Bonnie [not her real name] was 30. She had a long-term partner and was renting a reasonably nice apartment. Her primary degree was in philosophy and classics and she had completed a Masters degree in Ancient Greek (“Very useful if I ever visit Ancient Greece,” she used to ruefully say). Having lived abroad for some years, she had drifted into teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), working primarily with students in their 20s and 30s.
Bonnie’s problem was two-fold. First, TEFL teachers are not uncommon and are therefore not highly paid; so she was faced with a hand-to-mouth existence coupled with little prospect of ever owning a home or even of running a car. Second, the financial situation triggered something of a quarter-life crisis, to the extent that Bonnie realised she was deriving little or no pleasure from the classroom environment and she found getting out of bed on a Monday morning increasingly difficult. At one point, she even elected to take a cut in pay so she could work more on the administrative side of the school she was in – just to avoid the classroom, perpetuating the vicious circle even further.

Bonnie’s passions were music, food, art, reading and computer games. She had an amazingly quick, focused and logical mind and her humour and problem-solving capacities were much-prized by her friends and family. When she saw an advertisement from an IT consulting company looking for graduates, it never even occurred to her to apply. But then she realised, that although she was 8-10 years older than the typical applicant, if she succeeded she could be earning more money and doing something that she enjoyed. As to qualifications, she reasoned that if she could translate ancient Greek, she could probably learn to muddle her way along in most programming languages.

Bonnie took the aptitude tests and attended the interviews, easily outstripping the other applicants. She was hired, with a 40% salary increase and began intensive induction training. She has since more than doubled her income, bought a beautiful home and now heads up a team of Analysts – having redefined best practice in that arena for her employer.

It’s all about bringing your talents to the fore …

Takeaways:

  • It can be hard to notice the insidious creep of misery. Sometimes you don’t get to the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Watch out for unhappiness creeping into your working life. Listen to your partner and family. If people are expressing concern about your well-being, it’s time to take stock.
  • You are allowed to be happy in your job. I meet too many clients who have lowered their expectations to such an extent that they don’t feel they deserve to be happy at work. If this rings a bell, head on over to the Chief Happiness Officer straight away.
  • If there is something you are good at, or that gives you real pleasure, think think think about how you could make that at least a part of your working life. Scott Adams offered some of the best career advice I have read recently in a post on this topic.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be constrained in your thinking in the early stages. It’s too easy to abandon an idea “because no-one would hire me to do that.” If you find yourself shutting your own thinking down like this, read What Color Is Your Parachute by Dick Bolles and complete his Flower Exercise. And, if I may be so bold, do the exercises in Section 6 of Where’s My Oasis.
  • If you’re not happy with the path your working life is on right now, you need to gain clarity on what it is that’s making you unhappy. Then you need to build a check-list of what needs to be present (and absent) in your working life to make you happy. This can be hard to do with a blank sheet of paper in front of you. Buy a couple of books and build from there.