By Elisa Zhang
If you’re like 50% of the US workforce, then you’ve said you’re unhappy with your job at some point in your career. But have you ever actually sat down to try to identify what the source of that unhappiness is? After all, the ultimate goal of reaching FI is the pursuit of happiness.
Some of you may know my real estate investing journey and how I reached financial independence in less than 10 years. Fewer people know what happened before this, including the story about how I spent more than 10 years before that struggling through my day job. When I reflect on that time, there was one dark year in particular that I can honestly say was my lowest point. I want to talk openly about it because you may be in that place right now. I want you to know that you’re not alone and you actually have the power to change that narrative.
Fresh out of college, I considered myself lucky to get a job at a big Fortune 500 company as a Program Manager. It was a dream come true (or so I thought at the time)! Being a TPM meant I got to constantly move from one task and project to the next, always juggling multiple balls in the air. One minute I would be designing a new feature for our software product and the next I would be chasing down my developers to get it implemented as fast as possible. The variety excited me and kept me going (which is still true today).
As I gained experience over the years, I started to reach a ceiling that was not self-imposed but more of a reality of my chosen career path at a large corporation. I realized that in order to climb to that next rung in the corporate ladder, you needed to specialize in one thing in particular; Politics.
To play the politics game well, you have to constantly be crafting the perfect narrative to get anything done. I had to really watch what I said and how I said it. I had to “polish” my words into a narrow set of terms that would elicit respect and acceptance from my coworkers. I had to “polish” how I conducted myself in meetings and email communications into an intelligent, hard-working, team-playing professional. Even when I was talking with my developers, I had to be “polished” so that they would perform the tasks I needed them to and make them feel I was a worthy leader. It felt like I couldn’t have a real conversation like the real person that I was with anyone. All of that “polished” pretending made the job not so fun anymore.
The initial excitement I had felt around my job and all of its variety started to feel extremely routine and rigid over time. I was forced to focus on just a few narrow tasks which were less about getting things done and more about how I came across. My one-on-one sessions were more about how detailed I needed to get to and how prepared I needed to be to anticipate any questions from the room vs what I had actually delivered. I had to send endless follow-ups to get movement on any project. Even after preparing and following up, somehow I was always not quite prepared enough simply because there were questions asked that I didn’t have data-driven answers to.
My job quickly went from endless excitement to a daily grind. Eventually, I got introduced to the idea of financial independence and it started to sink in. That’s when I began slowly shifting my focus away from the grind and towards something that excited me again.
These moments came back to me as I’m in the process of hiring new team members to my own business. I spent some time reflecting on that question of why did I hate my job so much? Then, after taking a Kolbe personality test, it dawned on me.
Unlike personality tests I’ve taken before, you can’t really fake your answers to get the result you want with a Kolbe test. The profiles are already set and you’re simply matched with them. The great thing about this is that it truly gives you a picture of who you are, including where your strengths and energy lies. As a leader, you can use the results of your team to tap into their strengths and focus them on the tasks that bring them energy. If your employees are working on things that energize them at the core of who they are all day long, they’ll not only be happy but will naturally deliver amazing results.
Going through this exercise with my team got me thinking.
“Is It Really Financial Independence That We’re Trying To Reach? Or Is It Happiness?”
I will be the first to admit that after reaching FI, I now work more hours than I ever did when I had a full-time job. But the difference is in how I feel about that work. It’s exciting. Sure, I still have days that I feel like I’m hitting a wall. However, I am now keenly aware of which tasks make me feel that way and can give these tasks to people who actually love doing them. Because of this revelation, most days I can physically feel the forward momentum and see the positive impact I am making on everyone’s lives around me. That’s an incredible feeling.
To give you an idea of how the Kolbe test works and how you can use it to play to your strengths and increase your happiness, I’ll share a bit about my results. I was profiled as an Innovator and borderline Entrepreneur (just a couple of the17 different Kolbe profiles) According to the test, I am very high on “quick start” abilities and don’t do well on single tasks that require long hours of focus. I am also very high on “adaptive power.” This explains why I love having a variety of tasks on my plate that are constantly shifting. Even better if the tasks are able to be done quickly. I crush it when I’m following up quickly on small tasks, I run towards challenges and actually thrive under pressure and uncertainty. These are all perfect for me as a business owner who is focusing on growing rapidly. This type of work brings me joy.
On the other hand, routine tasks will be the death of me. Being organized and systematic is just not in my nature. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important I’m aware of this so I can avoid tasks that require me to be that way. No wonder why being prepared and “polished” used to drain my energy reserves so quickly. I finally made peace with myself and came to the conclusion that the reason I was not happy before is that I simply don’t understand myself well enough.
This revelation hit me hard. Remember, your FI journey is really a self-discovery process. it is so important to spend time to understand yourself and map out your FI goal. If money wasn’t a limitation, what type of life do you want to live? Do your investments match that lifestyle you’re dreaming of?
“FI Is Not Just About A Number. It’s About Understanding What Makes You Happy And Realizing That You Have The Power And Responsibility To Make That Happen.”
I was meant to be an entrepreneur and an innovator. When I was just following in others’ footsteps down the corporate path, I lost my true self. In fact, it was the opposite of what brought me energy.
It’s time that we stop wasting our time on things we are not good at and focus on doing things we like and excel at! Isn’t that what FI is all about – doing things that energize us and allow us to live life to the fullest? So the next time you say you want to reach FI, the first step towards that life is to look at what you are currently doing and outsource, delegate or change what doesn’t bring you happiness and is within your power to change.
If you’re a person who read that and thought “that sounds nice, but HOW do I actually do it”, here are 6 steps you can take to get unlock happiness in your life and find your calling:
1. Take the Kolbe test
2. Read the book Unique Ability (This is optional, but super helpful.)
3. Make a list of every task that you do for one week. We recommend using Toggl to track what you’re spending your time on and how much time you’re spending on it.
4. Categorize your tasks into 4 buckets:
a. Unique (tasks that make you happy and you are good at)
b. Excellent (tasks that you are good at but do not spark happiness)
c. Competent (tasks that you can manage and do OK at but do not enjoy)
d. Incompetent (tasks that you hate to do, barely manage to do, or don’t complete))
5. Once you are done categorizing the tasks, review each item in the Incompetent and Competent buckets and find a way to delegate, automate and/or outsource.
It sounds like a lot of work, but I promise it will pay huge dividends in the form of happiness for your future self. I have no doubt that with this simple tool, you can find what drives you, where your strengths lie, and what brings you energy. Then, use that knowledge to shift your life to not only a financially independent one, but a happier one. It’s never too late to achieve both.
By Elisa Zhang
Founder, Ez Real Estate