Too many people are dissatisfied with their professional lives—and it shows. It’s time for a fresh take on the traditional definition of career success.
Do you ever stop and think about how much of our lives we spend working? When you add it up, we spend about a third of our lives on the job. That’s an astonishing amount of our time, especially if you spend it bored or stressed out.
For many people, the results we experience at work have a big impact on whether we feel successful or not. Whether that’s making more money or earning accolades from a boss or peer, our accomplishments in the workplace can go a long way toward feeling good about our lives and knowing that we matter.
But what if achieving impactful results isn’t about what you do? What if it’s about who you are when you’re doing it?
That’s the message of a new book, Burn Ladders. Build Bridges, written by Dr. Alan M. Patterson, an organizational development consultant. Patterson’s goal in writing the book is to help explain why so many people are so unhappy in their jobs—and to get them, especially those from the younger generations who are just entering the workforce, to redefine what success looks like.
“True success is engaging with interesting and interested people in something that is meaningful and important to you and to them,” says Patterson. “Success is defined by deep-seated, personal motivation. Among the most common misconceptions is that success is measured by external criteria: that more money, a higher position, a longer title and more status and prestige make someone more successful.”
I connected with Patterson and asked him to share some of his insights into why more people should eschew the traditional markers of success in favor of becoming ladder burners and bridge builders. It’s a visionary take on success—and one that more people are embracing on this side of the Great Resignation.
The roots of unhappiness at work
Based on his work with clients from organizations like the Federal Reserve Bank, Hewlett Packard, Major League Baseball and the United States Navy, Patterson says he has identified three major reasons people are unhappy in their jobs. The first is a belief that organizations and managers are looking out for your best interests. “It’s only a matter of time before you realize that is not the case,” he says.
Second is that other people–not you–are responsible for your career development. “Nothing could be further than the truth,” says Patterson.
The third driver of unhappiness at work is that while earning more money and promotions are necessary, they don’t add to a personal sense of value over time. We need to recognize that we are working in a restrictive environment where the best we can do is navigate through and around it, rather than change it.
“People need to take control of their career development,” says Patterson, “from everything like scheduling discussions with their managers to get job clarity, to moving laterally, to working with great people on interesting projects and to elevating their visibility. You never know what opportunities can come your way by being out and about.
“Nobody cares more about your career development than you—not even your mother.”