I’m dreading going home for the holidays. My friends and family keep announcing their big new job titles on Facebook and LinkedIn while I’m still in the same job I’ve been in the past couple of years. I hate being asked “What’s new at work?” and “What’s next?” when I don’t have anything impressive to say.
How do I respond to these questions when I don’t have good answers? Do I just suffer through it and make next year the year I up my career game?
Embarrassed To Be Asked
Dear Embarrassed To Be Asked,
Oh my dear, sweet soul. I feel for you, and you are in good company. I know how this feels, and I can’t tell you how often my clients ask me this exact question - or some version of it like...
“Why is so-and-so from my class a Director while I’m still just an Associate?”
“Can I fib about my title on my LinkedIn profile?”
“Why are other people succeeding so much more / faster than I am?”
One of the benefits of social media is that it shows us what is possible -- it can show us that yes, becoming a Director-level professional as a 28 year-old woman is possible and worth fighting for if you want it.
But of course, the flip side drawback is that it puts us into a constant state of comparison distress.
And sadly, we often fail to see that this comparison is wholly one-dimensional and grounded in a seriously false assumption: that the person with the highest job title or biggest brand name company on their resume is better, happier, or more successful.
It may surprise you, but some of the common refrains I hear from my clients with the highest-level positions at the biggest-name employers include…
“On the outside everything looks perfect, but behind the scenes my life is in shambles.”
“I should be happy in my job, but I just don’t like what I do.”
“I wish I could chuck it all and start a [stationary shop / pop up bakery / freelance consulting company].”
The truth is, job titles are a terrible indicator of our happiness in work and life.
The better indicator is whether your work allows you to live your values.
The moment we recognize this is the moment we free ourselves from the faux rat race of “more is better” and get to start asking ourselves (and our friends and family!) the real, important questions:
How do YOU feel about your work today?
Do you wish for ‘more’, and if so, more of what?
Do you wish for ‘less’, and if so, less of what?
What values are you trying to optimize for in your life right now, and how is your work making that easier or harder for you?
What role do you want work to play in your life, and how does that line up with where you are today?
What do you love about your job, and what do you not love?
What’s missing, or what could be better (if anything)?
I hope that you ask yourself these questions and find you have nothing to be ashamed of, no matter where you are in your career.
And I hope you learn --
...that you’re happy where you are...
...or that there are a few things you want to improve in the new year...
...or that based on your interest in [managing people / making more money / making a greater impact in the world] you do want to transition to a higher level role or a larger company...
...or that based on your interest in [having less stress / more time for family / time off to travel] you perhaps want to transition to a smaller role or a less demanding company.
In short, the only person’s definition of success you should be measuring yourself against is your own.
So define what that is for you.
Own it with pride.
And help your friends and family do the same!
Recognize that behind the scenes, even the people who seem like they’ve ‘got it all’ may be struggling just as much as you are.
Ask the right questions. Seek the truth behind the filter. Enable yourself and others to feel seen and supported in our journey to achieve our own definitions of success -- and real happiness in work and life.