Should You Quit Your Job The Job Satisfaction Wheel Refine What Your Job Is For Address Your Current Situation Quit & Transition

Fix Your Job!

The point of this page: “Address the current situation: Fix your job!” is about problem-solving at your current job.

The introduction covers why it’s worth trying to fix your problems before you quit. What follows are three stages (and accompanying exercises) involved in addressing the current complaints you have:

  1. Understand what isn’t working…Even better!,” will help you clarify further what’s going on. Included are three in-depth thought experiments.
  2. Get Perspective,” offers four ways to shift your attitude and behavior through your perspective of the issue at hand.
  3. And finally, “Directly address the complaints you have,” dives into the problem-solving process. 3 Types of Problems are introduced: Solvable Problems, Workable Problems, and Deal Breakers. This area walks you through identifying which one you’re dealing with and exactly what to do to handle your situation.

 “How do your decisions and priorities change if retirement will never be an option?” – Tim Ferriss, “Secrets of Doing More with Less in a Digital World” from SXSW 2007

Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur that captivated millions of readers with his book, “The 4-Hour Work Week,” that focused on automation and efficiency in order to reduce our hours at work. In the speech that catapulted his book to success, he asked his audience how their decisions and priorities would change if retirement wasn’t an option.

He was encouraging people to consider what their values were, how they wanted to spend their working time, and ultimately how they wanted to live their lives. It’s an incredibly useful question when it comes to cultivating satisfaction at work. Maybe the answer isn’t automation and outsourcing for you– maybe it’s figuring out how to make what you already have going for you work even better.

Imagine you have to stay at your current job for the rest of your life. What would need to change for that to be a prospect you would be happy to consider?

Assuming you’re reading this section because things aren’t up to snuff at work, it’s totally possible that such a thought experiment sends you reeling in a panic. Two reasons it could send you reeling are:

  1. It’s not The Dream. You took the current gig because you weren’t sure what else to do, it puts food on the table, or saw it as an intermediary step and are enduring it until the time is right to move forward. Maybe you’re in an exploratory phase of your career or you’re currently focused on things outside of your job.
  2. You thought it was what you wanted but it’s so bad right now that you cannot imagine it ever working out well.

Well, if you’re in the first camp you have some options: get the more-satisfying-job gears in motion OR make peace with your current choice while the more-satisfying-job gears are in motion. This debacle is a question of function- what is your job for, and is that enough? And once it is enough, how can we make it even better?

And if you’re in the second camp you also have some options. It could be time to quit, there’s no denying that. But before you do so it’s probably worth it to invest a bit more elbow grease and try to make it work- even if you don’t intend to stay.

Yes- it’s probably worth it to try to fix the situation even if you don’t intend to stay.

How on earth could that be? Why invest more time and energy into an ostensibly broken thing?

There’s a handful of reasons:

  • Jobs typically aren’t perfect and they all have their ups and downs.

Even the best jobs are challenging and uncomfortable at times. Being in environments that encourage growth actually contributes to our long-term job satisfaction. Making our job satisfaction contingent on “perfection” makes it difficult to be satisfied at all, while accepting that there will be challenges in every job and being willing to address them empowers us.

  • Being 100% committed can make a huge difference. When we’re not 100% committed to something we end up burdening ourselves with the question Should I do this? constantly. Even if we’re 99% committed to our job or a relationship or aspiration, that other 1% creates doubt and the option to leave or give up. When we have one foot out the door, we are unlikely to invest as much effort as we would be if we were committed to staying. Giving something 100% changes the game by shifting doubt to curiosity, paving the way for us to bring all of ourselves to our challenges rather than resist them. It changes the question from Should I do this? to How will I do this? This perspective shift lightens the cognitive load and empowers us to invest fully, rather than investing partially because we are considering giving up or leaving. *Read more about this in Get Perspective.
  • If you don’t address it now the same issue may pop up again later at a different job. One thing all our problems have in common is us. When we change the external without excavating the internal (our default beliefs, behaviors, and expectations) we may end up recreating the same dynamic we hate at this job in the next one. Do you find yourself having similar complaints about people or work?
  • Up and quitting can be incredibly disruptive. We don’t always have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It may not be necessary to overhaul our entire lives. Making the adjustments that are within our control can help illuminate whether or not making such a big change is actually necessary. And if it is, have you done the groundwork to set yourself up for success when you do transition?

So considering these arguments, it’s worth doing the groundwork at your current job before moving on. Make your current situation the best it can be and take that wisdom with you into your next endeavor (if you even need to go there!).

Consider this example from a Fortune Magazine article by organizational purpose consultant Ashley Grice:

“Let’s say someone has a passion for the environment, but they work for an automotive company that lags on ESG target-setting. The answer may not be to quit and go back to school to study ecology. They may not even have a knack for science, and their strengths in business strategy – what likely propelled them in their career—would be underutilized. Further, they would be neglecting one more critical and unique strength: Who better to drive change at this automotive company than someone inside who knows how to get things done? In this case, following their passion alone might pull them away from an impactful future, but leaning into their personal purpose of environmental advocacy in business could move their company in a positive direction—even if their ambition and that of the company do not currently align.”

To make your current job the best it can be, there are a few steps:

  1. Understand what isn’t working… even better!
  2. Get perspective
  3. Directly address the complaints you have

Click each of the above or scroll down to learn the specifics.

Oh hey, would you like a hard copy with all these reflection prompts in one place so you can print them out? 

The following print-out includes all the “Try This” reflection exercises for “Understand what isn’t working… even better!” and “Get Perspective.”

How to Live a Life of Purpose, Meaning & Passion

In this 8 minute video, author and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields explains the background for his latest book, “Sparked,” which is about finding the work that makes you come alive. He offers that changing our jobs isn’t necessarily the right move for most of us. Fields says that most people look to external changes to increase their satisfaction and suggests that instead we must look within and do the work that needs to be done there. He also briefly explains what Sparke Types are: ways and types of working that people are drawn to naturally.

Understand what isn’t working…even better!

We need to be able to identify and address the issues at our current workplace so they don’t show up at the next. You may be well on your way with this piece of the puzzle, as you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t considering jumping ship.  If you haven’t already, try the following activities activities to help you identify what isn’t working:

Use this exercise to compare your satisfaction with different elements of your work and get a clearer vision of the whole picture:

Use this workbook to determine what function you want your job to serve in your life. It is easier to make decisions about what we want our job to look like when we know what we want our job to do for us. In tandem with this workbook, take the Ranked Job Functions quiz to gain clarity on what is currently most important to you at work.

Additionally, it’s hugely helpful to understand how our perspective on what work is for is influencing our experience. The exercise “What is your narrative about work?” can help you figure this out.

If you have already done the above, the following exercises can help you gain even more clarity.

Oh hey, would you like a hard copy with all these reflection prompts in one place so you can print them out? 

The following print-out includes all the “Try This” reflection exercises for “Understand what isn’t working… even better!” and “Get Perspective.”

Try This: Imagine Love

Find a quiet place to do some visualization. Think about a typical day at your current job, a typical week, and a typical month. Think about things like how you feel (emotionally/mentally/physically), what challenges you encounter, what you enjoy or do not enjoy, the people you engage with and how you do so, etc. Then imagine what it would be like at this job if you absolutely loved it there.

  1. What would it be like if you loved it as it is? What would you love about it and why?
  2. If you loved it deeply, what would change about the way you show up? How would you respond to challenges? How would you engage with the people? How would you structure your day?
  3. How committed are you (0-100%) to making the best of your current job? Why that much?
  4. How do your current expectations/attitude impact your experience at work?

Try This: The Common Denominator

The common denominator in our challenges is often ourselves. Stating such isn’t intended to cast blame or shame anyone, rather to inspire some personal reflection and responsibility. Have you taken some time to look at whether or not there is a pattern to your complaints? Use the following questions to reflect on the challenges you’ve been facing at work.

  1. Write out your top 3-5 complaints about your current job in complete sentences. Then go back and write what category the complaint is about: Relationships/ Engagement/ Purpose/ Competence/ Passion/ Support/ Autonomy/ Life-style balance/ Compensation/ Growth /Sustainability.
  2. Thinking back to the last three jobs you’ve held, do the same thing. Name the top three complaints and categorize them.
  3. Looking over your lists, do you notice any patterns or similarities to your complaints? If so or if not, why do you think that is?
  4. How are you contributing to the problems you are facing? Ie, what choices are you making that perpetuate these issues? (Like choosing jobs that conflict with your lifestyle interests, avoiding confrontation or feedback…) This can be a scary thing to confront, and it is information that can help you move forward. Try to be honest with yourself.
  5. What do you have the power to address? What is truly beyond your control?
  6. What is one simple action you could take towards improving one of these situations that is within your control? It doesn’t have to be some huge task aimed at fixing the whole problem. Think smaller and more incrementally.

Try This: What’s keeping you?

Sometimes we may complain about a work situation for long periods of time but still not leave. Getting a better understanding of what is keeping us there can help empower us to make changes in the future.**

Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle vertically. On one side title the area “Love” and the otherside title the area “Fear.”

  • Love: This category will be a list of things that you appreciate about the current job you have. While you don’t have to literally love them, they are positive things that you value about the situation such as, “I like my co-workers,” “I get paid above industry average,” “Great vacation package,” “I am skilled at the tasks I’m assigned.”
  • Fear: This category is things that keep you from leaving. They are typically things you’re afraid of like, “I won’t be able to find a better job,” “I’ve sunk too much time into this one,” “I can’t afford to do something I’m passionate about,” “I’ll disappoint my co-workers.” (If this angle feels a little hard to relate to, learn more about motivation and fear here).

Go ahead and make your lists, then reflect on the following:

  • Which list is longer?
  • Which items carry the most weight? Star them.
  • How many items in the Love column are a reflection of items in the Fear column? I.e. “I get paid well” and “I can’t make enough money elsewhere.” For each of these matches, take a moment to consider how true the fear is, and what it is keeping you from. Is the way this fear is protecting you more or less valuable than what it is keeping you from? For the previous example, if you’re afraid you can’t make enough money elsewhere, perhaps it is keeping you from finding work that makes you come alive. Is feeling passion and aliveness more or less valuable than having a kushy paycheck? (Not that they need to be mutually exclusive!)
  • From your lists, what are the top three things keeping you at your current job?
  • Of these three things, are any of them possible to adjust there or find in another position? For example, is your relationship with your co-workers so stellar it’s worth it to you to stay? Is the flexibility something you could find elsewhere?

If the things keeping you at this job match your primary job function and you still have one foot out the door, there is a disparity in your level of commitment to the job. It may benefit you to move on to the Perspective section below.

**Keep in mind that job satisfaction is complicated. If we laterally apply theories about why people stay in unsatisfying relationships to why people stay in unsatisfying jobs, researchers Drigotas and Rusbult would offer that it comes down to dependence on the job to meet needs we don’t believe we can meet elsewhere. Think of needs as the things on the Elements of Satisfaction Wheel. The Needs Satisfaction Dependence Model provides that choosing to stay in or leave a relationship involves the following:

  • The degree to which each of several needs is important in the individual’s relationship;
  • The degree to which each of those needs is effectively satisfied in that relationship;
  • For each need, whether there is anyone other than the current partner with whom the individual has an important relationship;
  • The degree to which each need is satisfied by the alternative relationship.

It’s not hard to see similarities in behavior when it comes to our relationships with our work. Our satisfaction and our decision to stay can shift based on what is most important to us personally for our job to fulfill, how well those needs are met, and our understanding/perception of our alternatives. (Drigotas & Rusbult 1992)

Try This: What Career Phase Are You In?

There are different phases that we go through- and not necessarily chronologically. We can certainly bounce from one phase to the next without going in a specific order (although when you stick with one thing people generally progress along the spectrum). Where you’re at in your career can influence your satisfaction with your job, especially if you’re mentally or emotionally in a phase that doesn’t suit what you’re working on. Reflecting on what phase you’re in and how it relates to where you’re at can help you understand your satisfaction more deeply.

Possible Phases of Career

  • Self-Exploration
  • Experimentation (Industries, roles, etc)
  • Learning skills/information (Education or through application)
  • Making commitments and pursuing goals
  • Maintaining
  • Established expertise and mentorship
  • Declining or disengaging

Considering the above, answer the following questions.

  1. Where are you in your career?
  2. Are you ok with where you’re at? If not, where would you like to be?
  3. What are your goals and how does what you’re currently doing contribute to that?

Try This: How Does Money Factor into the Equation?

Money is an integral part of why we work and because of that it can cloud our judgment around other things that matter to us. In order to attempt to see other elements of work satisfaction more clearly, we can examine how we think about money’s role in our lives. (Recommended: Try the “How Much Money Do You Really Need?” Exercise)

  1. If you already had enough money in the bank to support your needs and some of your wants, would you keep your job? Why or why not?
  2. Assuming you can still meet your needs, if you made half the money you currently do, would you spend less time at work? Why or why not?
  3. How much money would you need to get paid annually to quit your job? Why?
  4. How much money would you need to get paid annually to reduce your hours? Why?
  5. What kind of job would you work even if you weren’t getting paid? Does how many hours you’d work change your answer at all? Why?

Get Perspective

When we aren’t willing to believe our job could satisfy us, Jonathan Fields suggests in his book Sparked that we may self-sabotage. Perhaps we begin looking for ways things aren’t working to justify our suspicion or we stop putting in as much effort. Our attitudes and expectations can have a profound impact on our experiences and behavior. Therefore a powerful approach to addressing your issues at work is to try on some perspective shifts.

  1. Change what you expect from your job by choosing and committing to a primary function.
  2. Commit 100% to being satisfied at work.
  3. Learn to see value in the tasks you don’t enjoy.
  4. Needs-shifting and Workable Problems

1. Change what you expect from your job by choosing and committing to a primary function.

This has been gone over ad nauseum in this section, and it bears being repeated here. Rather than expecting our job to meet all our needs for fulfillment, we can choose the best purpose for our job to serve in our lives right now and meet other needs in other areas of our lives. This shift frees us of the curse of maximizing every single element of our jobs in order to be satisfied there. That doesn’t mean ignoring things that aren’t working and suffering through them, though. You can still put your best foot forward and work to adjust things at work to be more enjoyable! Part of that comes down to commitment…

If you haven’t yet, do the Refine what your job is for exercise.

Oh hey, would you like a hard copy with all these reflection prompts in one place so you can print them out? 

The following print-out includes all the “Try This” reflection exercises for “Understand what isn’t working… even better!” and “Get Perspective.”

2. Commit 100% to being satisfied at work.

As mentioned in the introduction to this mini-section, choosing to be fully committed to something empowers us to bring our best selves to the table and increases the odds of making the change we desire.

This 3.5 minute video from professor and author Dan Ariely explains 100% commitment in terms of relationships. When you watch it, consider romantic partnership a metaphor for your job. He offers a poignant example of moving into an apartment with a day-to-day lease, and how the constant question of whether or not you would renew the lease for another day would lead to little investment in the home, i.e., you would be unlikely to decorate or settle in. There is also a wonderful example of our propensity to idealize how wonderful a new spouse (read: job) would be. Because we know so little about the position we may project onto it all of our fantasies.

Once we commit 100% to being satisfied at our job, we lighten the cognitive load of deliberating and can refocus our attention onto problem solving.

It must be mentioned, of course, that commitment isn’t going to solve a problem in and of itself – it is not a miracle, but a potent ingredient in being more effective and feeling more empowered to tackle challenges head-on. Similarly, this approach does not apply in all situations; we don’t need to overlook deal-breakers (aka huge red flags) and fight an uphill battle trying to make a job that isn’t a fit work out. The key lies in determining if the job is ‘good enough’ or ‘better’… in other words, 100% commitment is most helpful for workable problems (expanded on next!).

Try This: Commit

Reflect on your level of commitment to your current job and work of the past with the following questions.

  • How often have you thought about quitting since you started this job?
  • During the time you’ve considered quitting, how has your level of engagement or investment in the job been affected? Have you addressed issues that bother you? Have you worked on your relationships?
  • Think of a job you’ve held in the past that you didn’t consider quitting for a long time. How did it feel to go to work?
  • If you had to put a percentage to it, what % are you committed to being satisfied at your current job, and what % are you considering leaving?
  • What would change on your next day at work if you were 100% committed to being satisfied? What might you do differently?

3. Learn to see value in the tasks you don’t enjoy.

Now let’s say you’ve determined the primary function of your job and you’ve committed to being 100% satisfied at work. Perhaps you’ve chosen your primary function to be Prosperity. That’s all good and fine, but turns out you don’t enjoy many of the tasks at your job. Perhaps you’re an optometrist that struggles with relating to your patients.

The issues you face at work will likely fall into three categories: solvable problems, workable problems, and deal-breakers (these get covered in more detail in “Directly address the complaints you have”). Solvable problems are within your control to influence. If you’ve attempted to address an issue and it turns out it’s beyond your influence, you either have a workable problem or a dealbreaker. Deal-breakers are problems you absolutely cannot come to terms with or tolerate, like sexual harassment, discrimination, or unfair wages. On the other hand you may have a workable problem. Workable problems are those that you can live with. They aren’t big enough to convince you to leave, especially if the job checks many other boxes for you.

Feeling bored occasionally is probably a workable problem. Not liking all of your co-workers may be a workable problem for you. It really depends on the function you choose for your job and your personal preferences. (Learn more about the three types of problems in Directly address the situation).

Identify what type of problem you have here. Workable problems are introduced briefly in point 4.

Back to you as an optometrist, you’re having a rough time appreciating the time you have to spend with more difficult patients. It’s not a deal-breaker for you because you do enjoy many of the people you get to serve, you appreciate your income (prosperity function, afterall), and you are genuinely interested in optometry. Instead of suffering through every tough interaction you have, you can learn to appreciate those moments by shifting perspective. Try the following reflection.

You can find more on working with workable problems here.

Try this: Look for meaning in the tasks you hate.

Remember that meaning is the number one factor in job satisfaction? When you engage yourself in a boring, tedious, tough, or draining task, try to trace it back to its purpose. Grab some paper to reflect and answer the following questions:

  • Whom or what does my job, overall, impact?
  • Name the tasks you complain about most.
  • For each, How does this task contribute to that impact?
  • What does sticking with this task offer me? Is it an opportunity for learning resilience, patience, tenacity, relaxing a bit, or even courage?
  • Bonus: If I were to commit 100% to enjoying this task, what would change about the way I approach it?

Of course, there are different ways to find meaning in one’s work, says Michael G. Pratt, PhD, a professor of management and organization at Boston College. To illustrate this, he points to the old tale of three bricklayers hard at work. When asked what they’re doing, the first bricklayer responds, “I’m putting one brick on top of another.” The second replies, “I’m making six pence an hour.” And the third says, “I’m building a cathedral — a house of God.” –Excerpt from “More than Job Satisfaction,” by Kristin Weir for the American Psychological Association

4. Shifting and Workable Problems

After directly addressing AND while experiencing a challenge, you can shift within yourself as a means of working with the problem you are facing. Shifting is the process of acknowledging what we are feeling and consciously choosing to make more space for other possibilities. A process of allowing, accepting, and shifting is not to be confused with giving up, giving in, or suffering through something.

Imagine you’re annoyed by a coworker (probably not hard to imagine for many folks; do you have someone in mind?). Nearly every day they do some action or speak to you in some way or handle a problem in a manner that irritates the bejeezus out of you. While you have made mild requests of this person, nothing they are doing is actually interfering with your work or malicious in intention. It appears that it is simply this person’s way of being in the world. You even feel a bit guilty that they annoy you so much.

Dealing with this person is a workable problem that you can make a shift on. Rather than come in everyday gritting your teeth when they laugh or do whatever it is that irks you, you can choose to shift your perspective on the situation, forgive yourself, forgive them, and orient yourself towards other priorities.

Finding value in things you dislike is one shift-move for working with a problem. There are several others that get elaborated on further down the page where workable problems get expanded on. You can go directly there now, and it is recommended you follow the chronology suggested below.

Directly address the complaints you have.

Now that you more clearly understand the problems you’re dealing with, it’s time to work with them. Below you’ll find supportive strategies for moving forward.

  • 3 Types of Problems at Work: First, you’ll find The 3 Types of Problems @ Work, which will help you determine how to approach your problem based on whether or not it is solvable, workable, or a deal-breaker.
  • The Solving Problems Process: You can use this guide to actively address your particular problem and find solutions.
  • The Working Problems Process: If the actions you’ve taken haven’t resulted in your desired outcomes, you may try working with the problem by using this guide.

3 Types of Problems at Work

General Overview of the Problems at Work Process

The issues you face at work will likely fall into three categories: solvable problems, workable problems, and deal-breakers. Solvable problems you address head on (see Solving and Working with Problems). They are within your control to influence. If you’ve thoroughly attempted to address an issue and it turns out it’s beyond your influence, you either have a workable problem or a deal-breaker. Deal-breakers are problems you absolutely cannot come to terms with or tolerate, like sexual harassment, discrimination, or unfair wages. On the other hand you may have a workable problem. Workable problems are those that you can live with. They aren’t big enough to convince you to leave, especially if the job checks many other boxes for you. That doesn’t mean you suffer through them, though. You make a conscious internal shift to work with the problem.

Almost all complaints you have at work can first be looked at as solvable problems. Occasionally you will immediately be able to identify an issue as a deal-breaker, but this ought to be (hopefully) a rare occurrence.* So when you think of an issue at work, start by looking at it as solvable → then workable → then as a deal-breaker (if it gets to that point). “Knowing” something can’t be resolved or isn’t worth resolving would make this exercise useless to go through. Typically you only know if something can’t be resolved by trying to resolve it (and you know something isn’t worth it because the costs outweigh your personally preferred benefits; more on that in Okay, it’s time to quit…). When you approach all problems first as solvable, you give yourself the greatest opportunity for overcoming them and finding an optimal solution. You can find suggestions for ways to approach solvable problems in Solving and Working with Problems– but we’ll get there in a moment.

Once you have taken several actions towards solving an issue and it persists, it may move to the workable category. If it feels like something you can genuinely accept (read: not suffer through) because other aspects of the job are more important to you, you shift your perspective and attitude (see Perspective exercises above). In the scenario that you absolutely cannot find value in or transmute the issue at all, you may have a deal-breaker on your hands. If you do, you can read about how to transition in Okay, it’s time to quit and transition.

*If you find yourself running up against deal-breakers constantly, check out the Common Denominator exercise. Note that this does not apply to HR violations.

Examples of Putting a Problem Through the Process

Let’s take some examples of common work complaints through the model.

***It’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily a linear process. You may (and would likely benefit from doing so) start by approaching a problem as workable and do innershifts in how you relate to it before treating it as solvable and taking external measures. You may get to the deal-breaker stage and decide you’d like to approach it as workable again. If or until you decide to leave that job, you could go through these stages in various patterns over and over again. 

Additionally, this is only one angle of approach to increasing job satisfaction. Used alone, it misses tons of complexity in what makes work worth it to us. Use this tool in conjunction with Refine What Your Job is For, The Job Satisfaction Wheel, The Myths of Purpose, and Hindrances to Purpose for a more complete picture.

Try out the Problem Process for yourself using the exercise below. This one is a thought experiment, though, in preparation for the real deal. You can use what you come up with here as a guide for your next steps.

Solving & Working with Problems

Oftentimes the issues we face are nuanced and what to do is not readily obvious (afterall, if we knew what to do we wouldn’t be so tortured about it!). On top of that, many of us are conflict-avoidant and may feel that trying to solve our problems could expose us to greater risk and make the situation even worse. Unfortunately, allowing this concern to keep us from action can trap us in a stagnant state of suffering, and who wants that?

The company Gary works for just went through an acquisition and a lot of things are changing with the new owners- changing in ways that Gary isn’t fond of for the most part. He doesn’t agree with the way they are making decisions, who they’re partnering with, who they’re promoting, and how they’re changing work day flow. However, he does appreciate the significant retention bonus he’s received. Gary feels frustrated about the changes he doesn’t like but also feels confused about what to do since he wants to keep the retention bonus. Instead of communicating about his experience or working to affect change, he chooses to complain to his coworkers. Gary is stuck.

Rather than stew in resentment by choosing to expose yourself to something you don’t want to, you can use the problem-solving process below (or the workable one after that!).

The following problem-solving guide pertains to the Solvable step in the 3 Types of Problems @ Work. This is only a place to start, so consider that you may have to go through a few different approaches before surrendering and moving on to the workable or deal-breaker stage.

A note about beneficial factors in problem-solving:

These ways of being are invaluable assets to not only solving problems but creating the job of your dreams. Each one has its own dedicated section on this site.

Hope, scientifically defined, consists of a vision for the future, a belief in your personal ability to achieve that vision, and the concrete plans for achieving that vision. Hopeful people are more likely to achieve what they want to achieve because they know exactly what they want, have an grounded optimistic understanding of their ability to make it happen, and come up with explicit ways to take action.

Curiosity empowers us to channel humility and open up to unpredictable solutions as they arise; most especially in collaborative pursuits.

Our interpretation of events, ourselves, how the world works, and what is important influences how we make decisions and what possibilities we are connected to.

The state of consciousness from which we engage a challenge can affect how we behave- either through making conscious choices or reacting on instinct. When we find ways to regulate our nervous systems and engage problems from a centered and empowered place, we have access to more creative solutions.

Being attached to fixed, specific outcomes can be incredibly limiting when seeking solutions. Practicing ways to release out attachments and instead connect to our preferences can open up possibilities.

Having trusted advisors to help guide us by connecting us to experiential wisdom can make a significant difference in how we navigate challenges.

The Problem-Solving Process

  1. Make sure you’re emotionally centered.
    Before you can problem-solve, you need to be regulated. When we’re emotionally activated we are operating from the reactive, primal part of our brain that instructs us to fight or flee. Once we calm down we can access the part of our brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes reasoning and problem-solving.
    Some simple regulation techniques include breathing exercises, taking a walk, or singing. You can find more here.
  2. State the problem in one or two sentences.
    Oftentimes we’re bothered by more than one thing but conflate them together to be one mega-problem. Take a moment to define the issue and pick one problem to work with. Summarizing it concisely and specifically can give you a clear starting point.
    • “I’m struggling to get my subordinates to listen to me. I can’t tell if its something I’m doing or the way they are.”
    • “I don’t think what I do matters and feel like I’m wasting my life at this job.”
    • “I’m not making enough money.”
  3. What do you want?
    It is essential to understand what we would rather our reality look like. Sometimes this is a tough question to answer- we think, “Well, obviously I want ___ not to happen anymore!” But take some time to consider what it is you do want. Rather than make the problem go away (a negative wish), what would you want to experience in its place (a positive wish)? It can help to imagine what the ideal situation would look like if there were no rules and everything was perfect. Don’t worry about what is actually possible— take a moment to consider what you truly want… then state it!
    • “I want more flexibility in my schedule.”
    • “I want to feel like I belong and people like me/value my contribution.”
    • “I want more influence over how decisions are made.”
  4. List the strategies you have already tried to get what you want.
    This is the part where you reflect on how you’ve handled the situation thus far: consider what actions you’ve taken or not taken, or what you’ve done to cope. What have you done in response to the problem and in light of what you want? Take a moment to list everything you have done- even if that has been nothing.
    Have you asked for help? Have you worried about it every day? Have you tried to make peace with it internally? Have you unloaded on your friends about it? Have you stayed up later to get more done? Have you avoided someone? Name all the ways you’ve responded to the issue, even if they don’t seem like conscious strategies.
  5. Explain how effective or ineffective those strategies have been.
    Look over the list of things you’ve done to cope with or address the problem. How well have those worked? What has been the outcome of these strategies and how (if at all) are they helping you achieve what you want?
    • “Complaining to my spouse and coworkers helps me let off steam- but honestly it doesn’t do anything to resolve the issue.”
    • “I asked my boss for help but they didn’t understand me and gave me irrelevant advice.”
    • “I have started to ask for and do more creativity-oriented tasks. This is helping a little but not a lot.”
  6. What are your options now?
    Back to the drawing board! List out all of your options— and we do mean ALL of them. Even name the ones you don’t want to do, just to acknowledge that they are an option. What are other things you haven’t tried yet that you could do to address this problem? Remember, maintaining things as they currently are is one of your options (albeit likely one that hasn’t been effective). At this point you can also ask someone to help you think of a few strategies (and there are some ideas in “Extra Support” below).
    • “I could tell X what I’m thinking and how I’ve been feeling, and make a request.”
    • “I could ask to work from home part time.”
    • “I could host a dinner party and invite my coworkers.”
    • “I could start exercising before work so I’m less anxious when I arrive.”
  7. Choose a strategy.
    Evaluate the options you came up with and choose the best one. Sometimes we still aren’t sure what’s best. That’s okay, it’s still worth trying something anyway. You can adjust and try different things if your first choice doesn’t work. Also, this is a great point in the process to seek mentorship- accessing the wisdom of people who are where you want to be and have been where you are is invaluable. (Want to learn more about making decisions? Check out Chip Heath’s book, “Decisive”).
    • “I will communicate what’s going on and make a request on Monday.”
    • “I will set a boundary with my coworker about how I want to focus on my tasks and chat a bit less next time they interrupt me.”
    • “I will apply for the promotion as soon as applications are open.”
  8. Try it out! Monitor and adjust.
    Now that you’ve selected a strategy, give it a whirl. Monitor how well it is working and adjust as necessary. Go back through the process if the problem persists and try another strategy with the feedback you got from trying the first option. Solving your problem may not be a one-and-done sort of issue (although it’s possible it is!).

Examples of the Problem-Solving Process in action

The Issue:  Jack works at a residential treatment center for teens. The work is challenging, the hours are long, and he isn’t paid very much. However, he deeply enjoys supporting the kids through their healing process, is skilled at navigating conflict, and finds the work meaningful. Unfortunately he has begun to feel resentful about the amount of effort he puts into the work in relation to his compensation.

The Process:

  1. Regulation. Jack isn’t particularly emotional about this topic but he still waits until a time when he feels centered and open, rather than angry or frustrated.
  2. The Problem: After some processing, Jack realizes that the nature or amount of the work isn’t the issue, rather that he can’t sustain the work considering his other life priorities due to the cost of living. He thinks that if he gets paid more the work will feel more justifiable in the context of supporting the rest of his life.
  3. The Desire: Jack wants to use his time wisely and supporting himself is a factor in that. His desire is to have meaningful work that pays him enough to meet his needs.
  4. Past/Current Strategies: Up until this point he has mostly complained about the unfairness of the situation to family and friends in order to get some validation and support. He hasn’t tried to directly address the issue.
  5. Effectiveness of Strategies: Getting validated by people has helped sustain him a bit longer. Unfortunately, he realizes a lot of the people he goes to end up commiserating with him, which ends up increasing his sense of resentment and makes him more angry.
  6. Other Options: He could quit and look for a new job, he could ask for a raise, he could work to simplify his living costs, he could seek a position at the same organization that pays more, he could continue as things are and use complaining to let off steam
  7. Chosen Strategy: Ask for a raise
  8. Try, Monitor, Adjust: Jack asked for a raise and was granted a small one. While the acknowledgment felt good, he was still frustrated with the situation. He ended up trying to decrease his expenses but found that he was already living very frugally. Next he decided to apply for a higher-level, better-paid position at the same organization.

The Issue: Kaitlyn is a remote free-lance software engineer. She takes contracts with various companies who find her on online listing services. She adores the freedom this gives her and is satisfied with her pay. Unfortunately, she’s grown pretty bored and feels a bit stifled. She wants her work to feel more interesting and engaging.

The Process:

  1. Regulation. After a tough day that she really struggled through because it felt dull and repetitive, Kaitlyn was frustrated and dismayed. She felt fed-up and wanted to start looking for a new job immediately. Before doing that, however, she chose to go for a run, shower, and have some dinner in order to calm down and clear her head. After dinner she felt much more centered and less reactive.
  2. The Problem: Kaitlyn feels bored and stuck.
  3. The Desire: She wants work that is more engaging, enjoyable, and interesting.
  4. Past/Current Strategies: In the past she has tried to achieve this by taking on a variety of different kinds of projects.
  5. Effectiveness of Strategies: Doing different styles of projects hasn’t resolved the issue.
  6. Other Options: Continue what she is doing and feel bored, get trained in a new skill that she can add on to her current work, quit and find a new type of job, re-design how she approaches her workday (schedule, diet, meditation, exercise), take a position at a company where she can go into an office and be around people/have relationships, find work with a company that contributes to a cause she believes in, reflect on her interests and values and get a better understanding of why this isn’t working.
  7. Chosen Strategy: Get a better understanding of her values and interests and how they could be integrated with her work and then take a class in a new skill that she could combine into her current services.
  8. Try, Monitor, Adjust: Kaitlyn can continue to develop her skills and integrate more enjoyable things into her work-day. This may or may not resolve the issue entirely. If it does not, she can go back to her other strategies or address other nuances of the problem as she learns more through experimentation.

A few things to keep in mind about this process:

  • Problem solving is an endless process. Oof, yeah. Sorry to tell you it’s not a one-and-done kinda a thing (most of the time). Even if you manage to find a solution to your current dilemma, it’s likely that another one will pop up in its place eventually. But don’t despair– you can always keep this process in your tool belt! Understanding that you will continue to encounter challenges at work (and in life in general) will help increase your resilience. Actively addressing the challenges you encounter will help build your self-efficacy. It is highly unlikely that any job you have will be perfect. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on the problems you run into and try to improve your experience.
  • You can use this model to collaborate on a solution with someone you are not in agreement with. Struggling with a superior or coworker is an especially common problem to have at work. You can sit down and go through these steps together in order to prioritize understanding each party’s concerns and desires. You could also use the Elevated Conversation Guide from the Listening section for a super in-depth guide to navigating conversation. Other relevant resources for conflict resolution include Change Your Mind, 100% Responsibility, and Compassionate Communication
  • Pro Tip: Go through this process with a mentor. Have them guide you through the process by asking the steps as questions and then reflecting back what they understand you to be saying. *Their role is not to offer you advice unless you ask them for it in step 6. Even then, they are not to share their opinions, judgments, or personal stories; rather they are to function as a sounding board for you to clarify your thoughts and options.

Extra Support

First of all, have you asked for help? An often overlooked option, asking for help can elucidate avenues we didn’t know were available to us and help us achieve more than we thought was possible. And, asking for help is just one of many strategies you can employ. The above problem-solving process can aid you in discovering many options. Below you’ll find a few more suggestions and resources.

  • Struggling with compensation or benefits? First find out how much money you actually need.
  • Struggling with task or role dissatisfaction? See the sections Refine What Your Job Is For, The Elements of Job Satisfaction, and the Clarify section of purpose. In addition, look into Sparks and find out what you truly enjoy so you can empower yourself to craft those circumstances. Ask for or design a new role or take on different tasks.
  • Struggling with workload or sustainability? Check out the Habits section for scheduling and optimization tricks. Ask for a redistribution of your responsibilities. Read about Busyness and reflect on what you’re responsible for creating.
  • Struggling with relationships? Try having a mediated conversation with this person. Ask for help. Learn NVC. Brush up on your Listening and Curiosity skills. Learn about Clean Communication.
  • Struggling with boredom? Try taking a class to gain new skills, asking for a different role/responsibility, or suggesting new ideas you can bring to the organization that you would enjoy executing. Learn to cultivate passion.
  • Struggling with communication processes and organization at work? Propose a new system that you think might work better. Implement Knowledge Management.

Other ideas:

  • Keep notes about your small wins at the end of every day so you recognize your progress and are better able to see what is working. Start a Gratitude journal for your work life.
  • Find a mentor who is in a position you admire/living their life the way you would like to and learn from them.
  • Start meditating and practicing mindfulness. It can help with presence, resilience, and stress-relief (just to start!)

If you’ve gone through the problem-solving process and discovered you do not have the influence to change the external conditions of the situation, you may want to try working with the problem (below).

“Less happiness today does not mean more happiness tomorrow.” – Live Your Legend

None of us want to suffer through the issues we encounter at work (or elsewhere, for that matter). Unfortunately it can sometimes feel like it is our only option, especially when we’ve put a great deal of effort into addressing the situation (or honestly sometimes before we have tried to address the situation at all!). We can often end up in a circumstance where we aren’t ready to quit because there are several things about the job that really do serve us pitted up against other problems that feel almost intolerable. But you do have another option beyond ‘suffer through it’ or ‘quit’. That option is to make a shift(1)(2)(3) within yourself. That’s what the workable process is all about.

While a few bits for working with problems were touched on in “Get Perspective,” the following is a suggested step-by-step process for working with problems you have found difficult to change outside of yourself. It is not the ultimate approach by any means. You can find a wide range of strategies for shifting throughout (linked below).

Working with Problems Process

  1. Make sure you’re emotionally centered.
    Before you can effectively work with a problem you need to be regulated. When we’re emotionally activated we are operating from the reactive, primal part of our brain that instructs us to fight or flee. Once we calm down we can access the part of our brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes reasoning and problem-solving. Some simple regulation techniques include breathing exercises, taking a walk, or singing. You can find more here.
  2. State the problem in one or two sentences.
    Oftentimes we’re bothered by more than one thing but conflate them together to be one mega-problem. Take a moment to define the issue and pick one problem to work with. Summarizing it concisely and specifically can give you a clear starting point.
  3. State what it is you want.
    Whatever the issue, it’s an issue because it interferes with something we think we want. Take a moment to consider what the positive experience you would rather be having would look like. Do you want more ease? Freedom? Connection? Acknowledgment? Be honest with yourself, and frame it in terms of what you do want, not what you don’t want.
  4. Allow and accept your experience.
    Notice and name how you are feeling and the judgments you are making of the situation. Allow those things to exist without being so tough on yourself; you’re human after all! What would it be like to forgive yourself for what you’re feeling and/or resisting in this situation? Give yourself the opportunity to normalize your reaction to this situation and forgive yourself and those involved.
  5. State your priorities and commit to them 100%.
    Remember the Primary Function exercise you did? Remind yourself what is most important to you about your job and how it fits into your life. Remind yourself that you are committed to having a positive experience at work. Recommit yourself to this endeavor. Perhaps contribution and gratitude are more important to you than the ease you aren’t experiencing right now. Perhaps your desire for growth trumps the lack of prosperity.
  6. Shift focus and energy to your priorities.
    Try a handful of shift exercises to move the energy and focus that this issue has drawn towards your other priorities and possibilities. Here are a few:
    • Ask yourself: What are you learning from this experience? What value might it have?
    • How significant will this situation be in 10 days? 10 weeks? 10 months? 10 years?
    • Tell the story of your situation to multiple strangers and get their takes on it.
    • And a host of others are available on the Freedom from Suffering page.

A note about the workable process: It can be hard to shift when something is bothering us! And, what is the point of suffering when you’ve made up your mind to prioritize something else? The above process is an oversimplification of a more nuanced process called needs shifting.

Needs Shifting

Needs-shifting is a concept from Compassionate Communication (also known as Non-Violent Communication, or NVC). NVC is based on the idea that all human beings experience a set of universal needs like belonging, freedom, or security. To put the philosophy very basically, NVC offers that when we have a problem we are experiencing an unmet need. Need shifting is the conscious or unconscious process of moving away from certain needs and/or towards other needs with peace, power and balance.

For example, let’s say your work is particularly demanding right now because you’ve taken on new responsibilities and are learning new skills. Need shifting in this scenario could mean shifting peacefully from a need for more convenience right now to your need for competence in the long term.

You can learn more about needs shifting here.

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