Unhappy at Work? It’s Never Too Late To Realize Your Dreams

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson, Robin Sgambati Photography

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Deborah Leben’s Discover Your Dreams Questionnaire:

  1. What do you cry, sing or dream about?
  2. What is one thing you would change if money were no object and you had the opportunity to do so?
  3. Describe what brings you joy.
  4. What single word describes you?
  5. Do you believe that you are being called to do something more and why?

When you think about work, does it make you smile? Or, does it plunge you into despair and anxiety? If you’re in the latter camp, Deborah Leben can help.

Deborah is a speaker, career counselor and teacher who is passionate about helping people find and employ their true callings and help workplaces function more efficiently. Basically, her job is to make you happier with your job.

She spent 32 years in law enforcement forensics; essentially, she worked in a crime lab. It’s all she wanted to do from the third grade, and, looking back at her career “I never felt like I worked a day in my life!” She adds, “It was hard. It was challenging. There were politics. I had to navigate long hours. But when you love what you do, then you’re excited to get up every day regardless of what's going on, because you're going to find those things in any job.”

The key to happiness in your work life, according to Deborah, may be as simple as following your dreams in a manner that allows you to live out your most deeply held values.

It's probably predictable given what she does, but she says, “Most people I meet hate their job. They wish they would have done something else, and they feel like it's too late for them. They don't know what to go into. They don't know how to get there.” So, she begins with clients by trying to discern what their dreams are. “Most people who are unhappy at work are following someone else's dream. “They’re typically doing what a parent or teacher or someone else told them to do and never took the time to figure out what they want to do with their lives.”

Is it any wonder that Deborah is among the most popular speakers at area high schools? What she tells them is that, “When you figure out what you really want to do and you go in for the interview, you’re going to get the job. When it’s coming from your heart, they can feel the difference,” she said of prospective employers. She also advises jobseekers to understand the culture of the places where they’d like to work. Weighing that culture against their own values is key to finding a good fit.

She uses a variety of strength tests to help job seekers do a self-assessment. “If you’re in a career that’s not applying your strengths, it’s like you’re paddling upstream without a paddle. Conversely, you’re going to get the bonuses and raises if you love what you do.”

Beyond strengths, values matter. This should be obvious, but it turns out that people often have competing values they must prioritize to find a job that satisfies them. Deborah offers clients a list of nearly 80 common values and asks them to pick just 3-5. What’s more important to you, really? Compassion or control? Patience or risk? Creativity and innovation or faith and religion? Are you more interested in gaining knowledge, wisdom and growth from your work or money and wealth? Is structure more important or are you a change agent? Do you prefer independence or teamwork? Are you a perfectionist or does your health matter more? How highly do you rate recognition and achievement – or are you more about service and ministry? Where does purpose fit?

It becomes not so much a choice as a discussion, weighed in the crucible of everyday mindfulness. On some level, you have to believe that everyone deserves to do what they love and can discover it with just a little help and effort.

Says Deborah, “Sometimes it’s as simple as asking yourself, ‘What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? When was the last time you did something you were really excited about? What you do should elicit some kind of an emotion. Otherwise, you’re just on the hamster wheel going in for a paycheck, you know?” As a manager she always had programs geared towards employee satisfaction, encouraging other bosses to be approachable and willing to mentor others who sought to do what they do. “Above all, I tell people never to be afraid of failure because it’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere. When you fail, you usually fail forward.”

She also believes people need accountability partners and champions She helps clients prepare goal sheets, but then also checks in regularly because, “Otherwise people say, this is my goal for the year and, all of a sudden, it’s November and they haven’t really started on it!” One of her favorite definitions of success is from Earl Nightengale, who said, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” People who know what their goal is to make every step toward it part of a journey in progressive realization, she explained. “Successful people do one thing every day that brings them closer to their goal. It’s all about understanding what those small steps are that make the difference,” she said.

Want to start your journey in the right direction in the New Year? Start with Deborah’s “Discover Your Dreams Questionnaire” on p. x. Answer the questions with responses that represent who you are as well as your belief system. The answers should initiate an emotional response. Then, pick up the phone if you’d like to talk, or need her to inspire your team. Besides having had a successful career with the federal government, she has a Coaching Certification with the Maxwell Certified Leadership Team, is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach with The Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute, a Member of the International Coaching Federation, and a teacher at George Mason University. She can be reached at 703-217-4583, at or through

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