(BPT) - Singer-song writer Willie Nelson once said that "99 percent of the world's lovers are not with their first choice. That's what makes the juke box play."
The majority of the American workforce knows just what Willie meant; they're not in love with their careers and may be working in jobs that weren't their first choice, according to new research from Gallup.
The Gallup survey found that half of polled workers said they were not engaged in their work, 20 percent were actively disengaged and just 30 percent said they were engaged.
"Those are sobering statistics for corporate America," says Kurt Metzger, vice president of Talent Management for Prudential Financial. "It doesn't feel like a very good return on investment for employers, and it's not a great story for employees, either. Given the amount of time most of us spend at work, the personal ROI feels disappointingly low. That's a significant lost opportunity."
A human resources professional for 20 years, Metzger says that a well-constructed career provides the five key components of well-being that psychology guru Martin Seligman identifies in his book "Flourish": The key, he says, is to take control of career development, engagement, meaning, achievement and positive emotion.
"Too many workers are still pining for old school 'career paths' that are defined by their companies and guided by their bosses," Metzger says. "They are a thing of the past. The world of work is simply changing too fast. A job that exists now may not be there a year from now, so creating a well-prescribed path is elusive at best. It is possible, though - and even preferable - to create one's own path."
How can you develop the career you want? Metzger offers some advice:
* Create a statement of direction. Metzger says, "You need to remind yourself of what your overall purpose is, so that you can manage your career intentionally, rather than allowing it to manage you." A statement of direction also helps you articulate your desired path to others. To craft your statement, ask yourself what your purpose is, what you think success should look like and what you stand for.
"It's not necessary to create formal statements, or to memorialize your mission, vision and values on coffee cups and posters, but the answers to these questions can help you get your priorities clear in your own mind," Metzger says.
* Think holistically. The notion of work-life balance as a trade-off can be misleading. You will have to make choices, but done right, taking care of your life outside of work can actually leverage your career. For example, research has repeatedly shown that exercise and good nutrition help promote clearer thinking and lower stress.
* Establish your value proposition. "Too many employees believe they are entitled to their job, and a promotion and a raise," Metzger says. "It's not true. For an employer, or a customer in the case of an entrepreneur, to pay you, you must bring something of value to the table." To establish your value proposition, consider your passion - which allows you to build resilience - your strengths and what skills you have that are in demand. "Having passion and talent is great, but if you can't get paid for doing it, it's not what you want to build your career strategy around," Metzger says.
* Create your dream job description. What would your perfect day at work look like? Are you in an office or your pajamas? What are your hours? Most importantly, how are you spending your time? Write out what your dream job would be like. Pay careful attention to the job responsibilities; you want a job where you'll spend most of your time playing to your passions and strengths.
* Make it happen. Once you've established what your dream job looks like, lay out a plan for getting there. That doesn't necessarily mean doing a job search. Very often, change can happen incrementally. How can you spend just a few more minutes today on something related to your value proposition? In many cases, your current job can evolve into your dream job. In others, you are building your portfolio of experiences to better position yourself down the road.
Metzger also advises engaging your manager to help find ways to make it happen. Most managers want to support you in furthering your growth and appreciate the clarity from you. Once they understand what you want to do, they can be an active advocate whether that means supporting you in taking on a special project, making networking introductions or giving you candid feedback.
"We all have more discretion over how we spend our day than we think," Metzger says. "The key is to take thoughtful action, rather than simply letting your career - and life - happen to you."