Avoid this common trap for greater happiness at work

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Anna Brech
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Frustrated with your job? Make sure you’re responding to drive and motivation from within, rather than expectations placed upon you

One in four Brits are unhappy at work, with many of us falling victim to a stress epidemic. A toxic culture of overtime  and lack of flexible working options don’t help (bar a handful of enterprising companies who are following the lead of Denmark in prioritising people over profit). 

However, this lingering sense of unhappiness is also down to something more fundamental.  The truth is, we often embark on career paths that we feel that we should take, rather than listening to the real us within. Frequently - and especially at fresh out of university - we ignore our gut, and instead plump for salary or a respectable title.

Then, ten years in, we wonder why we’re seething with frustration. We all know someone who has experienced a situation like this. What feels like a problem of monumental proportions can be traced back to that one little word: “should”. 

According to best-selling leadership author Annie McKee, the concept of obligation is one of the most common happiness traps that people fall into in a modern age.

The “should” fallacy kicks into play when we put practicality above passion, McKee explains. 

“I’ve seen too often where the ‘should’’s in the workplace really do tamp down our creativity, our innovation, and frankly makes us show up as inauthentic and putting our game face on rather than being who we really are,” the career expert tells Forbes.

All too often, we get side-tracked by “shoulds”

According to McKee, following your “should” holds a detrimental impact that will almost certainly come crashing down around you sooner or later.

“[It] has real implications for our effectiveness because you can’t do that for too long before you start feeling resentful,” she explains.

Instead, McKee says, we need to focus on identifying and developing our passions - whatever they may be. This might involve compromise (accepting a lower wage, say, or moving back home to afford additional study) but will serve our interests better in the long-run. By responding to our own instincts, rather than the expectations placed upon us, we are far more likely to be happy.

 Jane Sunley, author of career success guide, It’s Never OK To Kiss The Interviewer, agrees.

“People get so tied up with where they are, that they forget where it is they’re going,” Sunley tells Stylist. “I get my clients to list their work values and often the ones that are most important to them - things like trust and respect - are lost at the bottom of it.

“You need to stop and think, ‘what is it that really makes me happy; what’s important, and how can I get it?’ Once you’ve identified this and separated it from other peoples’ opinions or aspirations, or worries about security or money, you’ve made your first step. You need to think about what you LOVE doing first. Find out what makes you excited and passionate enough to pour all your energy into it.” 

Photos: Lesly Juarez, iStock


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.