Your happiness is your responsibility; it’s time to quit your job

Over my career I’ve been able to identify the single biggest cause of employee dissatisfaction. That’s been working across multiple sectors, in different roles and in different conditions.

It isn’t compensation
It isn’t development
It isn’t promotion

It’s something that is completely out of our control.

It’s regret. The regret of failing to act.

Life is full of events over which we have no control, life is full of changes which we cannot influence. We can sit idly by and bemoan the fact that things aren’t what they were, that life has dealt us the hand that we didn’t want or that people are doing things or behaving in a way in which we disapprove.

We can’t change any of these things. But we can always act.

Unsurprisingly, these two things are often confused. The response is, “but I can’t do anything to change [insert cause of issue]” and the answer is always, “so what can you do?”

Ultimately we are all responsible for our happiness, we are responsible for finding our own peace and for ensuring that we make the most of our life both in and outside of work.

And that means accepting responsibility that we can act and our failure to act, not the change, leads to our regret.

In a work context, that often means leaving a company where you’re unhappy. I’ve seen too many people become under performers, become organisational hostages, become “that guy” in the canteen that everyone tries to avoid, become the source of dissatisfaction of others, simply because they failed to act.

Or it means accepting that sometimes change happens, the past is exactly that and we need to move on. In either case, this is a choice, a conscious decision that each and everyone is able to exercise.

Life is too short to sit, being unhappy and blaming others.

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.”

The only reality is in action.

12 comments

  1. Meg Peppin · July 28, 2014

    I agree very much that our happiness is within our own hands; for some, that realisation can be a long journey towards self acceptance.

    There’s not many of us get through life without some heartaches/difficult stuff coming our way. For some, it’s great waterfalls of pain and grief that crashes into them, and for others, it’s could be slow drip of not being listened to and learning not to ask for what we need. In between there’s the every day stuff of life that can cause people to become stuck, mortgage, cars, kids, perceived status, expectations of others etc.

    People may wish for things to be better, indeed.

    Increasing tolerance and encouragement in my exp works best when people are stuck. Probably (don’t know much neuroscience) opens up some neural pathway to allow more positive energy to enter their heart and mind so that the unsticking becomes an attainable goal, rather than an unattainable fantasy.

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      Of course, you make a good point. But I think the realisation is the key and as HR practitioners we shouldn’t be afraid of helping people towards that realisation.

  2. Mat Davies (@RafaDavies) · July 28, 2014

    I have mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, I want to cheer from the rafters, raise a glass and generally bump fists around the need for people to take responsibility.

    At the same time I’m not sure that simply by taking responsibility you can then drive your own happiness, I don’t think the causality is as straightforward as you imply. I’m my experience many people take massive responsibility and make huge personal sacrifices for their families by sticking at jobs that might not give them a massive level of fulfilment but actually helps feed their kids. In this context, seeking out “happiness” would be the height of irresponsibility would it not?

    In this sense, the ability to act in the way suggested -quit your job- might not actually be a realistic choice, given active choices- raising a family- made elsewhere.

    Does that make sense?

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      So, I’m maybe one of those people Mat. Not because of the fulfilment piece, but because I wouldn’t balance my life the way I do now if it weren’t for my family. But, I made that choice, my family didn’t make it for me. Ironically, I’m sure if I said I wanted to quit and do something else, they’d be completely supportive. Accepting that it is my choice though means that I can be at peace.

  3. rowenamorais · July 28, 2014

    I agree completely with this. I have to say, however, it’s not the easiest thing for many to accept. It has taken me, quite some time, to get to where I am right now and I do see things this way : that if you want to see the change, you have to be the change; that if you are miserable, it doesnt matter who caused it, the trick is to figure out you plan to deal with it.

    Huge mind shift needs to happen for anyone to not just see one thing like this but their entire life, and all their predicaments in that same way.

    But we are all the better for it, once we do. Great post, thank you.

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      Thanks Rowena, I think that’s exactly it. The mind shift. And when we are talking about people’s mental health, it is important that we help them to make this shift.

  4. changinghr · July 29, 2014

    I’ve enjoyed the short bursts of Neil Morrison ramblings but I think the danger in this one is that you’ve cut off a complex issue far too quickly and in the process left behind a slightly abrupt answer to it. Megan and Mat above have given great feedback on the things that make me uncomfortable with it, in certain instances, where the choice is highly problematic to get up and walk away so won’t repeat them. It sort of reminded me in a way the manner in which Norman Tebbit barked back at those who complained in the eighties to ‘get on their bikes’ instead of complaining there was no local work.

    Now for those people who sit around and do complain, and can do something about it and refuse to…..well, that’s a different story !

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      That assumes there are victims. I’m not sure I agree with that. If you look around you, you will pretty much always find someone in worse circumstances making a better fist of their life than you.

  5. Henry · August 1, 2014

    Good one.

  6. The Clear Thinking Partnership · August 7, 2014

    Great comments, points of resonance in each one for me.

    I love the notion of personal responsibility. It’s a concept I take seriously but I have reservations too and maybe what follows explains a little of my thinking on this.

    The way I see it is the thing that stops people from taking action is that they get caught up in their thinking and they believe that the feelings they are experiencing about work are telling them something other than what’s happening in their thinking. They believe that its external factors that are causing them to feel the way they do….it’s not, it’s just their thinking.

    I happen to believe that we’re all capable of misunderstanding where our feelings are coming from. We get busy in our heads processing the data that comes in through the array of perceptual systems, all of which are good at making things up….you only have to look at an optical illusion to know that the brain is perfectly competent at making stuff up.

    When people perceive that things are going wrong at work they often feel anxious, insecure, threatened. I was listening to a neuroscientist talk about how in periods of anxiety our frontal cortex becomes disconnected from the rest of our brain. Our ability to define choices and options becomes limited because of this so our decision making capability is hampered. (Meg, I suspect that’s what you had in mind with your comment too)

    In the example you describe Neil, that could explain why people hang around the organisation and become ‘that guy’, because of their dissatisfaction. It might not be because they’re not taking personal responsibility, it might be because their brain is failing to provide them with an alternative, because physiologically their brain isn’t in the right state to allow them to formulate options, to create choices, because its busy misunderstanding the information that it has access to.

    We are more able to make good (and timely) decisions when our minds are clear. To get people to a point where their minds are clear we need to help them to understand the nature of thought; let them see where their feelings are actually coming from so that the superstitious thinking can fall away and they can drop into a more resourceful state, one that might indeed lead them to take action and leave, but it might also get them to take action and stay…..and be satisfied too.

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      I agree with everything you’ve said, completely. I just think as professionals we should be willing to challenge this thinking. We shouldn’t be afraid to do so. Unfortunately the employment law framework often means that we don’t and therefore we allow people to continue to be unhappy and the organisation to continue to under perform.

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