Cassandra Dunn's Crappy to Happy: Love What You Do is a delightful little book bursting with practical advice on making the most of your work life. The physical book is a quick read, featuring a beautiful hard-cover and quirky, colourful layout interspersed with quotes and actionable steps. These are the learnings which resonated most for me:
1. Finding pleasure and passion in your work is often more about your mindset than the job itself.
"If you are wary about the idea of finding your passion at work, I encourage you to keep an open mind. Experiencing joy and meaning have as much to do with your mindset as they do with the job itself. The way you choose to think about what you do, and whether you focus on what you can change what you can’t, make a profound difference in your level of satisfaction and the impact you have on the people around you."
2. Everything happens for a reasons - it's all part of a greater plan, even if you can't see it straight away.
"When you realise you are finally experiencing pure contentment and a deep sense of meaning, and you are fully engaged in your working life, you will understand that every challenge, every random, seemingly pointless job, every twist and turn along the path has helped you reach the place where you feel completely aligned with your soul’s purpose."
3. Nothing is certain, but there are always options.
"Learning to tolerate uncertainty and let go of the need to have a perfectly laid out plan is essential if you are going to free yourself from the feeling that you don’t have options. You always have options. What we very rarely have, though, are guarantees."
4. Often the path isn't clear, and that's ok. The key to progress is simply taking one step at a time - no matter how small.
"Except that you don’t have all the answers, and take small steps to a happier and more fulfilling work life, one step at a time."
5. Work stress is real, and you're not the only one feeling it!
"A survey conducted by the Australia Institute in 2012 found that 3.2 million Australians experienced stress and anxiety because of their work. It also found the 2.9 million people lost sleep because of work stress, and 2.2 million people said the job was having a negative impact on their personal relationships."
6. Don't underestimate the physical impact stress has on your body.
"High levels of stress over an extended period cause your body to flood with cortisol and adrenaline. The overproduction of the stress hormones can make you feel angry and irritated, or more emotionally sensitive than usual. You might experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension or digestive problems. Stress often affects your appetite as well as your sleep, and you might find you are increasingly relying on unhealthy coping coping strategies, such as alcohol or drugs."
7. It's ok to be where you are now, as long as that's where you choose to be.
"If the risk of making a change feels too great, you’ll likely choose the status quo, and that’s perfectly okay! What’s important is to acknowledge that this is a choice you are making for now."
8. If you feel stuck in a job or your career (and let's face it, most of us have at some point), one of the most helpful questions you can ask is "what do I need to move forward"?
"So, what is it that you need? It might be more information or it might be more self-belief. I’d hazard a guess, though, that what you’re really holding out for is more certainty. And that is the one thing you may never have."
9. If you're unhappy at work, there are always choices - and probably more than you think!
"You can make the choice to leave.
You can choose to stay and actively focus on what’s wrong, feel resentful and complain to anyone who will listen. (It’s not an option I recommend but I’m sure we can all think of plenty of times we’ve done this.)
You can stay and be proactive in changing the things you can and accepting the things you can’t. Be grateful for the aspects of your work you genuinely appreciate and the people who make it easier. Remind yourself of your values and make the decision to live by them, even in the face of difficulty."
10. Being happy at work isn't "selfish" - it's essential. Don't underestimate this. Ever.
"Pursuing work that brings you joy and meaning is not a selfish luxury. I want you to have the courage and confidence to pursue what matters to you, and to know that you have a right to feel the value and purpose. I want you to stop selling yourself short or telling yourself ‘it’s just work’. Your life matters, and if you have a vision for your future, I’d love you to believe it is possible to create it. I’m a firm believer that each of us has endless value to offer, and that the world needs the gifts that you alone can bring."
11. "Skills" and "strengths" are two different things, and it is important you understand the difference.
"Similarly, if something comes easily to you but it bores you to death or leaves you feeling drained, what you probably have is a skill, rather than a strength. Your strengths only emerge when the things you are good at are also the things you most enjoy doing. If something is truly a strength, you will seek out opportunities to engage in that activity because it is fun for you, giving you a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of pursuing your highest potential."
12. It's ok to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" and focus on developing your strengths, not your weaknesses.
"Improving upon weaknesses is sometimes necessary and can be important for personal growth, but constantly doing things that don’t come easily to you will undermine your self-confidence and a erode your self-worth. You (and everyone else around you) will benefit from you identifying, developing and using your strengths."
13. Identify the strengths (not the weaknesses) of those around you - it will give you a new level of appreciation for your nearest and dearest.
"I also recommend observing your kids with a strengths focus. Instead of being bogged down with what’s not going well, look at what gifts and abilities they are demonstrating. You might do the same with your partner or your extended family. Appreciating people’s strengths changes your whole focus, and having other people appreciate your strengths is such a gift."
14. You won't always see your personal strengths, so seek help from others to identify your strengths.
"Often other people see strengths in you that you don’t even realise you have. That’s because when something comes very naturally to you, you tend to disregard it’s value. When you compile observations from different sources, you will begin to notice recurring themes and identify patterns that help you form a complete picture."
15. Look for every opportunity to play to your strengths.
"Look for opportunities to tailor your daily activities so that you are spending more time in your zone of genius. Something that feels difficult or onerous to you probably feels easy and enjoyable to someone else, so take every opportunity to apportion tasks in a way that allows everyone to stay in their strength zone."
16. Changing the way you think about things is always an option.
"You can change what you do, you can change how you go about doing it, or, at an absolute minimum, you can change the way you think about it."
17. Don't ever underestimate yourself - we all add value to the world in some way.
"No-one, regardless of whether you are working, studying, parenting or volunteering, should ever be using the word ‘just’ in front of their job title. There is no such thing as just a stay-at-home parent or just a receptionist or just a cleaner. Perhaps we could make it our shared mission to eliminate the word ‘just’ from our vocabulary when referring to the important work we all do."
18. Work isn't always easy - not matter how much you love what you do!
"No matter how meaningful your job is, there will always be some tasks that do not feel like they are directly adding value. It’s up to you to find the meaning and to focus on the valuable contribution you are making, even if that means you have to dig a little."
19. Take risks like a scientist
"Perhaps it would help to think of risk-taking as a form of hypothesis testing. A scientist starts every experiment with a hypothesis, which is essentially a calculated guess. If the outcome of the experiment does not support the hypothesis, the scientist doesn’t take it personally. Instead, they review the data, form a new hypothesis, and test it. Guessing and testing, reviewing and evaluating – this is the way forward."
20. Finding balance in life is like sailing a boat
"I imagine the boat tilting in the direction required to keep wind in the sails so that the boat keeps moving forward. A sailboat doesn’t move in a straight line, but when you know where you’re going and you’re able to keep your eye on the horizon, it doesn’t matter if you need to be in one direction or another for a short time, so long as you course-correct as soon as you’re able to. If you feel as though your life is out of balance, it usually means you’ve strayed too far of course."
Now is the opportune time to pick up this book, as it perfectly complements any goal-setting or career aspirations for the year ahead.