I received an email recently from a lovely woman describing a very common problem.
She reported feeling blessed in many ways: she has a wonderful son, a career in a respected field, and a job that offers flexibility. Despite this, she’s not happy with her work and is sad and frustrated much of the time. As a result, she feels guilty, ungrateful, and selfish.
I’ve heard some version of this from many people over the years:
- “I’m lucky to even have a job. Why can’t I just be satisfied with that?”
- “Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called work, right?”
- “Nobody really likes their job. What makes me think I deserve better?”
I can’t address the issue of who deserves what; nor can I say how work is or isn’t supposed to be. In fact, none of these questions really have answers, which is part of why I think we ask them. The true purpose of this line of thinking seems to be keeping us stuck knee-deep in the status quo (more on this below).
It’s Your Choice
What I can say about the nature of work is that we get to choose what we want it to be: fun or boring, joyful or unpleasant, fulfilling or dissatisfying.
Yes, I understand that there are limits on our options, and that there are times when we may need to take a job we don’t particularly like because we need money to take care of ourselves or someone we love. Still, we’re choosing to do so because the rewards are greater than the costs.
We always have options. Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor, put it very eloquently: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In terms of your career, that means that though you may not like your job, you can find meaning, and thus a measure of contentment, in anything you do. (Frankl also said, “Life holds potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.”)
And just because you took a job you don’t like doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. The truth is that most of us have many more options than we realize; we’re just either discarding them prematurely or we haven’t done the hard work of uncovering exactly what they are yet.
So I’ll say it again: We get to choose what we want work to be in our lives, and there are some pretty compelling reasons for choosing something better than miserable or even mediocre.
Wisdom Speaks With Many Voices
I think we beat up on ourselves for wanting more because we’re confusing ego with inner wisdom.
When we want more money, more fame, more power, or more of the things that make our small, scared selves feel safer but that don’t actually improve the world or our true well-being, the desire is probably coming from ego. Egoic desires usually feel dire, urgent, and ultimately unfulfilling if or when we finally manage to grab hold of them.
But not all our desires come from ego. Some come from a deeper part of us that’s far wiser than ego and that somehow knows what’s best for us and for the world. I call this voice inner wisdom. We all have it. We don’t always hear it, because it tends to be much quieter than ego, but it’s in there. Most of us have had an experience at one point where we heard its guiding whisper and had no idea how such clarity or wisdom came out of our own confused brains or being.
The thing about inner wisdom is that it speaks to us in lots of different voices. One of its favorite ways to communicate is through emotions, including the difficult ones. If you’re feeling dissatisfied, frustrated, sad, or otherwise miserable in your work, you can bet your inner wisdom has something to say to you. Your job isn’t to judge it; your job is simply to listen.
Feeling unhappy in your current role is usually a sign that something wants to change. It may be in how you approach your work, but it might also be in the type of work itself. Regardless, the important thing to remember is this: whatever your inner wisdom is telling you to change, it’s not just for your benefit. That would actually be reason enough, but it’s far from the most important one.
The best reason for listening to your inner wisdom—your frustration, your sadness, your longing—is that it’s trying to point you towards work that’s going to allow you to share your unique talents and gifts with the world in ways that only you can.
A World Without Genius
I met my own coach during my training program and have been working with her ever since. Not only has she taught me an amazing amount about how to support other people’s growth and transformation, but she’s also helped me through some very difficult times with great compassion and wisdom. I feel totally loved and supported by her, utterly unconditionally.
My coach had a long, successful career with a telecommunications corporation before her inner wisdom encouraged her to leave it and enter the world of coaching.
What if she hadn’t? What if she had decided that work wasn’t supposed to be fun or that she should be grateful for what she had in the corporate world and not leave it for something else? I, and all her other clients, would have missed out on so many incredible gifts over the years.
Martha Graham said: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.”
In Joy We Trust
One of the biggest pieces of evidence I’ve come across for the world being benevolent is the existence of joy.
In my experience, when we’re putting our greatest gifts to use, we often feel a sense of joy. I find it when writing, learning about personal growth and development, having meaningful conversations with others, and spending time in nature. It was by following the joy that I felt in these activities that I eventually stumbled upon my calling.
Joy, no matter how intense or faint, is a wonderful indicator that we’re using our best talents and having a positive impact on the world. I like to think of it as the universe’s way of encouraging us to live lives of creativity, meaning, and contribution. Ignore joy, or convince yourself that it isn’t important, and you not only deny yourself great pleasure, but you also rob the world of your unique gifts.
The Real Reason We Feel Guilty for Wanting More
It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but I believe that the real reason we feel guilty about wanting more isn’t that we’re selfish or ungrateful. In this case, guilt isn’t pointing to a lapse in integrity that we need to make amends for.
The reason we feel guilty—or undeserving of a job we enjoy—is that we’re afraid.
Making a change, especially in an area that impacts our daily routines, our sense of identity, and our financial well-being, is terrifying for almost all of us. In the beginning, we don’t know what’s out there, what’s possible, or what will happen. We fear we might lose everything we have; we might be proven incapable; or we might experience rejection and humiliation.
Asking questions without answers and convincing ourselves that we shouldn’t want more than what we already have is a great way to justify staying with the status quo.
More Or So Much Less
In many cases, and especially in the world of material objects, more isn’t necessarily better. But when the yearning is coming from deep within us, trying to talk ourselves out of our desire denies the unique spark within us. It smothers our capacity for joy, wisdom, wonder, contribution, and aliveness.
This is a high price to pay for the sole privilege of avoiding uncertainty. What we find when we’re willing to follow the call of our longing and step into that uncertainty is that we’re far stronger than we imagined. And we realize that fear and the discomfort of the unknown are actually much easier to endure than the pain of losing connection with who we really are.
Help Makes More Possible
Most of my clients have the feeling that they’re meant to be doing something more but either aren’t sure what that is or don’t know how to go about finding it. Coaching helps them find the clarity and confidence they need to find what they’re longing for.
I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you listen to your wisest inner self, discover what you’re meant to do in the world, and get started actually doing it.
To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll illuminate your goals, clarify your challenges, and discuss what each program involves and how it can help. There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.
Over to You
Are you longing for something more? If so, what do you know about what you want?
When have you listened to your inner wisdom in the past? What happened?
Your experience can help others, so please leave a comment below.
Thank you for the nice article, it resonated with me. I am always afraid to want more and the reason is, of course, that there’s a chance I’d fail. Great question to ask myself would be: What if I made it? We’re so accustomed to negative thinking patterns, but that’s only a habit that could be broken.
Now to answer your questions: Yes, I want more of financial security, I want to work on my blog as usual, to educate myself all the time, start traveling again…
When I’m connected to my inner wisdom, it almost always tells me to first relax and breathe and start noticing everyday details again, to focus. When I’m focused and mindful, I suddenly see a lot more opportunities for success. It’s like miracles are happening all day when I let my inner wisdom resurface.
Keep up the good work <3
Thanks so much for the contribution, Jelena. I love the question: What if I made it? And I really, really love this: “It’s like miracles are happening all day when I let my inner wisdom resurface.” So true in my experience, and also true that relaxing and breathing are powerful gateways to that inner wisdom.
We made a leap of faith 8 Years ago and moved for my husband to peruse his career as a chef we moved country with a 1 year old and 4 year old , although it was tough we had some great moments but due to horrendous pay we fit into debt and had to come home to family, we have been back 8 months and although nice to have family work and money are insufficient and we are utterly miserable, we are now thinking of moving again I feel my husband deserves the chance to carry on his amazing C.V that we wo ed hard for and the chance to be paid correctly, but feel immense guilt for my children to be moved again to a city this time and also to leave aging parents . I’m battling with staying put here and just trying to make the most of it, or packing up and trying again to succeed as a family unit x I feel there is better out there !
Hard decisions are tough! But they give us a chance to clarify what matters most to us, and so are a great opportunity. Ruth Chang has a great TED talk about making hard decisions: https://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices. And I have two blog posts where I address the topic as well: https://meredithwalters.com/how-to-make-impossible-decisions/ and https://meredithwalters.com/how-to-make-hard-decisions-easier/.
I just found this wonderful post! I hope you still read the comments! I’ve wanted to be more beautiful, I’d want to make more money, I’d like to be more stylish, have more, better clothes, be more confident, decorate my home better, have new furniture, I’d like to have better skin…
I feel very guilty for wanting these things. I feel I’m allowed only to have the “bare minimum”, and not any “extra”, no luxury. I’m a woman in my 40’s. I cannot figure out what is the origin of these thoughts.
Like how I can have this “vanity” desire for example to have stylish clothes, when there are people in the world who don’t even have clothes, or food, or anything. Like if there are miserable people in the world, I should be miserable too, what “right” I have to be happy? If there are poor people in the world, I should not desire to be rich. This fear, that being successfull, happy and relaxed is somehow not safe for me, or that would mean that I don’t have empathy towards the less fortunate. Currently, I’m often ashamed of myself…I feel I cannot even go to a date and therefore have a relationship, because I don’t have any pretty clothes and I would be too much ashamed to invite the man in my home, where many things are in need of repair, are old and worn-out, it’s embarrasing.
I fear God is angry with me for wanting these “external” things, like money, new clothes, new furniture, in other words, wanting for MORE. I have this fear to become “punished”. I have this nagging thought, how could I be, and who am I to be happy and fullfilled, when so many other people are struggling and unhappy? Why I constantly feel this need to “sacrifice” my own life because of what “other people” are, do or have or don’t? I personally don’t even know these “other people”.
I can feel this potential inside of me to do and be more, but something, this mental block, is chronically blocking me. Please help! Is it truly ok to want these things?
Hi, Anna. Thanks for your comment. Yes, it absolutely is ok to want to be successful, happy and relaxed. When we are happy and relaxed, we’re more generous, and our natural love and empathy for others comes out, so we do everything we can to help. Wanting to feel good is good–for everyone. The thing to keep in mind is that the things we think will make us feel good or give us what we’re looking for are not usually what actually do. In other words, you may not need to have better clothes, decorations, or skin to feel happy. There’s nothing wrong with wanting them, but I find it’s more helpful to get to the layer beneath the initial wants by asking: Why do I want this? How do I imagine it will make me feel? What possibilities do I imagine it will open up for me? That helps us go from a craving to a true desire. If we let go of how we expect those feelings or possibilities to develop, we’re open to many more avenues for fulfillment. You can read more about different types of desires here: https://meredithwalters.com/the-power-of-desire-and-how-to-use-it-to-transform-your-life/.
Thank you for your reply!
You’re very welcome!