Ask Beverly Jones, author of the valuable new book, “Find Your Happy at Work,” to describe a time when she was happiest at work and Jones instantly smiles. It was, she says, when she was a grad student at Ohio University working as a paid assistant to its president and researching ways for more equal opportunity on campus for women.
“In those days, women couldn’t take some courses, like engineering,” Jones, now a Washington, D.C.-based executive career coach, recalled. “Many graduate programs didn’t accept women. It was something I cared totally about. I had absolutely no idea how to go about it, so I had to make it up every day, but it was one of the most intensely enjoyable periods of my life.”
The reason, says Jones (one of my go-to career experts, fellow Labrador retriever fan and longtime friend), is that “creating something and making a difference is a great strategy to go to if everything is feeling dull at work.”
The secret to happiness at work
But there’s more to it. “A secret to success, and ultimately happiness at work, is often being comfortable with your own discomfort,” Jones says. “I’m a naturally cautious person, and I’ve learned to ask myself: ‘Am I afraid because this is foolish and dangerous or am I afraid because it’s an opportunity and I’ve got to push forward through the discomfort?'”
In “ Find Your Happy at Work ,” whose subtitle is “50 Ways to Get Unstuck, Move Past Boredom and Discover Fulfillment,” Jones has tapped into a subject that many workers, me included, have been grappling with since the pandemic began. We’re stressed, a little nervous about the future of our work and perhaps a little burned out.
I recently visited with Jones to learn about her refreshing and timely happiness insights in a free-ranging conversation that hit on some of the major themes of her latest book.
“Some of the people who have had the biggest struggles [lately] seem to me to be rising to the occasion and finding meaning in their work,” Jones says. “You can have a kind of joy and meaning even in a difficult job, like working in a hospital emergency room or struggling to help people who are going through a mental or health crisis. It’s not a fun, giggly, kind of happy. It’s a sense that life matters and time is going fast, and it feels good.”
Jones discovered through researching her book, as well as from her biweekly “ Jazzed About Work ” podcast on NPR.org and sessions with clients during COVID-19 “that there is a shared sense that work should be meaningful, and lifestyles should be healthy,” she says. “There’s is a new sense that we deserve to have a rewarding work life which meshes nicely with the rest of our lives — especially for people in their 50s and beyond.”
One way to get unstuck at work
One essential way to get unstuck in your work, Jones notes: building new relationships with interesting people — whether or not they’re connected to your job. “These human connections can bring energy into your life, but they also can make you aware of opportunities and inspire you by learning from others,” she says.
Of course, Jones is referring to networking, which is a repellent concept to some in their 50s and 60s.
“I know people at a certain age if you use the word ‘networking’ freak out and they think, ‘Look, I don’t have time to see the friends I have now,'” she says. “But the reality is that as you get older, having a diverse network that connects you with people of all generations and people in a wide range of activities that perhaps weren’t the same as yours is more important than ever.”
That people power is “important for happy aging. It is important for anybody that has interest in continuing to work later in life. And it’s important for people who really want to retire and are looking to find other paths, even unpaid work in a different field,” Jones says.
What’s your personal mission statement?
She also firmly believes that you can find more happiness at work by having a strong, internalized personal mission statement.
“It’s easier to love your job if you’re working for something that matters more than just a paycheck,” Jones says. “Even a tedious job can feel rewarding if you have a good reason for doing the work, like saving to put your kids through college.”