Paul and Sara were attending a luncheon that brought together colleagues from their office as well as recently retired colleagues. Sara commented to Paul that some of the retirees seemed very happy and others were looking a bit lost – just as it was back at the office. She asked Paul if he had any idea why: she could understand the differences in the workplace, but in retirement?

Paul was a senior manager and had kept in touch with many of the retirees. He said that the ones who were happy, at the office and in retirement, were the ones who owned their lives. They didn’t seek the approval of others when making choices and took responsibility for the outcomes of their choices. Paul gave Sara five questions he used to help people he coached and mentored find happiness at work and in life.

Are you competing with others?  

Most of us have heard the term “keeping up with the Joneses.” The technical term is “conspicuous consumption,” demonstrating social status by the accumulation of possessions. Do you care about how the car you drive, the clothes you wear and the smartphone you use compare to those of your neighbors and colleagues?

When we do this we are either showing off our success to others or wanting what others have. This focus on the others keeps us from evaluating ourselves based on what we want and what we are capable of doing. 

This is always a dangerous game with no winners. When you move from a cubicle to an office, your joy quickly fades when you realize Jennifer Jones has a bigger office. When you get your window office, your joy quickly fades when you see Cyrus Washington has a corner window office. Someone always has something better than you.

Are you seeking approval from others?

Many people believe that unless we have the approval of others, we are not worth anything. They often get good grades in school, try to excel at sports or the arts, or choose a profession seeking approval from their parents. When they achieve an important milestone or do an outstanding job, they don’t feel good about it unless someone acknowledges it. This is dangerous behavior because you are relying on others to give you worth.

When you take on a task or a challenge, pause and define what a successful outcome looks like. When you are finished, look at the outcome. Was it a success? If yes, congratulate yourself. If no, figure out what you could do differently next time. Notice the opinion of others doesn’t factor in? When you put your time and energy into seeking the approval of others, you just end up feeling empty and insecure.

Do you know what you want to achieve?

Your goals should be your own. Just like seeking approval and recognition for outcomes, you should not be striving to achieve goals others set for you. If your mom wanted you to be a lawyer and you want to work construction, at what point in your life do you live for you? What makes you happy? If money were no object, what would we do? If we are happy in our present position and don’t want the stress that comes with promotion, why would we say yes?

It is important to have an idea of what your purpose and mission in life is. Taking the time to make this honest assessment will help you know which direction you want to take your life. Get away from the distractions of everyday life and be honest with yourself. Your future happiness depends on it.

Do you know how the much time, money and energy you are willing to spend to achieve your objective?

Once you have identified your goal, ask yourself how much time, effort and money will it take to achieve it. Given that you are already busy, where will you find the time to take that class that will take you closer to your goal? Where will the money for that investment in you come from? Will you have the energy after a full day of work to still attend the class? When you think this out before you start, you will find it easier to maintain your integrity during stressful moments and successfully continue on your path to achieve your goal.

Do you know that you, and you alone, own your dreams?

When you get to this point, you realize you own your dream. You are free to make choices and you are responsible for the outcomes. How fast you go after your dream is your choice, as well.

You may want to move from the mail room to the entry level finance position. To do this, you may have to take 8 training classes (on your own time). You love working with numbers and would take the new position even if the pay were the same. You will enjoy coming to work much more. But, you have an elderly parent that you are helping. You choose to take classes every other session to balance your desire to care for your parent with the desire to be happier at work. People may say, “Why don’t you take the classes back to back, so you can finish faster?” Others may say, “How can you take classes when your parent needs you?” Since you can’t please everyone, why expend your energy trying to please some? You own your dream and you own the pace at which you go after it.

Sara told Paul that she was happy at work because she does own her dreams. And as she thought of some of the people at work who were unhappy, she realized that many of them overtly sought the approval of their bosses and coworkers. She could link their unhappiness to them not feeling in control of their lives.

Paul concluded the conversation with this summary: You choose your dream and you choose your pace. You get results based on your choices. Your family, your friends, your peers and your bosses may support you and advise you … or they may not. But you and only you own your dreams!

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. For more information, visit www.WaltGrassl.com.