Why do careers matter so much to happiness?

career happiness
Big career move to happiness

“I literally feel like jumping out a window.” Ted, a 45 year old hedge fund manager from Westport, CT, said as he grabbed my arm for emphasis.

“I feel like a square peg in a round hole every day.” Sarah, a thirtysomething middle manager from New Haven, CT, said as she relayed her days pretending to be someone she wasn’t and care about things that meant little to her.

“Can you help me find something, anything, that I would like and would pay the bills?” Gina a late twenties underemployed office assistant from Glastonbury, CT pleaded.

The hedge fund manager was miserable battling with his peers and dealing with the pressure.  Being a master of the universe seems attractive but there is a price to pay.  Ted, a super bright math whiz who started out as an engineer while at M.I.T., had fallen to the pressures of materialism and chose to maximize his wealth instead of doing what he liked.  “I was always shy and not competitive.  I could do math problems all day.  But I had the opportunity to make way more than I would as an engineer and took it.  The problem is now I am the sole supporter of 5, living a big lifestyle and feel trapped.”   In Ted’s case, his day to day work activities – often 12 hours long –  were not enjoyable and some parts of his daily life, such as dealing with peers who were trying to undermine him, made him anxious to the point that he was now medicated.  How could he be happy?

Sarah was discovering that being inauthentic is no way to go through one’s days. She had what many of my clients describe as a “split life”.  Sarah at work and Sarah in her personal life.  Gina, someone who had always focused on her personal life instead of building her career skills, was discovering that days filled with tedium would eventually lead to lowering her happiness ever in her personal life.

At the end of each meeting, all three had distinct, concrete plans to shift their careers.  Perhaps, more importantly, each said, “this is the first time I’ve felt happy in a long time.”