Does Being Happy at Work Matter? Annie McKee Says Yes!

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Annie McKee has written a compelling article in the Harvard Business Review about how important it is to be happy at work.  In her article, Being Happy at Work Matters. Ms. McKee writes, “Added up, brain science and our organizational research are in fact debunking the old myths: emotions matter a lot at work. Happiness is important. To be fully engaged, people need vision, meaning, purpose, and resonant relationships.” On this point I agree 100%.

What I do not agree with in this: “There are clear similarities in what people say they want and need, no matter where they are from, whom they work for, or what they do. We often assume that there are huge differences across industries and around the world but the research challenges that assumption.” It is interesting to me that no research is quoted to support this finding.

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The Power of Your True Interests When Searching for a Job

Kerr LetterNow that I am changing my career based on my Know Thyself Guide® findings, I wonder what my career path would have been like if I truly understood and pursued my real passions from the very beginning.

Basic research has always been an interest to me. I was a math major in college, focusing on some very esoteric areas of real and complex analysis. It was my intent to get my Ph. D. and enter academia, primarily so that I could continue research in this area. I shelved this idea following my masters because the market was glutted at the time with Ph. D. mathematicians. Imagine that now!

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Understanding Your Interests -vs- Your Strengths

After our Camino walk, seven of us peeled off from the others and drove seven hours to the Basque Country. Our goal was to visit the relatively new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. One of my fellow pilgrims is an artist in her own right, meaning she can and does actually make visuphoto (2)al arts her vocation as well as her avocation. As both a student and professor of modern and post modern art, she has interests and talents in teaching as well as making visual arts.

Here was a marriage of interests that really worked on this day. I reviewed my own Know Thyself Guide® and here is what I read:

  • You have a significant level of interest in the theory underlying the way things work.  (In other words, I ask why a lot.)
  • You have an above average interest in the way things look.  (So not surprising I am in an art museum.)
  • You have an above average interest in what is heard. . . How things sound.  (The reason this is important became apparent later.)

Unlike my fellow pilgrim, I do not have any real strengths as an artist, and I fail to like or even appreciate much of what I saw this day. There was one piece of “art” that I swear was exactly like the plastic awning under which I sat for lunch. I did not get it. So I kept asking my artist pilgrim, “why?” Why did the artist do this? The teaching professor in her patiently explained how to view these pieces and the why’s and why not’s. It was a perfect match of interests–my desire to understand and her interest in teaching.

So the plastic piece still looks like an awning to me. I don’t really like it, but I appreciate it more.  There were two other pieces that made a significant impact on me and all because of my third interest–how things sound. There was a large room filled with steel structures that you wondered through.  My pilgrim buddies loved it. I could not wait to get out. Why? The sound. I could not take the noise. Conversely, there was a video exhibit that had deconstructed an Abba song. Each piece was a lovely sound and you could almost hear the whole piece the whole time you were concentrating on one component. That I really enjoyed.

This experience was a great lesson for me in the power of interests, as per the Know Thyself Guides®. Interests are those things which you would enjoy if pay or prestige were equal and it does not necessarily have anything to do with talents.

Understanding your interests -vs- your strengths is important when finding a job you’ll love.



Regarding Microsoft’s CEO Remarks: First Ask, “What do I Want?”

Last week, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella made headlines for suggesting that women who do not ask for more money from their employers would be rewarded in the long run when their good work was recognized.  

I could not disagree more. 

I do not believe the gender wage gaps would be as great as cited in this article if that were the case. At a more personal level, this does not resonate with my own experience.

I grew up receiving these same not-so-subtle messages, mostly from my well-intentioned father. “If you work hard, and do a good job, you will be recognized,” he said. But in my father’s defense, he also said something equally as important. “If you leave an employer because you are not getting what you want, and that becomes a surprise to your employer, you are as guilty as the employer in creating the situation that causes you to leave.”

Well, I left a few jobs because I was not getting what I wanted. I was not getting the roles and advancement I wanted. More importantly, I was not being recognized in those jobs in the way I wanted for what I was achieving. And that went beyond compensation. I kept getting more work and assignments, but no public recognition from my bosses for what I was achieving. Did I say anything about what I was not getting? No. Why was that? I had received those subtle messages that asking was in appropriate, that the system was fair and would take care of me. I had no role models for people who were asking. If men were asking, I did not know about it. And even if I had thought it was OK to ask for something, I had no clue HOW to go about it. There were few mentors I felt comfortable asking. I was not able to fully reconcile the 2 messages from my father, nor my role in creating the circumstances that led to my leaving the jobs until I met a man who was a true marketing genius. He taught me that it takes equal parts of quality production (my father’s first message) and marketing (my father’s second message) to make a successful business. This is true for careers as well. It is up to each of us to market or sell ourselves, our accomplishments, and ask for the right pay, recognition, and opportunities in return.

My role: I was not marketing my successes. I was not asking for what I wanted in return.

So why was this so hard for me? For one thing, I had to get clear about what I wanted and needed. Once I got truly in touch with what made me Happy, Successful, and equally as important, made me feel Understood, I was better able to articulate what I wanted. I learned that compensation was one measure of how I felt appreciation, but there were others that were equally as important, like public recognition and ‘thank yous.’ Once I got clear and could articulate it, I then had to open my mouth and say something.  This was much harder for 2 reasons:

  1. It violated my father’s first message and the subtle messages I had gotten all along about what “good girls” did. This has and is taking a lot of practice to get over.
  2. I am not naturally inclined to this kind of persuasion work. My interests and strengths do not make it easy for me to do this.

So, what to do? This is why I recommend engaging a trusted companion as a coach.  Throughout my Know Thyself Guides® I suggest that individuals role play and practice situations like this. Even experienced negotiators and skilled sales and marketing individuals practice and role-play critical negotiations and sales calls before they occur. So someone, like me, who is trying to overcome years of bias messages (like good girls do not do this) and is not naturally skilled at this kind of interaction, must practice even more. In situations like this, it is important to engage a coach who is naturally skilled in these areas. They are often easy to spot.  But another idea is to engage a more senior executive who seems to have been able to address this for him or herself. I have found they are often willing to listen, role play, and offer suggestions. Yes, I think women often have to work harder at this than men do. The coaches and mentors are not as available. We have to ask for that, too. And I do not think I am the only one who got the message that good girls do not ask for pay. This is a subtle bias that still exists in the workplace. But women have a role in changing that as well, by understanding what they want and need and then asking for it.

Lightening the Load along the Camino

Every day that I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compestela, I took one more thing from my backpack and left it behind. I wanted to do anything to lighten my load, but I wanted to be sure my basic needs would be met. The first day I took out my Spanish English dictionary. I had not used it, and it was the heaviest thing in my pack. I had learned that I could get by with sign language if my meager Spanish was insufficient. I continued on until the only things left were my rain jacket, my passports (my US passport and my Camino passport), a few Euros (bills but no coins), and some water. I could get all my basic needs met with these few things. Everything else was discarded.

Other pilgrims were doing the same thing. One pilgrim even ditched her sleeping bag. She found that she could get basic sleeping needs met at each hostel where she stayed, and she did not need to lug the extra weight around.

I thought this was an interesting metaphor for Knowing Ourselves. In deciding how to shed the extra weight, each pilgrim was getting in touch with his/her own most basic needs. Each of us was also learning what needs we could depend upon others to supply and what needs had to be addressed by ourselves alone.

The lesson is applicable to all needs in life. How do we get in touch with what we really need? How do we learn what we can expect to get from others and what we need to address some other way?  In walking the Camino, we were focused on the most basic needs, and we were learning by trial and error. When it comes to personality needs, the process of knowing is a bit harder, and trial and error can have more serious consequences. But this process can be short circuited with Know Thyself Guides®. Once we understand our own needs and how we can best get them met, our load can truly be lightened.

With lightness in my step,


Happy, Successful, Understood Icons


Ready for your own 21-day journey?

How to be Happy, Successful, and Understood Through Journaling in 21 Days from Know Thyself Guides® can help you gain the empowering self-knowledge you need to remake your life into one of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Following the basic outline of the Know Thyself Process®, the journal uses your own thoughts and reactions to key questions to help you gain valuable insight. In just 21 days of journaling, you will:

  • Define your own perceptions of what it means to be happy, successful and understood.
  • Test your perceptions with a trusted companion.
  • Identify opportunities to act on your new knowledge.

Your journey toward greater happiness and success is only a click away.