Almost daily, you read in the papers and on social media about people who can no longer cope with the pressures of their job or the expectations other people have of them. Expectations that, for some inexplicable reason, you are forced to live up to, even if you disagree with them. When your resources and the hours of the day are no longer enough, you get feelings of inadequacy and overwhelming stress, fear of failure, your health begins to crack, and eventually, you get burnout.

Many people consider a positive public image so important for their self-esteem that they will do anything to maintain it even long after it is clear that they will not make it, or that a distrainor is waiting at the door. No wonder there is also burnout lurking the same door.

In many cases, people add social media to the mix, which certainly doesn’t make it any easier. The temptation to “fake it” is great for many people. It is easy to present things as better than they are on social media, and you can get hooked at doing that. When the truth comes out one day (as it always does), the house of cards collapses immediately. We regularly read about these cases in the newspapers too.

Most of us know these things and their consequences, so why do so many get caught like a fish on a hook? It is good to understand that those to whom this happens are not somehow different from “the rest of us”. It can happen to anyone. But what drives us to act this way?

Perhaps the ideals, values and attitudes fed to us by the media and business world have something to do with it. To exaggerate a little, one could say that everyone today must be young (including the middle-aged and old), beautiful, wrinkle-free, presentable, fashionable, successful, rich, have a great title in a great-sounding job. We are told between the lines that when we think like this, we become popular and happy and that dissidents are losers. But life and reality do not work like that.

When we get/achieve something that we think is “cool and wonderful”: a four-wheel-drive SUV, a Samsung OLED 8K TV, we get to go partying in London, we are chosen as person of the month, we get a new title, a salary raise, we are praised in a magazine etc., we want to enjoy these moments. Who wouldn’t? But these moments are fleeting, and they don’t carry you very long.  

Are we perhaps investing too much in the “wrong” things and missing out on something else that is essential to our work satisfaction or wellbeing and happiness in life in general?

When people are asked on their deathbeds what they regret most in their lives, the answers are very similar around the world. Few people say they regret not being able to spend more time at work. So, what are the things they regret? Below are three themes that come up frequently.

  • Should have been more myself and lived my life as I wanted to, not so much according to the wishes and expectations of others.
  • Too often it was only about “my job and my career”. I could have done things differently.
  • I should have spent more time with my loved ones and friends, including ‘with myself’.

These answers hardly surprise anyone, that’s just the way life often goes. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Numerous studies on wellbeing and happiness support the notion that having a lot of money, fancy things, an everlasting positive public image, and a forever youthful appearance with the latest designer clothes is not the best route to happiness. Just look at how much is written about the problems of the rich and famous celebrities. It seems they are the ones with the problems. You need something more than this. Well, what then? For example, Dr. Sue Roffey from the UK has been studying these issues for a long time. In the next two paragraphs I quote some of her thoughts.

Above all, good relationships support the achievement of happiness. The best relationships are where there is both give and take, where communication and interaction is friendly and respectful, where people are interested in each other, offer support when needed and share their joy when there is something to celebrate. Money and fame are no substitute for this. This goes without saying, doesn’t it? We all know this. But oh, how hard it is sometimes to remember.

How we treat each other has a big impact on our wellbeing, also at work. Kindness, consideration and collaboration build the positive whereas control, the wrong kind of competition, selfishness, and broken trust are toxic. If we additionally focus on the negative – what goes wrong and what we think is always someone else’s fault, what we don’t have and what we are missing out on – this is likely to contribute to feeling bad.

When life treats you badly, work is hard, or you just need support – money, goods, fame, or the fact that you once again won the company sales competition of the month doesn’t help much. But I bet having a good friend or a good colleague we can turn to in our “hour of need” will for sure help. When we’re doing well, celebrating a great achievement alone rarely tastes good, it’s only when a good friend or colleague is genuinely happy for us that we feel good.

When considering the goals and actions in your professional life, as well as in your private life, it is good to be aware that there also exist factors “outside” work that can either contribute to your wellbeing at work or cause distress at work. Obviously, good relationships are a very important factor in this equation. Secondly, don’t put too much emphasis on what other people think of you and your career. Surely what you are happy with and what you want to do is good enough. Thirdly, don’t let advertising and the media too much influence your ideals and what you want in work and life. Advertising promotes the sale of various products and services, not necessarily our careers, our wellbeing at work or our happiness in life.

We take many things that are important to us for granted and often only become aware of them when they suddenly no longer exist. Here are a few tips on how to look at and analyse how we are doing. Are we doing the way we want?

  1. Every now and then, sit down at the kitchen table and write down the most important things in your life right now. The ones you don’t want to lose, the ones you feel you live for and be a little overdramatic – the ones that are so important to you that you would die for them. Then imagine you will lose these things tomorrow – and how that would feel. Look at the list. Does it say money, title, image, success, good looking body, new BMW, what my neighbour and friends think of my career – or does it say something else? Did the answers ring any bells – did you find anything you want to prioritise or do differently from now on? If so, could this perhaps also increase your wellbeing at work and happiness in life in general?


  2. Then a job situation analysis. If all is well, no corrective action is needed. If, on the other hand, work issues seem overwhelmingly challenging, or you strongly feel that it’s just not my thing anymore, then something needs to be done. If you don’t know what to do, it’s worth talking to someone, sooner rather than later because these things tend to get more complicated over time. If you can’t or don’t want to talk to your employer or colleague, you need to find someone else.It is rare for someone outside the workplace to have a silver bullet to your problem, but an outsider will see things differently, and their views may help to clarify your thoughts. Often the person concerned can also give advice, ideas, and suggestions for solutions. This is called sparring.

If you don’t want to talk about your career or work issues with someone you know, you can talk to a career coach or a recruitment specialist, for example. They have experience and perspective on similar situations and may be able to advise you on how to move forward. Sometimes it already helps just to talk things through with someone. You should not be alone with your difficulties.

PS. If you want to spar with someone, check out my one-to-one webinar, more info here.

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