A career that is thriving doesn’t necessarily look a particular way. It feels a particular way. In other words, you could be a grocery store bagger and be thriving. Or you could be the most materially successful real estate mogul in the country and be very unhealthy in your career. Thriving in career is not measured solely by profit or prominence. It’s the inner qualities that matter.

Answering the following questions will tell you if you are flourishing in your career:

Am I eager to begin my workday, excited to tackle the challenges and enthusiastic about the possibilities it will bring?

Do I feel a sense of satisfaction at the end of my workday?

Does my work feel like a lifelong pursuit where I can grow and expand as days and years go by?

Do I feel that I am called to bring the best of myself to the table? Does this work align with my values and fulfill my passions?

If you can’t answer “Yes!” you might be in the wrong career or have a misunderstanding of the basic principles as applied to career.

Today, we hear from all directions that we should be “following our passions” when we design a career. But it’s a very small percentage of us who ever do that. Why? Because we determine our careers based on the survival strategies we developed as children. For example, if we learned that being seen and not heard was a safe way to navigate our childhood household, odds are that we’d opt to work in accounting rather than as a public speaker. If being “just like Dad” was a way to be safe in the family, we might feel the need to become the doctor, plumber, or minister he was, whether we enjoy those things or not. The daughter who spent most of her childhood trying to cheer up her depressed mother might become a stand-up comic, a psychologist, or a caregiver.

Cultural messages also get in the mix to confuse us about the career path we should take. Generally, our culture seems to value professions that require extensive education (attorney, doctor, computer programmer, CPA) and not value careers that emphasize physical labor (contractor, gardener, house cleaner).

Our culture also places a lot of emphasis on the amount of money to be made in any career. Becoming a C-Suite executive is considered much more impressive than being a line manager.

Within our overall culture are sub-cultures that have their own particular messages. For example, generally in western culture, being a doctor is seen as more prestigious than being a motorcycle mechanic. But within certain neighborhoods, if you say you want to be a doctor, you’d be an outcast who is considered too hoity-toity and full of yourself. In that same sub- culture, you’d be applauded and respected as a mechanic. In certain sub-sectors of our culture, you will be maligned for becoming a stay at home mother; in others you’d be criticized for being a mother who works outside the home.

Trouble is that by the time we reach about forty, these motivations become thin. We feel dissatisfied and dead inside. Our “jobs” or our careers may be bringing the bacon home, giving us cultural and parental approval, and fulfilling the demands of our survival strategies, but we’ve lost ourselves in the process and are certainly not thriving. It doesn’t have to be this way.

But beyond making the wrong choice in career, we can also block flourishing in a career by our misunderstandings or misuse of the basic principles. The point is to learn the difference between what others want for you and what you truly want for yourself.

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