Career Management

I recently offered to help out a colleague by “becoming her” for two hours of my work day. What a ride that experience was! I began this new “job” somewhat reluctantly; all I had going for me was my desire to help my colleague. I knew going in that I was probably not going to enjoy this. So, I pasted a determined smile on my face, quelled the nagging fear that I will fail miserably and reminded myself that it is only for two hours.

The funny thing is that I was to do only a minuscule piece of her job: answer the phones professionally, take messages, transfer calls and direct visitors who might show up in the office. I was NOT asked to do any of the highly complicated things Liza does on a daily basis. So why this tension? Let me describe to you my initial minutes of sitting at her desk, which Liza and I laughed about later.

First, I tried to make sense of the written instructions, get comfortable behind the desk and generally look very capable. My heart was pounding and I was already looking at the clock! It strikes me that when we are unsure of our skills and have trusted someone else to do what we typically don’t enjoy doing, we respond with fear and unease when put in a situation such as this. The phone rang and I felt my throat tighten up. I got through that moment only to be told, “You are not Liza.” Hello, don’t I know that? Then it strikes me that when we are faced with uncertain situations we can dig into what is familiar about our personality and use it to save that moment and in doing so, make it easier for ourselves. So, I said back, “you are right…I am trying very hard to fill her big shoes and will try my best to help you.” The caller laughed, I joined in and took care of her request.

The minute hand seemed to move S-L-O-W-L-Y. I was surprised at how many times I peek at the clock. I recognize instantly that when you are NOT having fun, each task is a chore and I feel blessed to know that when I go back to doing what I truly enjoy doing, happiness will return with a bounce. Productivity and engagement are terms used frequently in our work world. These business terms make best sense when we identify why we enjoy certain things more than others and create opportunities to have “more of” those tasks in our work. Can you clearly identify your burn-out skills?


  • Identify what you do well and find opportunities to use those skills. Motivated skills lead to increased enjoyment and career happiness.
  • Ask people to give you feedback with examples on what you do well. Keep these endorsements and stories in a portfolio—use them on your career documents and interview.

At 4 pm, I begin to feel somewhat comfortable. I made one mistake so far and survived. I am reminded that mistakes are a way for us to learn, try something different and add to our portfolio. It also reminds me that I can reach out for help because people are willing to help—you must know how to ask the inquiry question. My body started to relax and I finally started to attend to some work I brought in to do with me WHEN people who pass Liza’s desk, stopped to talk to me and to each other.

The number of conversations that happen around Liza’s workspace began to overwhelm me. I wanted to go into a burrow and stay there for a while and just breathe. And, that day was not even a super busy day at the office! I quickly realize that the environment in which we do our best and happy work matters. Both, the overall culture fit as it resonates with your values, interests, skills and personality traits as well as the “micro-environment” we create within that larger culture matters. How does your work culture and work space support your best and superior work?


  • Where do you get your energy from? Do you get it from engaging with the outer world, being around and with people OR do you prefer being in a space of inner thoughts, ideas and reflection? Remember, we are talking about preferences here, NOT skills.
  • How do you create and organize your learning/working space? Be a detective and observe when and how you contribute in the most upbeat, joyful and creative manner. Maybe you like lists, order and schedules. Maybe you like “going with the flow,” variety and setting deadlines on the go? There isn’t a right or wrong answer. The more self-aware we are, the easier it is to create opportunities for success and growth.

The clock finally says 5 pm! In my head, I am already driving down I-71. Even the fact that I will get stuck in traffic doesn’t bother me. So, would I sub for Liza again? Absolutely! One, I know that moving out of my comfort zone is good for me. Second, it confirms for me what I’d like to do “less of.” Sometimes it opens a new window of opportunity. How about you? Are there aspects of your work that you wish to do “more of” or “less of?” Do you wonder whether you can move toward doing “more of” what you are truly passionate about?


  • Look at your current job/role and identify what you like/dislike in this role. If you are in transition, make sure that you are aware of this list before you say yes to an offer. A recent Gallup poll suggests only 45% of us are happy in our jobs! I think we need to change that number.
  • Continue to reflect on what might be non-negotiable as you plan your career path – John Pepper, former CEO of Procter and Gamble talks about finding your North Star to define your life. What might your North Star be as you define your career happiness?

Take ownership for your career happiness. What are you waiting for? And, welcome back, Liza!

Related: How To Survive and Thrive in Your New Job [5 Useful Tactics].

About Sunitha Narayanan

Sunitha Narayanan is a certified career coach with a passion for connecting people and their talents to life and work opportunities. She is a co-active coach, empowering her clients to believe in their dreams, set actionable goals and actively create joy in their work lives. She is with Promark Company, a Career Partners International firm that offers executive coaching, leadership development and outplacement services. Learn about her interests by visiting her LinkedIn profile.

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