Unhappy People and the Positions They Find Themselves In

(From the project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things by Julian Moody and Brandy Walker)

BW: In your experience, did you find that many people are unhappy in their work?

JM: Oh my gosh, yes. A large percentage are unhappy. There’s lots of reasons for it.

BW: What was most commonplace?

JM: We already talked about the people who are motivated competitively—they tend to be extremely unhappy. They may seem well-adjusted on the surface and have it “together”, but they are typically very unhappy because the competitive person is out to win. There are two areas to understand. Some people, as they move through the educational system and the work world, are interested only in performance and winning. There are other people who are interested in learning and being skilled in the work they do. It’s two different worlds. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to win—the problem is, many people want to win or be a winner because they get a sense of identity or sense of self-worth from being a winner or being a high performer, or feeling superior to other people. I’ve also found that people who are unhappy in business organizations usually have unrealistic expectations of people. You’ll find the person who is happy has realistic expectations. “I don’t expect my people to do more than X, Y, and Z.” And so he’s happy with it. The other kind is expecting the people to be perfect, and when they aren’t, he’s very unhappy. That’s part of it. I think a great deal of the unhappiness comes from the problems in their personal lives also. People with unrealistic expectations, as well as competitively motivated people, tend to have problems in their relationships. With their kids, with their wife, with their friends, and with their peers.

BW: I’ve also noticed people who expect too much perfection in themselves are unhappy.

JM: Absolutely. That’s another area that’s key. A person’s attitude and feeling about themselves can create a great deal of unhappiness. I would say that a surprisingly large number of people have very bad opinions of themselves. I’ve heard hundreds of people say, “Well, I’m a failure.” Or, “I’m not good at doing this.” Or, “This went wrong.” Or, “Oh my God, I wish I had some talent.” Their feelings about themselves pull them down. That is another major area of unhappiness.

BW: Did you find that many people don’t want to be in the positions or occupations that they’re in? They would rather be doing something else?

JM: Oh my gosh, yes. I came across many, many people who are in positions that they hate. That has been my experience, and there are also studies to back up my experience. Possibly one of the most unfortunate sources of unhappiness, but all too commonplace. And part of it is the way the educational system is set up—beginning in junior high, the advisors are recommending students to start deciding on a major and picking classes to support that major. And they say things like “Well, if you want to go to Stanford, here’s what courses you have to take. If you want to go to this other school, here’s what you got to take,” instead of focusing on what the student is naturally interested in or helping them figure out what they may be interested in. So there is a lot of pressure early on. They plant the idea—if you’re going to go to a university, you better know what your career is going to be in high school. But what I’ve observed, most people don’t really know what they want in the way of work until much later. If we look at it from a creative educational standpoint, what makes a lot of sense and what I used to say when I was coaching people is, “Get into all kinds of courses. Take different ones. And over a period of time you will know better what you like and dislike.” And my belief is that it would be very wise for people, when they finish high school, to actually go out in the world and work for about three years. Learn what the world is about. Take different jobs until you find what you really love. But our educational system doesn’t say that.

BW: There is an unwritten rule that as soon as you graduate from high school, you have to go to college. People will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in an education and countless hours of hard work, only to find out that law or engineering or whatever isn’t what they want to do, and they end up making a career change. It makes sense, before you make that commitment, to do any kind of menial job in fields that you’re considering to get a realistic picture of what that field is like. Or if you can’t get a job, do volunteer work. Unfortunately, many parents wouldn’t support that sort of thing in their children. In a lot of families there seems to be the same pressure as in the schools to make a decision early, as if it is one giant race. And people seem especially motivated by a need to get status. They want their kids to achieve a status they don’t have.

JM: Parents definitely want their kids to be in something that they as parents are proud of. I’m thinking of a friend that was raised in a respectable family and the father was saying always, “It’s important to get into the business world because that’s where you can make a better living.” So he did his best to be in the business world. He tried many jobs in the business world, but it was not natural for him. And in his case, he was almost fifty-five before he said, “I don’t want to be anywhere near the business world.” But, by then, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. He was conditioned a great deal by his parents and by the culture. The culture says that you’re supposed to know what you’re going to do by the time you’re in college. And his parents had put a lot of pressure on him. They had told him over and over,  “You need to work in the business world and make a lot of money.” People who are conditioned in this way often find themselves in the position of not even knowing who they are or what they want. A recipe for unhappiness.

BW: Did your parents try to influence you and your siblings in any way?

JM: My parents never tried to influence what we did. Never. Even when I walked out the front door with a dinner pail and working clothes for years and years, in the landscaping field, my parents never said that they were disgraced by it. Whereas a lot of parents would have said, “Well, this is horrible, my son is a workman.” And I ended up just fine.

BW: You’re someone who has been through some very difficult life circumstances. You grew up during the Great Depression and you experienced a lot of financial difficulty. If anyone in the world would give the advice, “You should just go into business and make money,” I think it would be you, but you give very different advice.

JM: Right.

BW: I am wondering, if people haven’t been through this conditioning that you refer to, do you feel that people would know what they are truly passionate about and interested in sooner?

JM: Yeah, I would think, in general, that they would know sooner. And work, education, and discipline can be very rewarding, fulfilling, and a source of happiness when there is authentic love, an authentic sense of purpose—such as using your gifts and talents to help people. But when those things aren’t rooted in an authentic love, an authentic sense of purpose, then work, education, and discipline can be a source of drudgery, unhappiness, and even depression.

BW: As far as unhappy people go—it goes without saying that unhappy people who aren’t doing what they truly believe in and feel passionate about aren’t contributing at their full potential. So, in a sense, it is a waste for them and a waste for the company that they are working for.

JM: Yes. It’s a total waste of resources. And unfortunately, it is all too commonplace.