The Happiness Avoidance Problem: You sure do know what you don’t want.

Engaged.MondayWe all want career happiness. So why, for some people, is it so hard to get?

It is remarkably sad that so many people end up devoting their careers to jobs that don’t make them happy. They don’t start out that way, of course. It just ends up that as they get further along in their chosen job, they discover they’re not very happy.

It could be attributed to a number of things: The people aren’t very nice. The hours are too long. The boss is a jerk. There’s no flexibility. The work is boring. There’s no chance for advancement. The pay is miserable. No decent raises. The firm has been acquired and layoffs are coming. They then jump over to a new job only to start the process all over again after the honeymoon.  Only this time, it might be new things, maybe you don’t have an office, it’s a cubicle; maybe the work is less sophisticated, the commute is longer; the minimum hours are hardly that and working on Christmas Eve was whose idea again?

Recently, I found myself to be a true and blue Baby Boomer waking up to the fact that I needed more stimulation. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love what I do in online training and running the OLP and Paralegal Knowledge Institute. It’s fulfilling, challenging and rewarding. Long ago, I recognized that I have an entrepreneurial mindset. The real kind. That is, I love start-up, I love to get things going and running. I love the challenge and the creativity. So recently, I took stock of my transferable skills. I ended up starting two new businesses instead of one. Typical Chere Estrin, my friends might say. (Years ago, I was a recipient of an award from California Lawyer Magazine for “Overachiever”.) One of my mentors says I’m crazy. Over reaching. She’s probably right. But both do dovetail and it makes good business sense.

First, I started Legal Careers Rx, (hold on – new website coming!) a job hunting coaching and strategy company coaching people on how to find a job in the new social media world, avoid age discrimination, stop getting rejected and more. And now, I’m just gearing up Estrin Legal Staffing, a company concentrating on job placement for non-attorneys and legal technology professionals.  I was in contract attorney and paralegal/litigation support staffing for years before I went into legal online training for attorneys and non-attorneys.

I realized it was time to get back into career counseling and placement. Why? I realized online training was the step before people either changed jobs or advanced their careers. They wanted to move forward. I realized I wanted to move forward. I needed more just like my clients. As an entrepreneur, how do you do that? There’s no boss to go to and ask for a climb up the ladder. I had to figure it out myself.

This change has really opened my eyes. Of course, now my only free time is Sundays between 3:00 am and 6:00 am but that's ok. I see myself in my clients. The first question I’ll ask is “What do you want in a new job or career?” The first thing out of their mouths is what they DON’T want.  (I think only one person so far answered directly what she wanted.)

I read an article today that said, “To understand how and why this happens, think about it this way. Each choice you make regarding your career can be for one of two purposes. It can be made with the intention of trying to do something that will remove something making you unhappy (like all of the reasons someone might leave a job after identifying what has made them unsatisfied). The other reason can be to make a move to the things you have identified that will make you happy (this might be by clearly understanding what does make you happy and cause you joy).” However, few people take the time to clearly define what that is. It’s the “I’ll know it when I see it” approach to job strategy.

I realized that what made me happy was making other people happy. I love that. I mean, I really love that.  I’m not trying to sound like a candidate for Miss America here, believe me.  Helping people get a new job; showing them how to confidently go through the job hunting process in this new social media way of doing things; learning how to do it by themselves gives me a lot of joy. Everyone wants joy. I don’t know of anyone who says, “Give me a job that’s going to make me unhappy.”  Joy, however, is not the crux for changing a job or career.  People look for purpose.  People don’t take jobs just for joy. Few people will say, “I’m going to take this job at this law firm suing people because it brings me joy.”

No, people take jobs because they are looking for purpose. “I am taking this job because my technology skills are going to help a team of attorneys assist a client who is fighting for his/her company; his right to do business and the jobs and purpose it brings to his employees.  I want to be part of that."

When you read those last reasons you might at first think “Hey, come on. Aren’t you really saying the same thing?” I thought this too for years. Here is why they are different:

There are infinite possibilities to do things that avoid making you unhappy. If you successfully avoid a few of these that you have identified it does not necessarily mean you will be working in a role, company, environment, or situation that will make you happy.

In contrast, there are a smaller and finite number of conditions that will make you really happy. Once you identify these, the rest becomes less important. Few people sit down to identify what really makes them happy. Have you? With all due respect, I doubt it. If you have, it’s probably what turns out in the end to be minor things. You want to get at the core, the purpose of why you are in the career you’re in. Believe me, you don’t go to work everyday saying, “Wow. I'm so happy I get to go to work because I have a private office or the commute is short.” These are minor comforts. Don’t confuse minor comforts with purpose. Have you given thought to purpose?

When seeking a new position, what people generally put on their wish list are things to avoid such as bad experiences they don’t want again. Don’t confuse changing comfort items with purpose of your career. Get to the meat of where you spend probably two-thirds of your life and identify the core values of why you do what you do. The rest may turn out to be minor things you can put up with.

Here is a list of comforts: private office; short commute; higher salary; family-friendly environment. Here is a list of purpose: enable a trial team to win; push children’s rights; oversee productive and profitable teams or offices that enable happy motivated employees.

Focus in on the things that truly make you happy and NOT on avoiding the things that make you unhappy. You can do this by determining the things in the past that you have enjoyed at work and not on the things you haven’t. Make a list and continue to add to it as you discover more about yourself. In short order, you will have a better perspective on what really makes you happy – which is all we really want.  You need to get up in the morning and say to yourself, “Yes! I get to go to a great job today.” Not, "Oh, great. I'm crying in the shower again because the day is about to start." And, at any stage in your chosen career, you deserve to go after what you really want. You just need to know what that is.

 Chere Estrin is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing (; and CEO of Legal Careers RX (www.legalcareersRX.,net). She is the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) ( and CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute ( Chere has written 10 books on legal careers and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times; Chicago Tribune; and other prestigious publications. She is an Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist; a Century City (Los Angeles) Woman of the Year Achievement recipient; She has been an executive in a $5 billion corporation and is a well-known name in the legal field. Chere can be reached at