Anja’s Inspirational Thoughts on Happiness at Work

I strongly believe that in today’s world – where happiness in the workplace is at risk to be sacrificed to the realities of a fast-paced economy – a strong corporate culture is certainly not something one can take for granted.
Anja Meusel

Anja’s three key happiness factors at work:

I think there are various reasons why I am happy at work. Here are the first three that came to my mind:

#1 I enjoy what I am doing

A big share of my overall happiness at work results from simply loving what I do. My job is multifaceted, demanding and engaging at the same time. Sometimes it barely feels like work (don’t tell my employer though). Things that I love most – my TOP 10 in no particular order:

  1. Wake up in the morning not knowing what the day and/or week might hold
  2. Be on the pulse of national and international affairs
  3. Anticipate, analyze and solve complex problems and critical situations
  4. Do it all: Conceptualize, visualize, strategize and roll-up my sleeves to implement
  5. Meet new people all around the globe on (almost) an everyday basis
  6. Learn and further develop my very own skillset and grow in my leadership role
  7. Mentor, train and work with young talents
  8. Drive internal initiatives forward and help shape our corporate future
  9. Be part of a heterogeneous, international and great spirited team
  10. Be recognized and appreciated for what I do
#2 I am encouraged to leave my comfort zone

I know this is certainly not something that most people would pick as “key happiness factor”. To me, leaving the comfort zone is an integral part of my happiness at work as it is a substantial accelerator for my personal and professional growth. I appreciate that – by nature – my job enables me to constantly try new things and take on new challenges, roles and also responsibilities. I appreciate even more that my company takes a genuine interest in helping me grow and succeed – which sometimes can also mean giving me a little nudge.

Does that mean that I leave my comfort zone every day? – Certainly not. I believe that we all need this particular space where we are the least anxious and stressed, doing something we are familiar and comfortable with. The comfort zone is where we can process the benefits we get when we leave it. Without it we can neither learn nor grow.

Does it get easier to leave the comfort zone the more often I do it? – Yes and no. I have certainly become more confident and proactive in taking the occasional leap of faith. I get a thrill doing something new or alone for the first time around and it always drives me to do my very best. However, that doesn’t mean that I am never in doubt or that I am free of sweaty hands or stage fright right before a meeting or presentation. And quite honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, those feelings are a clear indicator that I have not fallen into some kind of a routine. But that I am actually growing and becoming a better version of myself.

#3 I get to work in a great team

I love the people I work with. It is as easy as that. I am grateful to work in a company with such a strong and unique corporate culture: Where colleagues, no matter the rank or level of seniority, treat one another with the utmost extent of integrity, respect and empathy. Where I can be my authentic self. And where people value and accept me and my ideas as well as all my strengths and weaknesses.

I strongly believe that in today’s world – where happiness in the workplace is at risk to be sacrificed to the realities of a fast-paced economy – a strong corporate culture is certainly not something one can take for granted. All the more I appreciate the honesty, the “roll up your sleeves” spirit. And generally the positive nature that is omnipresent and lived by in our company – not only in Germany, but all across the globe.

How Anja found her happiness at work and the lessons she learned along the way:

I think I was fortunate enough to find my happiness spot quite early in my professional career: Partly, because I was looking for it and partly, because it found me.

How did I get there? Ever since I returned from my high school year in the United States back in 2006, I’ve known that I wanted to do ‘something meaningful’, ‘something challenging’ and also ‘something with communications’ – not very specific, I know.

In the midst of my Bachelor studies (I obviously studied ‘something meaningful’, ‘something challenging’ and also ‘something with communications’) I had it all perfectly planned: A term abroad to improve my management and economics skills. An internship with a blue chip company to gain some marketing experience. Finishing up my Bachelor’s while working at the very same company. Getting my Master’s abroad and then – having covered all my bases – looking for an internship / job in advertising.

Little did I know that the professor who made me seek a future in advertising in the first place would be the one to change it all. That very professor was the one to hand me a note with a phone number on it after class. I was intrigued (although I knew that another internship actually did not fit in my career plan) and curiously dialed that number – which eventually let me to find my happiness spot at work.

Long story short: I did go abroad and improved my management and economics skills. I did complete the internship with the blue chip company gaining first marketing experience. I did finish my Bachelor’s – however, while I was working at that intriguing new company. I did get my Master’s, and I did start my career as a young professional. However, instead of advertising in strategic communications (doing guess what …).

Some lessons that I have learnt along the way.

#1 Determine what ‘happiness at work’ actually means to YOU

I think our external surroundings let us believe that there are certain things we should strive for to achieve happiness – money, status, titles and a certain lifestyle that comes with it …

I am afraid (and you probably have guessed it): It is not that easy. I have learnt that finding genuine happiness at work has a lot to do with self-discovery and reflection. Before finding happiness at work, you will have to determine what it is that you are actually looking for. Some of us know that by heart. Others will take some more time to discover. Whatever the situation, it is important to make the time, to take a good look at yourself – your skills and interests. And to find something that you will enjoy doing every day. After all, you will spend a significant amount of time doing it.

#2 Make ‘happiness at work’ (and happiness in general) a priority

I know, it sounds cliché. But for me the first step in being happy at work actually meant making it a priority. During my undergrad and postgrad studies, I have seen people around me struggle with and at work. May it be family members several years and even decades into their careers or friends and classmates gaining first professional experience as interns and young professionals. They all dealt with one or a combination of the following: Long work hours and insufficient pay, intolerable superiors, dissatisfying and non-fulfilling tasks, missing training and career opportunities and/or deconstructive company policies, to name only a few. The result was pretty much the same: dissatisfaction, demotivation, and disillusion – in some cases depression. Experiencing the effects of unhappiness in the workplace from a front row seat, I made a promise to myself very early on to never work in a job that doesn’t bring me joy or happiness. I made happiness at work a priority and I hold on to that promise every day.

#3 Take responsibility for your ‘happiness at work’

Let us assume you have defined what happiness at work means to you, you have found it, and you made it a priority. Well done! However, it doesn’t stop there. In my personal experience, retaining your personal happiness level also requires some serious effort. For most of us, certain needs and the mere definition of happiness will change over the years as we grow on a personal and also professional level. And that’s okay! The more important it is to take a step back from time to time and reflect – even if you have already found your sweet spot at work – and check whether you are still and truly happy.

Here comes the crucial part: When you realize you are not 100 percent happy anymore, don’t just throw in the towel. Instead, do something about it. Take responsibility for your happiness. Speak up, raise your concern and I am certain you will be heard. I can assure you that your colleagues and superiors will be grateful for your openness and support you in finding a solution to the problem. In the unlikely event that this is not the case, you are still free to go and move on to find your happiness at work elsewhere.

If you’re not quite there yet, and you haven’t found your happiness spot at work, here’s what Anja suggests:

Sometimes happiness is where you least expect it. Have you ever received an inquiry for an internship, job, movie or even vacation destination that was clearly not what you would usually consider? Maybe you have received a note with a phone number on it and were urged to call … Whatever it might be, one of these days just go for it. Explore your options. What’s the worst that could happen? You will find out more about yourself – what you like or dislike. Either way, you are one step closer to find out what makes you truly happy.

Also: don’t give up – your happiness spot is out there!

This is what Anja does when stress and overwhelm hit at work:

There are several things I do when I get overwhelmed or stressed at work. What has proven to be most efficient is taking me out of the combat. I retreat. This can mean taking five on the balcony to refocus and breath or seeking comfort and a sympathetic ear of a colleague to blow off steam. If time allows an intense workout session at the gym will also do wonders.

To prevent actually having to take myself out of a stressful situation, I focus on finding an inner balance on an every-day level. To me this means counterbalancing my demanding profession with a conscious and healthy lifestyle. I make my physical well-being a priority. I exercise regularly, I (try to) eat properly and make sure I get enough time to recharge – this includes alone time as well as time with friends and family (probably my greatest energy source).

And how do I make it a priority? I openly communicate with my colleagues and superiors. I let them know about my state of mind and energy level. I let them know when I need room to recharge. And we quickly work out a way to give me that room when I need it.

And finally, if you believe in yourself, you can do it:

You don’t always need someone to believe in you.

I think this is one of the toughest lessons that I had to learn. In my academic and professional career I was lucky enough to meet many interesting people and receive a lot of support. There were however also times, when even the people that I considered to be in my corner would challenge and criticize my educational and professional career choices. They would question my chosen field of study (‘What kind of a well-paid job is there in communications?’), the topic of my thesis (‘Don’t you think this is way too difficult and complex for you?’) and even challenge whether I was suited for my first job (‘You are way too young for consulting!’).

Some of the comments and criticism surely put me down at first. Looking back however I can honestly say that this particular experience has taught me well. It got me to thoroughly reconsider the decisions I made or was about to make – which actually helped me learn more about myself, my motivation and why I was doing certain things. More so: In a way it gave me the drive to pursue my goals and dreams even more vigorously. And to proof to myself: Yes I can!

 

Anja Meusel started her career at FTI Consulting Strategic Communications and has been working for the organization for more than 6 years now. As of April 2017 she was promoted to Director, Strategic Communications.

Photo Credit: Oliver Rüther