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Work that Works

If you often find yourself complaining about work, this article can give you insight and ideas to help you find work that works for you.

In the U.S. we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September. Spawned in 1882 by the labor movement, the holiday recognizes the contributions of the American worker. Although Labor Day is now marked less by labor rallies and speeches than end-of-summer cookouts and back-to-school sales, it's a good occasion to pause and reflect upon work and how it's working for you.

How does it feel to come back to work after having time off? Do you enjoy your work and return full of ideas and renewed energy? Do you wake up in a crabby mood on work days and wish you could call in sick? Do you watch the clock, counting down the hours to quitting time, or do you sometimes get so absorbed in your work that time flies by? What do you think about work? I think that:

* we spend so much time at work; we'd better enjoy what we do.

* work is only one aspect of a balanced life. Instead of being a servant to your work, your work should serve you.

* who you are is not what you do. So many people get wrapped up in the trappings of their work (the title, the prestige, the professional image) that their sense of self-worth becomes tied to their job performance. In an economy where layoffs and salary freezes are commonplace, this can be debilitating.

* we all have a life purposesomething that we are meant to contribute. Each of us has been dealt a unique set of strengths, preferences, and personality characteristics with which to accomplish what Buddhists call our "right livelihood."

* when we discover and begin living our purpose, there can be an ease and flow to work that makes work feels like play.

So what do you do if your work isn't working for you? How do you determine what would be both fulfilling and profitable? How can you redesign your work environment or your job description so you can't help but succeed? How do you go about making a career change if that's needed?

When I coach clients in these situations, the overarching process we use can be broken down into three basic steps: who, what, and how. Spending time in the beginning clarifying who you are makes it easier to find what work is a good fit for you. Once you've determined your ideal work, the final piece is looking at how to move into it. Within this framework, some things to explore are:

Who: What are your values, your natural gifts, your skills, your personality characteristics, and learning styles? What motivates you, what are you passionate about and what are your quirks? What difference do you make to others? What is your life purpose? There are many exercises, assessments, and lines of inquiry that can shed light on who is the sum total of all these elements.

What: Not all of your values will be expressed through work and not all of your needs will be met through it. The awareness of what makes you tick and what makes you happy, however, makes it easier to determine what industry, occupation, scope of responsibility, and size of company would make a good fit for you.

How: Restructuring your job, job-sharing, moving to another job within the same company, going back to school, moonlighting, updating your resume, and launching a job search are all examples of how you can move into more fulfilling work.

If your work's not working, don't settle for feeling stuck and frustrated. Do something about it! One place to start is at your library or bookstore. There are numerous books (my favorites are listed on my website) that can help you identify and move into work that works for you.

Career transitions can be confusing, frustrating, and at times, downright scary. It can help to team up with a coach or career counselor to help you discover what would make you "whistle while you work." They may not be able to teach you how to whistle, (For years my sons have tried to teach meFind Article, and I still sound like a teakettle.) but they can ease the way to finding work that works.

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Grace Durfee is a Professional Certified Coach, Professional Mentor Coach, trainer, writer, and speaker who helps busy professionals, small business owners and career changers achieve success while enjoying more balanced lives. She is the author of Balance with Grace: Celebrate the Kaleidoscope of Life. To learn more visit

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