Key Takeaways

  • Advocating for yourself in your career is important for your own happiness
  • Being unhappy at work can lead to burnout, which comes with a number of health risks
  • It may take time to find a role that makes you happy, but when you land on the perfect match, it can pay off

We've all heard the phrase "do what you love." It's the cornerstone of every motivational speech—or at least it seems like it. And it's advice that Cathy E. Minehan, MBA, former chair of Massachusetts General Hospital's Board of Trustees, practices and preaches. Because while it admittedly sounds a little cliché, there are indeed health benefits to enjoying your work. And by the same token, according to Minehan, it's also equally important to recognize when it's time to walk away from a job that's no longer fulfilling.

'This Could Be Trouble'

Before being elected chair of Mass General's Board of Trustees in 2008, Minehan worked in the Federal Reserve System for almost four decades. Her career included many firsts. She was the first woman to become first vice president (chief operating officer) of any Reserve Bank, and she was the first woman to become president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. She was the second woman president to ever serve in the entire Federal Reserve System. 

However, Minehan raised some eyebrows early in her career when she asked in a job interview if women were allowed to participate in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's management training program. They said they were thinking about it and sent her on more interviews.

"Twenty-some odd years later when I moved from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, someone was quoting from my personnel file and there were nice comments about the interview for the training program," she recalled. "But then, in big capital letters, 'This could be trouble.'"

Minehan said while central banking wasn't her choice in college, she fell in love with the Federal Reserve when she got to the accounting department and began to understand what the Fed is about. 

"By the time I left the Fed of New York, there wasn't anywhere except economic research in the Bank that I hadn't been in. And I was in love with the place," she said. "So, deriving a lesson from that is yeah, you need to do what you love, but sometimes that is not going to be the thing you think you love when you're in college, or even your first two years of working."

However, Minehan added, "You really have to step back and say, 'What is it I like or don't like about what I'm doing, because I'm going to be putting in a lot of hours and I'm going to be doing a lot of things that are difficult to do in the process of moving forward in any position.' And if you don't love it, you know, life is too short. You should find something you do love."

The Importance of Enjoying Your Work

Job stress is one of the major sources of stress for adults in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association, job stress can lead to erratic eating habits and lack of exercise, which can result in health issues like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and weight problems. Job stress can also cause burnout, which can lead to depression, diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer.

A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine also found a difference in cortisol levels in workers during the week versus the weekend. Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone and activates the body's fight-or-flight response. The difference in cortisol levels was associated with chronic work overload and worry. Study participants who reported higher levels of chronic work overload and worry had a larger increase in cortisol levels after waking up during the week, but not on the weekend.

It Can Pay to Be Bold at Work

While you may start off happy at your job, you might get to a point where you feel like it's time to look for your next opportunity. And once you get bored, Minehan said, it's probably time to move on. But it's also important to be bold when you think about those next steps.

For instance, one of the reasons Minehan left the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for Boston was because she had been in nearly every position for which she qualified. When a colleague received a promotion to first vice president, she knew the chances of the position opening up were slim. She called the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and asked if he had thought about interviewing her for the first vice president position. He hadn't.

"In those days, you didn't pick a first vice president from another reserve bank, let alone a woman first vice president," Minehan said. But after interviewing with the directors, they offered her the job.

Minehan said it's critical to always advocate for yourself and your happiness because no one else will. "What can they do but say 'no?'"

To reap all the health benefits of happiness at work, it comes down to this: Challenge yourself, know your limits, and always look out for yourself. There's more to life than a great paycheck—so in the end, it's a good idea to opt for a career that fulfills both your mental and financial needs.

Cathy Minehan on the Charged podcast