She contacted me because she was unhappy at work. She used to love it. The same company, similar work.
I’m guessing that most of us have been there. I certainly have, working for an IT company a few years ago. The first 2 years I was blissfully happy. I couldn’t wait to get up every morning to go to work to figure out the next part of the software solution. Then, the Monday-morning dread set in.
So…what happened? Let’s listen to Nicolene first.
She wrote, “I’m in a very weird, scary, exciting place at the moment….. Maybe a bit late in life but I’m questioning my way forward for my career and life in general.
I know I’m good at what I do and I love the company. Yet I’m feeling more and more that it’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I know the next question is, ‘Nicolene – what would you like to do?’ I think I know – but that’s why I’m on this personal development path… To find out what I would like to do tolive my life to the fullest and not just pay the bills.”
I mentioned to Nicolene that our starting point would be to look at her unique talents, through the Gallup StrengthsFinder online assessment. That gives us a super indication of the things she’d be best at.
Work and our Talents
We’re not talking here about artistic talents like painting, writing or singing.
A talent, as defined by Gallup, is a ‘recurring pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can be productively applied.’
An example would be that someone could have the talent of Communication. In Gallup lingo, that means they are absolutely wonderful at expressing their thoughts and feelings verbally, and they can also help others to find the right words to express their own. Another talent is for instance Input. People with this talent have a constant curiosity, want to find out everything about everything, gather resources (like books, courses, information, even people) and also want to share the resources with others for their benefit. They’re like Google on legs!
Usually when we don’t enjoy our work, it’s a very good indication that we’re not using our natural talents.
Think of the thing you enjoy MOST in life. Feel it in your body as you imagine yourself doing that. Are you smiling yet? Now… imagine you could get paid to do that. Who wouldn’t live a happy life if they got paid to do what they love, enjoy, and are best at? Isn’t that success at its best?
In my own IT career, in the first few years I loved learning new computer languages. One of my talents is Learner. I can never get enough of learning new tools, methods, techniques. Learning comes easy. Then, I was put on a project that was more maintenance based. I learned nothing new, no new skills or technology… I was bored out of my mind and started loathing my work. My talents weren’t applied anymore and I soon knew I wanted to leave and learn something new. Learning energizes me.
Back to Nicolene and her Unhappiness
In our first conversation together, it became clear as daylight why she was unhappy.
A few tears rolled down her cheeks as I asked her about her work. Many days she felt really depressed. She didn’t understand this depression because she’s usually one of the most positive, upbeat people on earth. This downward spiral in her mood was very disturbing for herself and her family.
About a year ago, Nicolene had moved from Durban to Cape Town with her husband where she opened a new branch of their company. In Durban, she often had the opportunity to motivate the sales team, activate them to sell more courses during the last week of the month, train new people on the sales team, and sometimes mentor them for a while. Her formal role was to sell courses and she did extremely well in that.
In the new branch, she was still responsible for course sales. Virtually the same role. But… here’s the big difference.
She was by her lonesome self in the new office. There was no team yet. No-one to motivate, no-one to activate, no-one to train, develop and mentor. No-one to communicate with during the day, and no-one to uplift.
It turns out that her Top 5 talents are Activator, Positivity, Communication,Adaptability and Developer. That means she needs people around her and get them into action, express her thoughts, help them to express theirs, uplift them, and develop, train and mentor them. She thrives when she can do that.
In the old branch, all those needs were fulfilled. In the new branch (same company, same role), virtually none of them were fulfilled.
Extreme unhappiness and depression, wanting to resign.
She still loved the company itself, her colleagues (far, far away in Durban), the ethics, culture and their accomplishments. Yet – in one branch, she could use her talents. In the other, not.
It was crystal clear to Nicolene that the situation could not continue. She would get more and more depressed. She had been thinking of resigning anyway, and just hadn’t fully understood the underlying factors yet. Now, she knew.
If she wanted to be happy at work, it would have to be a position where she’d be able to utilize her talents, with people in her team.
I spoke with her a few short weeks after our initial discussion. She said, “To be honest, some days are better than others. I’m definitely happier! I’m now using the knowledge about my talents to decide whether something is going to be good for me or not. There is still an emptiness inside and some days it feels like I didn’t accomplish anything. Other days, it feels like I’m pressing the right buttons. At least now I know exactly why.
I also went for an interview today! I could talk about my talents easily and they fit in so well with this role. There are some parts of the role I am not yet familiar with. The key is that I could tell them I have no experience in that, I’m willing to learn and the rest of the role has to do with people and that’s where my strong points lie! The main thing was that I could articulate what I’d be good at and talk about that openly and with confidence.
From now on, I’ll be able to look at any advertised post and know easily whether it would work for me or not, because I know what my strong points are!”
A last update. I spoke with her yesterday. Originally, she didn’t think the interview went particularly well. To her surprise, the company contacted her for a second interview. It certainly sounds like they liked what they heard. I bet her confidence in being able to express what her talents are, played a role. Companies love to know they’re going to get the right person for the position.
I find that incredibly empowering. She never has to wonder again whether a new role would be good for her. She’ll know, because she has the knowledge of her strongest talents and can use them as a gauge to make that decision.
Also, if she stays in her current work situation, she can now discuss choices and opportunities with her employers. She knows why she’s unhappy now, and can ask them to implement changes. She’ll be able to let them know that she’s not using her talents, and therefore feel disengaged and unhappy.
Employers want to retain their employees. It’s costly to lose staff and recruit. People are their most precious resource. If employees aren’t doing activities that utilize their talents and strengths, they WILL be unhappy and eventually go somewhere else.
It’s empowering to start taking responsibility for finding out what our biggest talents are, so we can create opportunities to use them. When we use our strengths at work we feel powerful, authentic, energized, on a ‘high’ and look forward to work. Who doesn’t want a Monday morning like that?
If you’d like to find out what your top talents are and how you can use them to find joy in your daily work, please contact me for a conversation.
photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/35948649@N08/16066712189 via photopin (Creative Commons License)