How to be happier at work, according to an author who interviewed more than 100 workers

Photo courtesy of Simone Stolzoff

Simone Stolzoff spent much of her 20s searching for the perfect job, only to realize that such a thing didn’t exist and could never exist.

As Stolzoff recalls, he didn’t just want a job that would pay the bills, he longed for a “vocational soul mate,” a 9-to-5 job that was a unique reflection of who he was: his ambitions, interests, and purpose in life. .

If this sounds like a family problem, that’s because it is. Work is one of the most common sources of meaning in the lives of adults around the world, the Pew Research Center has found, and in some countries, dwarfing faith and friends.

For white-collar professionals in particular, our jobs have become “akin to a religious identity: In addition to a paycheck, they provide meaning, community, and a sense of purpose,” Stolzoff writes in his new book, “The Good Enough Job”. ”

Stolzoff put aside his previous career dreams of becoming a diplomat, lawyer, or poet to work as a journalist and designer in San Francisco. He wrote “Good Enough Work” to answer a question that had been asked time and time again: “If we want to be happy, how can we emotionally disengage from work? When is good enough?”

As part of his search, Stolzoff interviewed more than 100 workers between 2020 and 2023, including former Google engineers, Michelin-starred chefs, burnt-out teachers and Alaskan kayak guides.

He found that the people who were happiest in their careers shared the same approach to work: They all had a strong sense of who they were when they were off the clock.

One of the most popular questions you may hear when meeting someone new is “What do you do?”

Many of us have let our work and professions overshadow other parts of our identities, as this is often where we spend most of our time.

But the more invested you are in multiple identities, the less likely you are to “lose all your sense of self” at work, Stolzoff says.

Those who understood and practiced this belief, Stolzoff says, were the happiest in their careers and had the healthiest relationships with work.

In “The Good Enough Job”, this concept is exemplified by different professionals at various points in their careers. There’s the Michelin-star chef who found more joy and inspiration cooking fun dinners for his roommates than working in a 5-star restaurant, and the political science professor who turns down lucrative speaking opportunities to watch his kids’ soccer games. .

Stolzoff cites research by psychologist Patricia Linville, which found that people with a more differentiated view of themselves, what she calls having greater “personal complexity,” were less prone to stress-induced illness and depression.

“We are more than just workers, and if we are able to cultivate more aspects of who we are, we can be more present in other important aspects of our lives and be resilient in the face of adversity,” says Stolzoff. “If one identity fails, the others will keep you alive.”

Approach your self-worth like your stock portfolio, he adds. “Investors emphasize the importance of diversifying the stocks in their portfolio, well, we also benefit from diversifying what gives us meaning in life, whether it’s the joy you might get from being a more present parent or the excitement you get from volunteering. for a cause. you’re passionate about,” says Stolzoff.

De-prioritizing work can also help you be more productive, which, in turn, can make your job less stressful.

Previous research has shown that spending more time resting during the workday and having hobbies outside of work not only prevents burnout, but can stimulate creativity, help you focus better, and make the time you spend in meetings and homework more enjoyable. efficient.

It may seem “contradictory,” says Stolzoff, but “being on the clock all the time doesn’t always lead to the best work.”


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