Living to work rather than working to live—sucks.
More specifically, it sucks the joy out of our lives. It leads to compounding negativity that sucks the joy out of those closest to us as well. It’s a bad deal.
Yet, living to work is a rut that many of us find ourselves in. Sometimes we feel trapped and isolated. And sometimes our path is guarded by self-imposed and highly menacing mental guardians with lightsabers. Yes, change is scary.
Whatever the excuse, you may find yourself at that crossroads of living to work versus working to live—and you may need clarity to do something about it. May I suggest Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
Applying Maslow’s Theory
The late psychologist Abraham Maslow had a theory that people are motivated by five groups of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization. This is often illustrated as a pyramid where self-actualization is the pinnacle of achievement.
Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions and think about how your needs are being met:
Physiological. Do I have access to food, water, shelter and rest? Is there imminent danger of these going away? Am I living a healthy life?
Safety. Are there physical or mental threats affecting me? Do I have access to the resources that I need to survive?
Love. Do I have meaningful relationships, intimacy and a community? Do I have support? Do I feel belonging? Do I feel alone? In what aspects?
Esteem. Am I seen? Do I feel strong, respected? Am I free?
Self-actualization. Can I look in the mirror and say, “I’m living my best life. I wake up with joy and energy. I bring a unique impact to the world”?
Notice a drain in any of these buckets? Are any of your needs overflowing? Take a moment to evaluate seriously.
Define Your Career Hierarchy Of Needs
To adapt Maslow’s theory to your career, evaluate new opportunities or nascent career paths to determine whether they are worthwhile.
As you think about each category of your needs, you’ll recognize that they become more difficult to fulfill as you near self-actualization. Expect attrition while evaluating your next steps.
Physiological. Does your job pay enough to secure the right resources for your lifestyle? Do the hours you work provide time for meals? For rest?
Safety. Do you have job security? Is your career protected from market fluctuations? Do you have health benefits?
Love. Does your job bring you a sense of belonging and community? Do you add to the company culture? Are your work relationships rewarding?
Esteem. Is your job for personal accomplishment or for societal status or ego?
Self-actualization. Do you genuinely get excited about your work? Does it bring you joy? Does your work support your passion, family and lifelong ambitions? What difference do you make in the world?
Knowing your answer to these questions will bring more clarity to your career. Clarity is the precursor to how well you tell your story and what actions you must take next.
Concentrate On Being Authentic
As you think about your circumstances, assess yourself through a filter of authenticity. You should tap into your intuition and think about what feels right for you.
Many of us have a voice in our head telling us that something isn’t making us happy, that a job isn’t right for us or that we’re simply not aligned with our best vision of ourselves.
Here are a few wild examples to make the point: Picture being politically conservative but working in the current White House—only pretending to be liberal to pay the bills.
That sounds questionable.
Vegans probably wouldn’t feel joy working at Tyson. An environmentalist might not love working for Exxon. Fitness instructors may not like a career at McDonald's. And nobody likes working for big tech. Obvious joke, maybe.
Ignoring your intuition or personal beliefs just to conform or pay your bills doesn’t feel authentic, does it?
Don’t get me wrong. There are times that you may need to look the other way for survival's sake. But you should consider whether your career hypocrisies destroy your happiness and sap your motivation.
If you’re feeling out of place, it’s time to take corrective action.
Answer, 'What’s Next For You?' With Intention
Your career is not about where you’ve been—it’s about where you’re going. So, what’s next for you?
When you tell people about yourself or you write about yourself on a résumé or in a bio, you should be aspirational. As you tell more forward-thinking stories, you’ll increase your chances to encourage others to make a more meaningful impact in your career.
For example, if I had only known you to be a tech marketing professional, but you shared with me that you were thinking about a career in health and wellness, I would now be better armed to make more meaningful introductions in the health and wellness space. (Assuming I could make an impact)
Confidently sharing where you are going invites others to support your more intentional future. At the very least, telling others what you want will increase the likelihood for a serendipitous opportunity.
So, what’s next for you?
Think about an answer that embodies the five categories of your career needs—and how each category may be affected by your answer.
For example, expressing interest in being an executive may fulfill your esteem and safety buckets but tax your physiological and love buckets.
The extra work stress and strain on personal relationships may not be worth the added compensation and prestigious job title. Perhaps consider… less.
What’s Your Goal?
The idea behind this introspection is to represent yourself better. Not only to make a greater impression, but to feel good about how you talk about your career. And crucially, how it ties to your true needs and true self.
Think about how it feels when people see you in a light that is more confident. Imagine being sure of the direction you are going in, even if you haven’t arrived there yet.
That’s the road to self-actualization, and there’s no better time than now to travel it.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.
Want to speak directly with me about your career? Contact me below.