Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 3

What Drives You – And What Drains You?

Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 3

Episode 3 / 15 September 2020


Hello, and welcome to this second episode in a small series I’ve called: “What Drives You – And What Drains You?”

And I thought that that would also be a fitting title for today’s episode.

In the previous episode (the one I called “Your UN Career Project Starts Here” – which is episode number 2) I talked about how we can easily get so caught up in work and the struggles of daily life that we lose track of what we really want for ourselves.

So, for many of us we’ve gotten a bit out of touch – or maybe actually a lot out of touch – with the person we dreamed to be. And the professional life we dreamed to have when we started out in our career.

Of course, what you want could have changed over the years. But do you ever set aside the time to reflect on what it is?

Where are you going?

Imagine that you’ve been driving your “career car” for a while now. You’ve been driving a bit fast, because it feels like you’re late all the time.

The traffic is dense and you’re starting to feel tired and in need of a break. You’re busy following the GPS instructions, so you’re not really noticing the direction you’re taking. And you’re no longer entirely sure what the address is that you put in? Or if that is still the place you want to go to? And with the weather conditions and the traffic – you’re also not completely sure that you’re even following the best route?

So, this is your opportunity to pull over, get out of the car, have a good stretch, look at the map (remember those paper maps that you fold out to get an overview of the landscape?) and ponder the best way to go from here.

Set aside a bit of time to put a spotlight on you and your dreams and ambitions for your UN Career.

And the best way to start is by taking a good hard look at the present realities. To stay with the “career car” image, you need to know where you are right now in order to get the best use of the map.

So, in the previous episode I advocated that you should invest some time in collecting data for your “Project You” – your own personal UN Career Project. Just as you would if starting on a new work project.

In essence, I recommended that you write down what you’re doing every half hour for at least a day – and preferably up to a week. And that you put a smiley next to each task or activity. Using happy smileys, neutral smileys and unhappy smileys.

And if you did what I suggested last time, you then reviewed everything you wrote down – your log – and tried to think a bit like an anthropologist. Being curious and investigative about all the various activities you’d written down.

I thought I would share that the reason why I recommend this exercise is because it’s very helpful for many of my clients. But also because it’s been enormously useful in my own life.

I did it first time around 12 years back when I worked with a psychologist to get back to work after stress leave. There it helped me find the times of the day that were the most stressful for me and find solutions to those.

And later I’ve used it exactly like we use it here today – to find out what were the tasks and actions in my work that gave me the most energy and made me feel good about myself when I left the office at the end of the day. And this became the starting point for the way I changed my own career tracks.

Digging deeper

So, today, we’re going to go more into detail with the analysis of the data you collected – your log. And we’re going to start looking at what you can do to get more of “what drives you” and less of “what drains you”.

Last time, I suggested that for each day you count how many happy smileys, neutral smileys and unhappy smileys you have. And then calculate the percentage for each. This way you’ll be able to see if you for example have 35% happy smileys, 40% neutral smileys and 25% unhappy smileys. Which can be very telling and thought provoking in itself.

But another powerful method is to use highlighters to colour the smileys. For example using:
• Pink for happy smileys
• Yellow for neutral smileys, and
• Blue for unhappy smileys

If you have a piece of paper for each day you’ve kept your log, put all of them next to each other. It’s now easy to see if there are certain times of the day that are mostly pink (i.e. happy) or mostly blue (i.e. unhappy). Or if a lot of your day is yellow and just “so, so”.

Now, in our pursuit for a “Happy UN Carer” today we’re going to look at how you can get more of the happy smileys and less of the unhappy smileys. And maybe turn some of the neutral smileys – the “so, so” parts into happy smileys.

Look for Patterns

You start by looking for patterns. And this is where you’ll find it helpful if you marked the smileys with each their distinctive colour.

So, are there patterns for your different smileys? For example:
• Specific people involved in the task?
• Specific meetings?
• Specific topics?
• Specific tasks? Or
• Specific times of the day? Etc.

You’re looking at a day – or a week – of your life here. Is this the way you’d like it to be? If you have 10, 20 or 30 years left of your career, is this what you want those years to look like?

Learn How to Get More of What Drives You – And Less of What Drains You

If not, then let’s look at how you can start changing some of your smileys. Look at all the happy smileys – the work that drives you.

And now you might ask: “Why look at those? They’re ok, aren’t they?”

Yes, they are. Hurray for the happy smileys!

But you want to learn from them in order to get more like those. So, you have to do some analytical work here.

What Makes You Happy?

The happy smileys, why are they happy? Try to look at those activities from different angles so you can learn how to replicate them:
• Is it because of the particular topic you enjoy? Or the task itself? The environment? The people? The time of the day? Or something completely different?
By figuring that out you learn something that can help you find out how you can get more happy smileys.
• Are you, for example, happier in the afternoon if you’ve accomplished an important task in the morning?
• Are you happier when you work on a particular project? And what is it about that project that makes you happy? Again, is it the subject matter? Or the people you work with? Or is it that you can really use your creativity in this project, contrary to your other tasks? Is there any possibility that you could get more involved in that topic? Or get into more creative tasks?

Neutral Smileys – What Can They Teach You?

Look at the neutral smileys – time that feels neither happy nor unhappy, but more “so, so”:
• Really try to analyse why they’re neutral and not happy.
• Would you be able to change something about the methodology, the timing, the frequency, or the context, that could move this from neutral to happy? Give it more energy or motivation? Or is there any chance that you could do less of this activity?

We often start out thinking that we can’t change our work tasks, but sometimes you can. And if you want change, you have to be willing to consider at the very least asking for it. Or working to make the change yourself.

Unhappy Smileys – What Can They Teach You?

Last, but not least, look at the unhappy smileys – the work or activities that drain you:
• For some of them it might be glaringly clear why this activity has an unhappy smiley. But you can learn more if you look closer.
• Is it a certain type of meeting? A certain topic? Certain people, that are involved? Is it because the meeting always runs over time? Is it badly managed and therefore it seems like you never make any progress? Do you feel you have to participate even if your role and contribution is not very clear? Etc.
• You might not be able to avoid the meeting altogether (but you should certainly consider the possibility!), but could something be done to make a change? Have fewer or shorter meetings? Make the meetings more effective? Could you do it?

The smiley exercise is an excellent indicator of how you’re feeling during your day. And which parts of the day motivate and engage you – and which do not.

In essence: What are the drivers for you? And where do you get drained?

Now, I can almost hear somebody say: “But Barbara, you can’t expect to have happy smileys all day. It’s a job after all. And we’re grown-ups.”

And you’re right. For all of us, work involves some elements that just need to get done. But most of us – and definitely most people I know in the UN – are in this because we’re passionate about working for the mission and the cause and want to contribute something, make a difference.

But also hoping to enjoy our work. And rightfully so.

After all, why not? We only have this one short life. Why should you not want to have workdays that make you feel good?

When you feel good, you’re more effective and get more work done. When you feel good, you have more energy, you’re more enthusiastic and more helpful towards your colleagues.

You’ll also be happier and more energetic when you come home to your family after work.

So, in order to create and reinforce a Happy UN Career which is what this is all about, it’s really essential to fully understand what drives you. What makes you feel excited about getting up in the morning and going to work? What makes you feel fulfilled at the end of your workday?

And what makes you feel enthusiastic about the many productive years that you hopefully still have left in the workplace – and fulfilling the mission you’re passionate about?

Take Action

The last step I suggest you take today is this. Think about and write down three points you want to take action on within the next week:
1. One “happy smiley” task or activity that you’d like to expand or get more of. Be specific about how you will do that.
2. One “neutral smiley” activity that you’d like to change into a happy activity. Be specific and concrete about how you can make this happen.
3. One “unhappy smiley” task or activity that you want to eliminate or change into a happy one. Again, be specific about how you will take action on this. Maybe it will take several smaller steps, but it will be worth it!

Get Help – You don’t have to do it alone

Consider finding someone to discuss this with. Sometimes we cannot see the wood for the trees when we’re looking at our own situation. Maybe you have a good friend or a close colleague who’d want to join you in the exercise and you can help each other analyse each other’s smileys.

Remember, if you want to review what we’ve talked about today, check out the full show notes at Barbarakandersen.com/3. There you can find all the details of the steps I’ve just described. Again, that’s Barbarakandersen.com/3.

So, What’s the Next Step?

In this episode, I talked about how you take a step back and get a great overview of what drives you and what drains you on a daily basis in your work life. But there’s more gold to be found.

So, in the next episode, we’ll look at how to mine the data from your career until today. Everything you can learn from the highs and the lows of your career journey. You’ll realise how far you’ve come. And start planning where you want to go next!