Search form

The Career Coach: The Pursuit of Happiness

"Career Coach" Pamela Kleibrink Thompson celebrates July 4th in this month's column by giving reader's pointers to help them in their pursuit of happiness.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
-- From the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence of the United States

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

The United States was founded at least partially on the premise that people have the right to pursue happiness. Wherever you live, are you doing all you can to pursue happiness?

Happiness is the emotion that arises when we do something that stems from our strengths and virtues. In other words, when you do your best, you are joyful. Be true to yourself and you'll find both meaning in life as well as happiness.

Pursue goals for your own satisfaction, not out of guilt or social pressure. Often people feel they have to do something "professional" like being a doctor or lawyer. When people feel they have no choice in the goals they pursue, they're not going to be satisfied. Goals that derive from fear, guilt or social pressure probably won't make you happier, even if you attain them. Your goal should be interesting and enjoyable to you, or if not, it should be something you believe in strongly. Why are you pursuing that goal if you don't find it interesting or enjoyable or not something you believe in?

You can tell when someone is passionate about what he is doing -- there is a certain glow of happiness and contentment that flows from him. Happiness isn't a secret -- find something you love and do it. Pursuing happiness is a journey. Don't stop before you start -- don't settle for security when you are young and without obligations.

My next-door neighbor, Danny, recently completed the graduate writing program at USC. He started a job at USC when he was still an undergrad and has had it for five years. Though he is just starting out in his career, he realizes he is in danger of getting stuck in a rut and not pursuing a career as a writer. His job is comfortable, has benefits, and is stable. Danny recognizes he could find himself still at USC in another five years or more.

Danny knows he has to leave and soon and has set a deadline for himself to quit. He doesn't need the stability since he has no commitments -- he is not married, have kids or a mortgage or massive debt. Now is the time he can expand his horizons -- he is free to move wherever he likes. Don't fall into the trap of job security when you are young.

Pursuing happiness requires you to be proactive. You might have to take a path that's difficult at first. Take chances.

My friend, Jeff, was on track to graduate in one year from college. His course of study was forensics and he would become a crime scene investigator. But he had settled for this when his school did not offer any film or television courses. He dreamed of working in film post-production. When he found someone teaching a film production course, Jeff asked if he could audit the class. The teacher reminded him that he would not be getting credit and because the class was working in teams of two, he would be the odd man out, but agreed that Jeff could monitor the class for no credit. Jeff attended all the classes and did every project. His teacher soon recognized that Jeff was the most passionate person in the class and the teacher became Jeff's mentor.

When the teacher told Jeff he was moving to Florida to attend a film school and improve his knowledge, Jeff determined that he would follow the teacher. First Jeff had to declare independence from his mom's plan for him to get a college degree in forensics. Then he had to take liberties to go to Florida, which caused some fireworks in his family. Now Jeff celebrates every day because he is pursuing happiness working in film post-production in a career he is passionate about as a film editor.

If your school doesn't offer courses in what you want to do, find other ways to learn or take classes, perhaps at another school or online. Books and magazine articles offer advice and information.

To pursue happiness in your current job you might have to change your attitude, position, project or approach.

Changing your attitude: Rather than feeling trapped or bored at your job, think about ways you can improve the situation to make it suit your needs more. Are there ways you can improve how your job is done so you have more time to pursue other interests? Find someone at work you can learn from and expand your skill set. You never know what might come in handy down the road. If your company has training in supervision or management, or related classes, sign up. Find out about any team building or communications classes that might be offered through your company. Learning can rejuvenate you. Changing your attitude to one of positive improvement could put you on a whole new path, even if it's at the same company.

Changing your position: There are many instances where companies promote from within. Spend extra time at work observing those who are doing the job you want. Hang out with them and get to know them and what they do. A former receptionist at Animal Logic is now a Flame artist there because she after work she took the initiative to learn. Can you expand your current responsibilities? Request a change to a different department? Ask for an assignment that might be more interesting to you.

Changing your project: Often your boss and human resources people aren't aware of all the skills you possess and if there are some you are under utilizing at work, prove that you can be useful in other areas by showing what you can do on a project or on a volunteer effort. Volunteer to work on a project that intrigues you.

Changing your approach: Try a different way to do something routine. Brainstorm ways to make your job more interesting to you. Take a different route to work or a different means of transportation to get there. Changing your perspective can open your eyes to new opportunities, even if it's at the same company. Changing your point of view can also make you more optimistic about your future and help you discover ways to pursue happiness.

Don't give up your pursuit of happiness. It will always lead you to where you want to go.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, hiring strategist, career coach and speaker, available for personal consultations and speaking engagements. She will give a course at the SIGGRAPH conference on Monday, Aug. 6 at 3:15 pm on "Resumes and Demo Reels: If Yours Don't Work, Neither Do You". If you are interested in her professional services as a career coach, speaker, or recruiter, contact her at