How to Fall in Love with your Job: Always do your best
Peter, most people don’t like their jobs. But you go out there and find something that makes you happy. –Office Space
Even half a century ago, most people could not have connected with this movie as well as they do today. Memes from this modern classic can be found everywhere on the Internet, and people can instantly understand and sympathize with its messages. Work sucks, and everyone knows it. But hey, the weekend is right around the corner, and then you’ll be able to do things that make you happy, instead. All the enjoyable stuff can take place at the designated times, but otherwise you should be unhappy and do you best to drag yourself to Friday… oh and you’re allowed to enjoy your two paid weeks of time off per year (or whatever).
As a consultant, I work with a lot of different businesses. I regularly bump up against c-level types as well as professional and support-level staff in the implementation of new technology systems. Almost without exception, in every type of business I visit from manufacturing to law offices to non-profit organizations to retail to construction companies, and at all levels of the hierarchy, people complain about their jobs.
They bemoan every Monday, and look forward to every Friday afternoon. These kinds of sentiments are so common and ubiquitous, that we don’t even question them anymore–it’s just the way it is, and we’ve known it since we were children, because our parents marched to the same tune–we were all familiar with the phrases “A case of the Mondays,” or “TGIF” long before they were ever employed in popular media.
Sad. But sadly true, as well.
I want to suggest something different. Maybe even a bit radical (as a thought experiment). Feel free to agree or disagree as you see fit:
We spend way too much of our time and life energy at work: it is therefore a crime to spend it carrying around a Negative Nancy attitude. By contrast, it is entirely possible to do hard, laborious work and enjoy it at the same time.
What? How’s that, Alex?!
Don’t dread your work; always do your best, and you will most likely enjoy it. This is possible to achieve, even from your current position.
What I am suggesting is that most of the time, the quality of your “life-at-work” could be improved dramatically simply through shifting your mindset and applying some elbow grease.
The thought experiment
Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is entirely possible that some jobs just suck by nature, and should be abandoned if they aren’t a good fit. But don’t waste too much of your time job hopping just yet–first try to take my thought-experiment seriously.
There are a number of ways we could frame this up. Let’s start by pretending that you are suddenly put in charge of whatever company or organization you currently work for. If the organization is too large or putting yourself way up at the top is too abstract for your situation, just be in charge of your department instead, or just make yourself your own boss.
What don’t you like about your job, or what bothers you about it? Make a list. Now, use this list as an opportunity-maker. Treat it like a puzzle: what could I change tomorrow that would eliminate or improve one of these conditions? Where could I achieve better efficiency, or eliminate inefficiency? Could I suggest a small change or set of related changes that would take care of more than one of these complaints at the same time?
What a great job you have! You get to deal with these complaints once and for all, and simultaneously make the company better at its mission–better at fulfilling its promises to its clients and constituents. Now, not only will your efforts produce better results for the company, but they could even have a lasting impact on the quality of life for every person who sits for this role, forever more! Amazing!
Yeah, but… (Excuse-itis)
Sure, if only you were in charge… but you’re not in charge, and you don’t have the power to implement any of these great ideas. So what then?
In that case, I’m so sorry to hear that you have come down with a case of the “Yeah-buts,” but I have good news for you: It turns out, you can just proceed ahead, since you are merely suffering from a temporary disease known excuse-itis, and the easy, age-old cure is nothing more than good old fashioned positive thinking and hard work. Just lean into it.
So, what is within your power? Is there anything in your master plan, however small, where you could do something that brings your vision closer to becoming a reality? Or, how about this novel idea: Now that you’ve put the work into thinking things through, why not share those thoughts with your boss and other higher ups? If you are seriously ready to make some change, request a meeting with them. If you can, share the idea around with others too, try to make everyone that could be affected by the changes feel like they are “in on it”–this might help build momentum and consensus, and increase its chances of being adopted.
Be sure that you remain somewhat flexible too–you may want to keep yourself open to changes or compromises. If you involve other people in your little revolution, think of yourself less as a ringleader, and more as a facilitator. Stay positive, and if something that you’re pushing for just isn’t going your way, you might even want to consider switching your focus somewhere else. This is going to be one of the hardest parts of your new job–you have to know when to leave your ego behind. Know when to release your grip, get a sense for when you’re being too rigid, and know when it is time to move on to the next line item. You might find that as you start having other small successes, older projects could come back to life, or they could go away and their associated gripes will not seem to matter as much.
Interestingly enough, when you start thinking this way, you will start to see opportunities everywhere, and even if you weren’t looking for it, you might find yourself the sudden recipient of offers for promotion. Whoa, how did that happen? I thought we were just doing a thought experiment! Yeah, so did I a few years ago, then I noticed that engaging in regular discourse like this with my bosses and other co-workers actually made my life easier and more enjoyable at the same time. Easier because I didn’t have to do as much “stupid work” and more enjoyable because I was able to do more work that mattered. Guess what? The work that matters is usually harder too. But notice that the net effect is, your life actually becomes easier (because you enjoy it more).
What you do with the results
If you apply yourself to the task of improving your situation at work, make sure you are honest with yourself about what it is that you actually want in advance. Be able to differentiate what is good for the company vs. what is good for you. These aren’t necessarily opposing forces–just look for the overlap and then chase those opportunities until you have made them a reality.
Are you aiming for more meaningful work? Or for more free time or flexibility? Or do you just want to improve your earning potential and financial position? Some people want to have influence and be recognized (as an expert or as a leader for example). You might want more than one of the above, but it is critical that you are able to articulate to yourself which one is most important and why.
This way, when the promotion offers start coming (and they will), you will have your career compass all set, and you’ll be able to leverage your success in order to get whatever it is that you are truly after. An easy example of this: they may offer you an upgraded position on the organizational chart with more responsibilities, but you might want to opt out and counter-offer with something that gives you more flexibility instead.
Whatever it is that you want, know this: that fighting to actualize these desires in your real life, and to make your dreams manifest, is way more satisfying than what you’re doing by default everyday, which if we’re honest, Bob, “is just enough not to get fired.“