How to Achieve Career Happiness

January 27, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Long ago and far away when I was a young pup newspaper reporter the local high school basketball coach told me about a phone call he had received late one night from one of his former stars who had moved on to the college ranks.

The coach told me his player called him in a panic hoping to find a sympathetic ear regarding his current situation in college. The player told him things at the college were much different than high school and that everyone wanted to leave and play elsewhere.

I'll never forget what the coach told him. "John," he said, "Are you helping them pack their bags?"

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The player was shocked to hear this response coming from his mentor. Didn't he understand that John's dream of playing college basketball was falling apart before it even began? "Pack their bags, coach," he asked dumbfounded.

"Sure," the coach explained. "If they're leaving, you're playing, so if you're smart you'll be helping them pack their bags."

These words of advice from a high school coach have come back to me many times over as an employee and as a supervisor, and I've tried to share this perspective with my friends and colleagues as we've faced job and career challenges. If one set of people are unhappy and upset, that means there are new opportunities for those who stick around. You never really know what sort of drama made the people around you move on, but you do know how the opportunities provided by the situation can work to your advantage.

Early on in our careers, we all have dream jobs that we aspire to. Who hasn't told themselves, "If I could only work at XYZ company, things would be great." But the truth is, situations are what you make of them. Only you can make you happy.

I was at a workshop once where a person who worked at one of my dream newspapers was a presenter. My 20-something brain was shocked when I heard this person say that she had a list of 10 dream places to work, and when she called people at those dream places they all had lists of 10 dream places and so on and so on it went.

The bottom line is, we all dream at some point of greener pastures whether it's more money, better working conditions or just to be away from an awkward boss or co-worker. The difficult part, and perhaps it comes with maturity, is to learn that we are all just one hire, fire or transfer away from going from loving or loathing what we do, but it's up to each individual to make themselves happy in whatever they do.

Several times over the years, I've seen people who have great work situations experience entire paradigm shifts when a new boss is hired or a negative co-worker is added to the mix. The person often goes from elated to dejected rather quickly based on these circumstances and soon the grass starts looking greener elsewhere.

On the other hand, it's funny how many truly successful endeavors don't involve a lot of money being thrown at a situation but one or two individuals who decide they like what they’re doing and positive things grow up around them. The individuals decided they were going to be happy and good things sprang up around them. They made themselves happy.

This holds true even if you are out there looking for work and not gainfully employed. Chances are if you land an interview one of three things is going to happen. First, you'll get the job at a salary that suits your lifestyle and you live happily ever after. Second, you get the job and something about the situation isn't quite right. Or third, you are turned down and continue to look for work.

You've got to brace yourself for each of the possibilities and then find a way to make the best of the situation. Remember, regardless of the outcome, career happiness is something you can control.

photo credit: chris zerbes via photopin cc

AnnMarie Quintaglie McIlwain is a former marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and consultant to several Fortune 100 companies.  Now, as Founder and CEO of, she is a social entrepreneur who connects people with the information and inspiration they need in order to get jobs and start businesses. CareerFuel is the only site that gives people what they need to know to find jobs or start businesses plus blogs and short films about real people who made it happen. 

A recipient of numerous civic and leadership awards, AnnMarie is a Board member of, was a participant in the first White House Entrepreneurial Session, the recent WeOwnIt Summit, and the first Alley to the Valley Event.  She is also a member of 85Broads and Startup America.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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