of these are helpful. It is your career and your life, so it must be your responsibility to find your definition of happiness and meaning. No one else can do this work for you. Paradoxically, by finding work that brings you meaning and happiness, you are allowing others to do the same.

As a way to become very clear on what brings meaningfulness and happiness to your career, take a few moments to honestly answer these questions:

  • What are the specific parts of my job that I love?
  • What are the specific parts of my job where I feel overwhelmed and stressed?
  • What is meaningful work? Describe, in detail, ideal work and a mission that you could contribute to.
  • If I could change my job in any way, what would I change?
  • Based on my job now, what changes will I ask for?
  • What’s really stopping me from asking for these changes or making changes myself at my current job?

Those we serve — our clients, members, patients, colleagues, ultimately, the mission — deserve to see you fulfilled and happy. That’s when you’ll complete your best work, have focus and clarity, and make the difference you’re seeking to make.

For another way to think about finding happiness and meaning, read a recent post written by me called, “How to make a difference,” and ask yourself, “What is the work that is mine to do?”


stefanieStefanie Krievins is the founder and coach for The Heart Projects. Through her website, stefaniekrievins.com, Krievins delivers free resources. She also offers personal leadership development programs and coaching for nonprofit staff, volunteers, social entrepreneurs, and all those who want to connect with work that matters. She has a master’s degree in nonprofit management from SPEA at Indiana University, completed credentialed coaching training from Erickson International, and has more than a decade of employment and volunteering in the charitable sector in Indiana and nationwide.

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