Podcast: The New Rules for Career Happiness

Kerry-Hannon-270x300Why count down the hours of the day or the days to retirement when you could reinvigorate your workday, transforming the daily doldrums into a daily dose of enjoyable activity? In this 30-minute teleclass recording, New York Times columnist Kerry Hannon focuses on the little things that can make a big difference in how we feel about work. Click Play to listen or read the full transcript below.

In this teleclass, Hannon discusses the routines, habits, and thought patterns that, over the years, may have turned a dream job into a drudge or, worse, a nightmare. Changing these habits and attitudes is simple, and she will show you how to identify the little things that will make work enjoyable and engaging. Using these simple techniques, you can adopt the attitude that will keep you happy and that might just lead to bigger and better things, no matter what stage of your career you are in.

Kerry Hannon is an award-winning, bestselling author and Washington, DC-based career, retirement and personal finance expert and a popular motivational speaker. She authored Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, What’s Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and the best-selling Great Jobs for Everyone 50. She is currently writing Working After 50 For Dummies (Wiley) with AARP to be published in the fall of 2015. Hannon is a columnist for The New York Times, “PBS Next Avenue” and AARP. She is a contributing writer at Forbes and Money, and is a Metlife Foundation and New America Media Fellow on Aging. Hannon has spent more than 25 years covering all aspects of personal finance for leading media companies, including USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. She is AARP’s career expert.

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Conferences for Women

The New Rules for Career Happiness

Guest: Kerry Hannon

Interviewer: Karen Breslau

Karen: Welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass, “The New Rules for Career Happiness.” Our guest today is Kerry Hannon, an award winning author, speaker, and expert in all things career, retirement, and personal finance. She s AARP’s career expert and author of the best -selling book, “Great jobs for everyone 50+. Finding work that keeps you happy and healthy and pays the bills.” Kerry will release her newest work, “Working After 50 for Dummies,” with AARP this fall. In today’s session Kerry will discuss the routine, habits, and thought patterns that may have turned a dream into drudgery or even a nightmare. Changing these habits and attitudes is simple and she will show you how to identify the little things that will make work enjoyable and engaging again.

We’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation @PennWomen, @TexasWomen, @MassWomen, and in California, @wtrmrk, for Watermark. And a reminder, today’s class will be available as a podcast on your conference Web site. If you registered through Event Bright you will receive an email telling you when the podcast is available. You can also register to win a free autographed copy of Kerry’s book. We’ll have details later in the class. And now, let’s welcome Kerry Hannon.

Kerry: Hi there. It’s terrific to be here. I’m Kerry Hannon. And this is absolutely one of my favorite topics to talk about, how people can love their job. And so in my new book, “Love Your Job. The new rules for career happiness,” I kind of pull it all apart and find ways to help people find joy in their work again. And the truth of the matter is most people aren’t in love with their jobs. Just four in ten people say they’re highly engaged in their work according to a recent study. But I believe there are a few ways you can fall in love with your job even if you don’t like it right now.

And so when I hear people whining about their jobs or their boss, I kind of want to shout, you know, “Suck it up. Do something about it. Stop being a victim.” If you can make it work where you are right now you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble job hunting down the road. So I’m going to first kick off with just kind of ten quick ways that I think you can start thinking about how you can fall in love with your job again. And then I’ll do a slightly deeper dive into how to refresh your attitude, which I think your attitude is truly the keystone to your love your job action plan.

So let’s start. Number 1, focus on what you like about your work and ramp it up. This will give you the strength to sort of tackle all those tough parts. So here’s some things that you might actually like about your job, your co-workers, perhaps the stimulating assignments you get from time to time, the opportunities for learning, and kind of the respect you get from your colleagues, and finally the perks in your job. Think about some of the good things that happen at work – and they do give you some nice perks.

Number 2. Make a change. Even a small one can make a difference in whether you love your job or not. The truth is, when I talk to people, the thing that really is getting them down is that they’re bored. Boredom is often at the root of unhappiness at work. Most people don’t recognize it as boredom, but that’s frankly what it is. So take a single step towards modifying sort of what’s getting you down. Challenge yourself. Look at one area that would give you more joy at work and focus on it. Drill down. See if you can make that happen. And if you persistently add worth to what you bring to the job chances are your boss is going to start noticing it and you’ll get rewarded for it.

So the simplest way to do this is to sign up for continuing education or a professional development program offered by your employer. When you require knowledge, you notice the world around you. Your mind kind of turns on. It is, you know, it’s your responsibility to remain relevant in your work. And I really think education is your way to do this. It’s incredible. Life-long learning is an amazing stimulus.

Number 3. Now this one makes people laugh a lot, but it really works. De-clutter your office. When people feel low on energy, it’s often because they’re not clearing out as the go. Think about it. Is you inbox overflowing? Is your desk a disaster? I mean mine is often. But, you know, when your file drawers are kind of jammed. So what’s cool about de-cluttering is it liberates you. It’s empowering. You start saying, “Okay, this is valuable, this is not. You’re making decisions about your life an what’s important to you. It’s a very physical practical way to engage in making decisions about your life and what you want to do with. And getting rid of stuff really gives you a new perspective.

Number 4. Find a positive image to inspire you and help you cope with a job. In my office, I call it, “Going to my happy place.” I sort of close my eyes and I visualize a green field in a Virginia countryside with a, you know, a sweeping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I go there in my head and I see it. And it calms me down. I feel peaceful and my attitude shifts. If you want a more concrete focal point, try taping a picture of something special on your office wall, away from your computer and your phone. Something that you kind of have to turn away to look at. And it can because very transporting as well, that very action of directing your attention away from your work opens up the door in your day for a respite, kind of a restart, a new view. It’s very reviving.

Number 5. Volunteer. Either through work or on the side. Helping out at a nonprofit gets you out of your own head and that sort of swamp of negativity that, you know, let’s you gain – gives you a perspective on others needs. And I think when the volunteer effort is initiated by your employer, it builds relationships with your coworkers, and perhaps your boss, as you work side by side – really make a difference. So, you know, check with your HR development or supervisor to learn about volunteer projects that may already be in place and how you can get involved.

Number 6. Get up to speed on your field. If you become complacent about trends, you’ll get left behind. Then when something new or interesting, a new opportunity comes up at work, you’re not nimble enough to grab hold of them. So make a practice of reading training publications and set up a Google Alert to notify you about the latest news in your industry. Being in the know can really inspire you to think of projects you might be able to then nominate yourself for at work or start on your own.

Number 7. And this is a tough one for people. Raise your hand and ask for new duties. Dissect your current position to pinpoint a new responsibility you could add that will refresh your focus and maybe even scare you a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with being a little bit scared. It really ramps up the adrenaline, I think. So keep your ear to the ground to get the scoop on positions maybe opening up or an emerging project, even if it’s a short term one. Then throw your name into the hat, you know? Say yes to new assignments. If you’re worried you’re not up the task, accept the invitation gracefully and with confidence, and then get moving to figure out how to do it. And as I said before, the adrenaline will change you up. And when you succeed, and you will, the rewards will be internal and external.

Number 8. And this is really something to embrace. Explore finding job around the edges. Okay. You’re not going to love the actually job you do every day, most people don’t. There’s bad days and good days. But one thing you can do is find ways around your job that really gets you going. For example, if you have a musical bent, form a band with some of your coworkers to play music or start an a cappella group. Maybe you can arrange to play gigs for free at local, you know, maybe a local assisted living or a nursing home or a hospice. National Institutes of Health here in Washington D.C., where I’m based, for example, has the NIH Orchestra and they draw on the musical talents of its staff around Bethesda, Maryland. And they go out and do these sort of things.

So alternatively, if your interests are more physical, you could join or organize a company team sport, say softball, kickball, maybe bowling. If none of those things interest you, maybe create a walking group or a biking or a running group with your coworkers. You could even be at lunchtime and that’s a perfect way to restart your focus of your day.

Number 9. And this is a biggie. When I talk to people around the country about what they love about their job, often what someone loves is they like to be able to telecommute. So looking into telecommuting. Telecommuting employees are happier, they’re more loyal, and they have fewer unscheduled absences. Working from home without a boss kind of hovering over you also gives you more flexibility to get your job done when you want and how you want. In my own research with hundreds of workers, I’ve discovered that more flexibility and scheduling your day to day activities leads to greater happiness on the job. And this is especially true as you get older.

And my final sort of quickie tip is laugh more. A recent Gallup poll found that people who smile and laugh at work are more engaged in their jobs. And the more engaged you are, the happier and more enthusiastic you’ll be. This will just trickle down to the quality of your work, but people will want to have you on their team. So anyway, we could all use a good laugh at any rate. So those are sort of my top ten things that I encourage you to think about.

But there are other ways to refresh your attitude and sort of, you know, passion and love for your work is the ideal scenario and something we all aspire to. But to be realistic not everyone gets that opportunity – at least not all the time. Sometimes we get paid to do the work that we’re skilled at doing even if it isn’t our dream job. Sometimes we work because there’s a demand for it and we need the income. There are bills to pay. So I kind of cringe when people say, you know, “Love your job and you’ll never work another day in your life.” It’s just not really attainable for everybody. But if you’ve ever been in a situation, you know there’s no easy panacea. But one thing holds true. The job is what you make of it.

So the challenge is to recognize what’s troubling you and learn ways to push through the kind of, “Woe is me,” doldrums and find ways to accept and understand why you’re doing the job you’re doing right now and make it work for you. It’s really super easy to fall into that I’m a victim mentality. You sort of blame your unhappiness on your horrible boss or the long commute or sort of corporate downsizing. There’s lots of factors. But the default thinking is simply unproductive.

So when it comes to action steps you can take to make your job better, it starts with you. So what I’d like you to think about is, you know, this whole idea of attitude adjustment. And as I talked about, this whole idea of boredom, you know, people feel that they’re stuck so they feel they aren’t moving. They don’t see any upward mobility. You want more money, you want more challenging work. The list kind of goes on. But if you can, you know, just take a breath, it’s fixable.

But first you take responsibility for your own disconnect, you know, that whole – the basic remedy for a poor attitude is to start developing a strategy to change things. When you do that, you’ll feel better almost at once. The internal shift begins once you make a single step toward modifying what’s getting you down. And it can take some time, you know, to get exactly what you’re looking for, whether it’s that promotion or what have you. But like most things is life, it just becomes more interesting the more you can start doing something. So drill down on the mental aspects of your job and try not to waste too much energy and time on things that don’t bear directly on your job, you know?

Don’t get involved with office gossip. Don’t obsess over your chief rival at work, you know, or resent the person who always comes in late or, you know, you feel blue because you don’t have a window in your office. You know that’s really petty stuff. So surround yourself with positive coworkers, if possible, challenge yourself to look for one new thing you can do to improve your own personal work and thinking.

You know as I talked about before, maybe it’s just smiling when you walk into the office every morning or laughing out loud a couple of times a day. It’s really amazing how such things can really break any tension you’re feeling. So I encourage people to jot down in your journal. Or better yet, tell somebody the funniest thing you heard or saw in the course of your working day. When you open yourself up to laughter and humor in life, you shift a gear. I just really love it. So again. Back to your attitude. Your attitude has a huge affect on your behavior and I really think there are ways that, you know, you probably the advice about one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day. Try it. It actually works. I really, really encourage to you simply try it, you know?

And it’s really important to have some purpose in your job. It has a lot to do with your attitude and your approach, but purpose is a choice. I mean truly, you have to stop and say – you know, don’t say that your company doesn’t have any purpose or your job doesn’t have any purpose. You create the purpose by changing your tasks or building your relationships at work. It’s up to you to kind of make tiny changes that can have a big impact on your mindset.

So I love talking about journaling. It’s something that, you know, that you probably heard in different places along the way, but it’s a useful way to sort of find ways to love your job again and frame your outlook which tends to be shaped by these repetitive voices in our heads. You know, “I can’t do this. This place stinks. My boss doesn’t respect me.” These kind of phrases can really play like broken records. And when we’re in a really bad place at work they tend to be in the same words over and over and over again.

So when you’re feeling bad, pause and ask, “What am I thinking?” And then write it down. I can’t tell you what your tape is saying, but you write down your negative thoughts regularly, in time you will see a pattern. And once you do, then for each of those self doubting, you know, those really unenthusiastic refrains, come up with another one, a more positive one. If you’ve written down, you know, I can’t take this anymore, then the alternative could be, “I’m going to create a change.”

This exercise kind of reminds me of what happens when you’re a kid in grade school and somebody – maybe they get caught whispering in class and they have to go up to the chalkboard – this was when I was kid, mind you – you go up to the chalkboard and write, “I will not talk in class. I will not talk in class,” you know, 50 times. So this mantra, if you can just repetitively correct that negative thought with something positive. There’s really wisdom in this method of repeating a positive phrase over and over. It becomes you default phrase. And the more likely you are to say it to yourself when you hit a roadblock.

I have one I use in all kinds of situations – when I feel nervous or I feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. I’m not going to share it with you because it’s mine and it’s not going to work for you. But it’s my magic so I really encourage to kind of think a little bit about what it is you want to say. So when you’re on the brink of saying, “I can’t take this anymore.” Say, “I’m going to make a change.” Write it done five times in your notebook. Say it to yourself when you get up in the morning, whenever the spirit moves you. And before you realize it, it becomes your mantra and your attitude rallies.

I talked a little bit about the importance of a positive image to help you through your tough times at work. Again, I encourage to try to come up with a mental image that will help you. And one thing I talk about in my book, “Love your job,” and I encourage you to look into it and we may talk a little bit more about this too – is I have something I call my, “HOVER Concept,” which is sort of five ingredients that I really think are important to consider when you’re looking at changing and finding a more positive approach to your work. And HOVER stands for Hope, it stands for Optimism, it stands for Value – having that inner confidence to know that you have put out the effort and that you have something of value in your own work, in your skills. The E is for Enthusiasm. And R is for Resilience. And resilience is absolutely one of my favorite things.

Resilient people resist the urge to get bogged down in the past. And they keep looking forward to the future. And that is something that we can all do. So I can talk a little more about it. You can check out, “Love Your Job.” But really you can teach yourself to be resilient in a couple of quick ways. There’s get connected, development a strong network of positive relationships, don’t wait until there’s a crisis, you know, start now to sort of methodically extend your circle so you have people who you can reach out to when you’re feeling alone. That helps you build resilience.

Chose optimism. Positive people are more resilient than pessimists and you can work to become more optimistic. You know, a starting point is, for instance, stop thinking so much about what is going wrong, but focus on what is going right. And again, keeping a journal can help you do that. If you notice that those same old worries and regrets keep coming up in your mind, write them down and start keeping a record of the good things. At the end of each day write a few lines about, you know, what went well and what your most grateful for.

Learn something new, as we talked about before. And then one of my very favorite things that really helps with resilience, it helps with loving your job again, is think like an entrepreneur. Know that you own your own career and that nobody else is going to chart your path. Even if you feel like a cog in the middle of a big organizational wheel, you can run your career like a one man business – a woman business. Then that will keep – it really helps your transition if you need to make one.

And think about your brand. Recognize who your customers are and your bosses are. And because clear about what they pay you for. Look for new ways to always add value and expand your range of product offerings. And that’s, you know, as an employee, your boss – your employer is your primary client. I’ve always done this with all of my jobs and it works. So really look at the big picture.

And the final thing I’m going to tell you before we sort of shift into some questions is get in shape. Your career is influenced by everything you do to stay in shape, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. So to do your best work and to build the resilience that will keep you going, manage your fitness and energy level as well as you do your time. I think the paybacks will be enormous. So those are just some good ways to get started and I’d be happy to take some questions now.

Karen: Great advice, Kerry, thank you. We’re going to get to the questions in a minute, but first you can register to win a free digital download or a signed copy of Kerry’s book, “Love Your Job.” Listeners can enter by going to your conference Web site, PaConferenceForWomen.org/hannonbooks. Or in Texas, TXConferenceForWomen.org/hannanbooks. Or is Massachusetts, MAConferenceForWomen.org/hannanbooks. And lastly, in California, WatermarkConferenceForWomen.org/hannonbooks. Winners will be notified by August 31st.

And now Kerry, we’ve got quite a few questions. First of all, here’s one, how can I be happy at my job if my boss and I constantly clash?

Kerry: Gosh, now that’s a tough one. Here’s the thing that you have got to remember is it’s never going to be about you with your boss. It’s always going to be about your boss. So the way you have to find ways to try to see – see the world from your boss’s perspective. And then you can learn to have a little empathy, you know. They may be having a really, really tough time and their, you know, their immediate boss may be being tough on them and it’s just kind of feeding over onto you. So it’s really important to pause and get out of your own – sort of your own feeling a victim that he’s such a – or he or she is so tough on you. Try to take some time and really analyze what their situation is and where that all is coming from because in reality, most bosses want you to succeed because it makes them look good. And you’re not going to really be able to change your boss’s behavior, but you can change your behavior and how you deal with your boss.

And as the expression goes, it’s really important to keep your own side of the street clean, you know? You need to do the best excellent job you can do and you’re never going to be faulted for that. And just hope that you can somehow find a way. Again, you can start making moves to shift away from there. But the important thing is to try to, you know, work within the framework that you have and try to work and empathize with the boss.

Karen: Okay. Well, it looks like the optimism memo hasn’t been received by everybody. He’s another question. Am I unhappy because I’m in the wrong career entirely or because of this particular position? How can I determine that?

Kerry: Oh my gosh, that is a great one. And I think that it’s not often – you know, this takes some real soul searching and it’s not going to be something you can decide overnight. But when I talk to people who get – who feel that way, I must say it may very well be that you have grown bored with what you’re doing. It’s not just the position, but you’re no longer challenged by the work. Maybe you no longer, you know, have this pride in what the mission of your employer is or what the pride in the product that you’re creating.

And this is really most of us. It depends on your age, but I think a lot of people when they hid mid-career often have this wistfulness for something that they may have wanted to do when they were younger and got off that path for various reasons – and good reasons, I’m sure. But this may very well be the time to be do that. So think about what is it I really want to do, go slow, nothing rash, it often takes three to five years to really make a career transition.

There’s lots of bits and pieces that go there. But the important thing is to take the time to think about what it is you might want to do and remember you’re not reinventing yourself going into a whole new career, but you’re redeploying those skills that you’ve built up in this current position and what you’ve been doing thus far in your career and you can redeploy those into whole new environment, a new different career, but yet, it’s still – the spine is still all of those things that you’ve been working on.

Karen: Generally speaking, what makes a person love her work? Isn’t it more of an attitude towards working rather than the specific task?

Kerry: That’s one of my favorite – you know, I honestly believe it comes down to attitude in almost everything we do. There are ways to find, you know, happiness in almost any kind of work you do. And so the thing is most people, when I ask them, it’s the truth, when I ask them, “What do you love about your job?” Frequently, they don’t say it’s really, you know, “I just love my, you know, my particular tasks that I do on a regular basis.” The tell me, “You know, I really love – I love the people I work with. I just – I love going to work because I really enjoy the people I work with. I really enjoy the opportunities I get to learn at work or the fact that I get to go on business trips and travel and do these things.

And again, it’s loving maybe the mission of the organization you work for. So it’s not often. Sometimes, like I actually do love what I do. But I think there are people that don’t love the exact task, but it’s all those things that – all those other elements that make up our work. So work is really – see the big picture.

Karen: You say that one of the things that makes workers happier and more loyal to their employers is the ability to have some autonomy and control over their schedules. What’s the best way to ask your boss for a flexible schedule or to telecommute?

Kerry: Yeah. Honestly, having an opportunity to work flexibly whether it’s telecommuting or, you know, just shifting your hours around to, you know, compressing hours or finding ways to feel like you are running your own show. That you have this autonomy is incredibly powerful in a motivating and in an engaging sort of way. So the best way to do that – increasingly, employers are sort of open to this whole idea, but I encourage people, talk to someone at your office who’s currently doing that and find out how it’s working for them, how they went about setting up their system with the boss, where there any drawbacks, what is it that they needed to do?

And then, you know, build out – make a schedule. Have a plan for your boss of how you’re going to make it work for you and for them and sort of put together a plan in writing to show them. And you might start off by saying, “You know, let’s do it for a trial basis.” And summer is often a good time because it’s often a slower time in the office. But it might be let’s try this, you know, every Friday for two months or three months and then we can get back together and see how it’s working out. So then it’s not an all or nothing kind of thing.

So baby steps. But I think that it’s well worth asking for. In today’s work world it’s so easy to find ways to build that flexibility and it helps everyone.

Karen: Kerry, you talk about lot about ways to love the job that you’re in, but sometimes it seems as thought maybe it is time to find a new job. How do you know when that’s the case, that the current job is not working and that it’s really time to look?

Kerry: Yeah, I mean it really comes down to your gut. You know it in your stomach. You can do all these things that I talk about in, “Love Your Job,” or what have you that you can, you know, work. Take some time to really do that homework to figure it out. But most of us know and I’ve been there and I’m sure you’ve been there. It’s a gut thing. You know when you just – it’s not a good fit. The energy is just not going to shift no matter what you do.

And so do – I encourage people to kind of approach their work in some of these ways we’ve talked about, you know, try to be – laugh a little bit, smile, you know, look for positive things, connect with your coworkers, you know, look people in the eyes, do these kind of things. Don’t just chew off your nails. But in the meantime, while you’re doing all those things so every day isn’t a drag, start making your plan. And it might take you a while. You don’t want to do anything rash. I always joke, you know, don’t take this job and shove it, you know? But definitely take it in little steps and start building a plan, start looking, you know, discreetly you can start looking for work. It’s going to take you a little time for most people. So, you know, try to be happy where you are right now and then slowly, you know.

Do a good job at what you’re doing so that you don’t have anything bad reflecting back on you, but start reaching to your network and get out there and see what might be available to you because in today’s work world, we all – the jobs we get come – it’s the old fashioned way. Some things never change. It’s who we know, employers want to hire people they know or people they know knows. So when you sort of identify what company might interest you or what kind of work, start reaching out into your network. Who do you know that works there? Who do you know that knows somebody who works there? Because that’s going to get you in the door even if it’s for informational interviews.

Karen: Well, that’s all we have time for today. Before we sign off, I want to remind everybody that Kerry is giving away free digital download or two signed copies of “Love Your Job.” Listeners can enter by going to any one of the following Web sites; PaConferenceForWomen.org/hannonbooks. In Texas, TXConferenceForWomen.org/hannanbooks. In Massachusetts, MAConferenceForWomen.org/hannanbooks. Or WatermarkConferenceForWomen.org/hannonbooks. And if you’d like to connect with Kerry you can reach her on Twitter @KerryHannon or at her Web site www.KerryHannon.com. Thank you Kerry and thank you to our audience for listening to today’s teleclass.

Kerry:            Thank you so much. I truly enjoyed being part of the teleclass.