work

Should you love your job?

wpid-2015-02-18-08.05.11.jpg.jpeg

The words “love” and “job” right there, side by side. An unlikely couple. A job is, well, a job. And love? That’s what we reserve for soul-mates and family members. Except we salt our everyday language with it.  We love our new shoes, we love our car, our pets, our vacation, and our friends’ photos on Facebook (even when we’re really just tired of their endless selfies).

Love it!

But are we supposed to love our jobs?

The answer shouted from the electronic hilltops seems to be love it or quit!

And if you don’t? Well, you’re obviously missing out because it’s easy, there are five steps to get you there, two things you need to know, one program that will show you how. etc. etc. These messages, in total, potentially undermine our happiness at work because they ignore one basic truth: nobody loves their job all-the-way-all-the-time.

We’ve gotten used to the idea that when we love something, it’s easy. Even the profiles and stories about people who have sunk their heart and soul into creating a company from scratch or pursuing a lifelong dream tend to have a gloss of “meant to be” applied over the intense work of getting there.

When we read the story, we already know the ending. We know they’ve made millions and are living the dream in their beachside house full of windows that someone else wipes clean each morning. It seems inevitable.

But it wasn’t. They probably didn’t love every moment of the stress, the risk, the uncertainty along the way. But they kept going. It wasn’t love, it was something else.

No matter what you’re devoting your time to, there’s a level of uncertainty. We don’t know what our choices will yield. We don’t know how our story will turn out.

To look at someone else’s polished-for-print story and wonder why we don’t have the same trajectory is to overlook the life we’re living.

What does it mean to love your job? 

Sometimes, a day goes like this:

Get to work, find six angry emails in your inbox, meeting 1 falls apart, someone quits, there’s a personnel issue that pops up, two key players on your project are fighting, and the contract you thought had been approved and finalized is sitting on someone else’s desk and you can’t start that project which sinks your entire schedule, and you still have all the work you’d been planning to do this week piling up.

Can you have a day like that and still love your job?

Sure.

If you’re lucky, you have a job where the satisfaction of  doing, learning and growing outweighs the annoyances and friction that are part of any job. Any life, really.

Does the overall satisfaction I get from my job outweigh the minor annoyances?

Are you spending your time on something that matters to you? This is a question that only you can answer. It’s your time and once it’s spent, it’s gone. Are you doing something that makes you feel good about that time? Maybe you love the challenge of the job itself. Maybe the job is the stable way you support your family and maintain some freedom for your personal pursuits when you’re off. Either way, you’re the only one who can judge your satisfaction.

Using someone else’s measure won’t help. So put down that smart phone for a moment and think it over.

What if I really do hate my job?

If you have a job you hate, should you stay? Probably not. When the grinding weight of showing up day after day is wearing you down and sapping your ability to function as a decent human being, you should find something different to do. Your unhappiness is probably having a negative impact on the people around you, not to mention the horrible things it’s doing to you.

But if you’re on the fence, and some days are okay and others aren’t, I think you have a more difficult but potentially more rewarding option: work it out.

Work it out

When your partner is tired of hearing you grumble (or when you’re tired of hearing yourself grumble) it’s time to work it out.

What would boost your satisfaction level at work?

Are there things you can do for yourself, instead of looking to others to fix them?

Are there things you need someone else to open up for you?

  • Ask for a new assignment?
  • Offer to show you’re ready for a new responsibility?

There is a great deal of satisfaction in doing something instead of suffering though it. By taking thoughtful action, you may be able to turn the job your’e currently in into one that satisfies you.

Making it better for yourself? That’s something to love.

Advertisements

Seven things that actually mattered

wpid-2015-01-30-07.20.05.jpg.jpeg

Pick a Puddle.

At my freshman orientation for college (year omitted!) the university’s president said “Don’t be like ducks, with opportunity rolling off your backs like raindrops. Take advantage.” I thought I got it. I wasn’t going to be that duck. I chased a lot of rain, which was great. For a while.

Looking back, I realized he forgot a key point: Don’t forget to pick a puddle.

If you find your puddle and fill it with the things you care about most, you get the good out of it. Puddles don’t have to be small and limiting. They should have room for the things you’re focused on – family, key career ambitions, personal growth – and they should’t overflow with things that distract you from your integral purpose.

Picking a puddle brings focus. It also means saying “no” to the distractions. The nice-to-have resume builder that you don’t really care about? No, thank you. The I-really-should obligation? Maybe there’s someone out there who actually wants to do that one.

This idea really hit home for me when my kids were little. There were other moms in their preschools who volunteered in the mornings and put together events. I worked. I scrabbled time off to go to the early-afternoon cupcake party or the holiday parade, but every time I passed on the sign-up list I felt like I was letting my kids down or somehow being a second-rate mom. I realized that I had to make peace with this situation or drive myself batty.

So I focused on what I could do. I took good care of my kids. I provided supplies. I attended the events the other parents organized. And I let got of feeling like I wasn’t doing enough to pitch in. Much  of my work has been community-focused, taking time and energy during evenings and weekends. That’s my puddle. My kids’ well-being is my puddle. They didn’t care whether I was being a super-mom in everyone else’s eyes. They just wanted to know that I came to their event and that I cared about them. That was enough.

Be purposeful in your career.

Purposeful is not the same as ambitious. Ambition is great. Positive ambition moves us forward, gives us direction, and helps make the world a better place. Ambition alone can be directionless. It can propel us through choices, through jobs, through decisions yet still leave us hunting for the next gold star or seal of approval.

Purpose depends on understanding what’s important to you and making your decisions with both your short-term satisfaction and your long-term interests in mind.

Purpose helps you shape decisions, see opportunities, and follow a path that may not always be direct or clear, but brings you meaning along the way.

I’ve had friends who went for the higher salary and better title with each promotion only to find themselves making a lot of money, living in a nice house, and wondering how they’d ended up there. They could tell their story – they’d been ambitious and collected all the prizes – but they ended up saying things like “I never thought I’d work in a company that doesn’t really do anything.” or “I just make lots of money for other people and they let me keep some.”

Other people I’ve known have been deliberate about taking only opportunities that delighted them at the moment and are left wondering where all the time and money went.

I’ve done both. Taken jobs because they were safe or necessary. Taken risks because I felt cornered. It wasn’t until I started to develop a better sense of my puddle and my purpose that I could begin to make decisions with some long-term meaning.

For some people, this appears to be easy. They seem to know their purpose and pursue it with great intention. When I listen to my friends, co-workers and family though, I believe that most of us don’t have this kind of singular drive. In a world of endless opportunities and choices, this part of career management is a learned art.

Learning yourself is a good place to start.

Don’t stay in bad relationships.

We’ve all gossiped about someone in a bad relationship. Why doesn’t she leave him? Can’t he see what’s wrong with this situation? Most of us know that it’s really hard to see from the inside what we clearly see (or think we see) from the outside.

We stay for many reasons. We fear failure and loss. We rationalize, we make excuses, we don’t question our story about how we arrived here and why we stay. But our story is just that. It’s a story we tell ourselves about the path we’ve followed, the choices we’ve made, and how they all hang together. The thing to remember is that we are writing that story all the time. When you find yourself stuck, wondering where the love went, it’s time to put on your best-friend-perspective and try to see your situation from the outside.

If a co-worker is consistently egging you into situations you’re not comfortable with, maybe it’s time for a new relationship.

If you’re not feeling fulfilled by the choices you’re making about your time, maybe it’s time to choose differently.

Sometimes we stay because we “owe it to them.” Loyalty is good. But be sure you’re being honest. Loyalty that’s a cover for fear, insecurity, or failure to reflect is not good. It’s fine – admirable – to be loyal, and, like with any good relationship, you will change, you will grow, and you can participate in the relationship to make sure you’re getting what you need out of it. That’s when everybody comes out stronger.

Focus on your strengths and fill in your gaps

There are a lot of people out there who are willing to tell you what your weaknesses are and how to fix them. It’s easy to get sidetracked into a self-bending case of triple-i: Insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority. Don’t go there.

You’re not perfect.

But you already knew that.

I remember a favorite teacher telling our class that her job was to help us learn to think. “You need to know how to think and how to find information. You don’t need to memorize the dictionary.”

Find out what you’re really good at and focus on that first. Great with numbers? Master everything you can about budgets, financing, and software. Good at people? Get some experience mediating, leading discussions, and public speaking. Shine.

When you realize you’re not good at something, don’t obsess, just fill in the gaps

You’re the numbers guru but not great at public speaking? Offer to make a budget presentation to your group. Take your strength and use it to support your attempts to fill in your gaps.

Great at leading teams but terrible at meeting deadlines? Get your best performing team together and poll them for suggestions. Then put them in play.

Any change requires discipline, doubling up something that’s easy for you to do with something you need to improve gives you more energy to pull through the tough parts.

Fix. Don’t obsess.

Learn to have difficult conversations

Here’s the exception to “don’t obsess.” If there’s one thing I think we should all obsess over, it’s learning how to have difficult conversations.

Figure out what you fear (confrontation, anger, being wrong, being vulnerable) and find out how to get better at it. There are resources out there. Read them. Learn them. Practice.

This is one skill that you can, and should, master.

It will make you better at everything.

Stuff happens. To everyone.

It’ll happen to you. The thing you didn’t expect that knocks you off your track. It may be temporary, it may be life-altering. It will happen. Probably more than once.

It’s never over.

Keep going.

Ask for help.

It’s probably happening to someone you work with right now.

Give help.

We’re all in this together.

Have a heart

Take a moment to say hello. Notice something. Ask a question. Those people you work with? The ones who annoy you, don’t meet your deadlines, and can’t see what’s completely obvious to anyone who would stop to think for two seconds? There’s probably something good about each and every one of them.

Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with people I didn’t particularly like at the time. But if you’re willing to set that aside and listen, you may find that they’re only human. They have lives, problems, and people who drive them crazy.

You may be one of them.

You never know when somebody is trying to manage a sick parent in another state, dealing with a rocky marriage, or worried about a kid in trouble.

All you can do is respect them as fellow human beings and try to do your best.

I’ve had the good fortune to know what it’s like to work with people of integrity, to work with a sense of purpose, and to feel compassion and care for the people around me.

I’ve also known what it’s like to be a nameless cog, to be looked down upon, and to feel under-appreciated and unfulfilled. In those circumstances, it’s difficult to bring our best to the table. When I found myself babysitting the monster of all copiers for days on end, shuffling different colored papers in and out of trays and tugging torn bits of confetti from the guts of that toner-laden beast, I was not bringing what I had to offer to the picture.

When I left that job, not knowing what was next, one woman took me aside and said “I’m glad you’re leaving. You’re going to do so much more and when you need a reference, just ask.”

Her confidence gave me hope at a time when I really needed it.

Those are the people we remember.

Maybe if someone had handed me this list years ago, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but eventually enough experiences run together and there you have it – your puddle.

Do you agree with these two truths for ending the blame game?

wpid-2015-01-11-16.05.10.jpg.jpeg

The rate with which germs have been flying around reminded me of a conversation I had with a close friend not too long ago. She was wondering why everyone is so quick to point the finger, sending the blame flying around the room from person to person.

“Why do we spend more time figuring out who’s to blame and defending ourselves than we spend just fixing the problem?” she asked.

Good question.

A recent encounter with a fast-moving virus gave me an excellent opportunity to sit around and ponder this question between sniffles. (blame the germs)

Is it because we are constantly bombarded with news of who’s to blame for the latest political crisis, celebrity scandal, or consumer fraud? (blame the media?)

Is it because the economy’s been through the wringer and many of us are clinging onto jobs, dealing with circumstances different from what we’d hoped for and expected? (blame work?)

Or is it because we’re so quick to publicize the failures and shortocmings of the people around us and we’re afraid that will come back around to bite us when (not if) we make our own mistake? (blame ourselves?)

No matter who we blame, we can be pretty unforgiving. And sometimes it’s for keeps. Especially online.

If we want to understand blame, it’s helpful to begin with two truths:

  • I am part of the situation.
  • I may see how you are part of the situation.

How do you feel?

I had to stop for a moment after I typed that and screw my courage to the sticking place.

It’s a whole lot easier to focus on the second one, but that tends to turn into putting all the responsibility on the other person and it’s rare for any one person to be entirely to blame for a situation.

Instead of hunting for a scapegoat, it’s useful to think about how we’ve contributed and how the other person may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the problem.

You don’t typically go into your work with malicious intent, right?

Well, your co-workers probably don’t either.

There are a host of explanations for why people act the way they do and why they make the decisions they do. If we assume the worst of them and don’t bother to ask them, we’re really only operating with half the play book. At best.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’ve made your peace with the two truths and you’re ready to begin putting them into play.

How’s that going to work?

In my friend’s example, after she described her work-place, I imagined some sort of dysfunctional family holiday where she would walk in and announce “I’m part of the problem! So are all of you and I can tell you what you’re doing wrong!” Yikes. Pass the turkey.

You may be in an environment where you’re ready, collectively, to take that big step.

Or you may need practice.

Beginning with the smaller situations may be easier. Ask someone you’re on good terms with to observe you in action and to share their point of view  – it could help you uncover your role.

Spend some time disentangling your observations about what someone else did versus why you think someone did something – it could help you discover their role in a way you can share. This is key because nobody wants to be told why they’re doing something (you’ll probably get it wrong). But they can probably have a conversation about what specific things happened and their impact on the task at hand.

It’s the difference between “you always try to undermine me when I speak up in meetings” and “When I tried to share our sales data you interrupted me.”

Practicing with these two truths in smaller situations can help warm your team up for the big game.

This is really complicated and I’m curious what other people are experiencing. I’m waiting for my friend to let me know what changes in her workplace, what about you?

Have you tried to deal with the blame game in your workplace? If so, what do you think?

Do you think the two truths hold?

 

Tear Down the Argument to Build Agreement

image

 

We had a department store in our town that is being converted into a new movie theater and shops. I drove by today and all that was left of the old store were piles of debris and the metal structure sticking out in the 90* heat.  I could still imagine where the door had been, the shoes, the connection to the rest of the mall, but it looked so different that I could also imagine big theater screens, new seating, and openings to restaurants where there had been blank walls.

I love this stage of renovation, when you’re freed up from what you used to know about a space or a place, and your mind begins to see the possibilities.

In the middle of an argument or conflict, it can feel like you’re dealing with a lot of “knowns” but, if you can get down to the structure of the situation, there are usually more possibilities than we first see.

The metal framework is the essential area for discussion. The bricks, doors, windows, wires, tiles – they’re all extra. They shape the final form and function of the space, turning a two-story box into a department store, a theater, or something else altogether.

Usually, when we walk into a negotiation of any sort, we come with our building. We know what we want from the interaction and how the agreement should look when we come out.

What’s difficult is to engage with an open mind about what the other person sees, to work with them to tear down their building (and yours!), and construct something together that works for everyone.

At the heart of this approach is listening to understand. Since we’re not mind readers, we have to ask questions. Lots of questions.

I deal with a lot of situations that appear to be black-and-white at first. “We can’t do that, can’t approve that, it has to be like this, that’s impossible, can’t be done, this is the only way….etc.” These are position statements.

Usually, there’s a very good purpose behind the initial statement. Finding out what they’re concerned about (safety? cost? management? precedent?) and sharing your interest (and don’t slip a position in here – be genuine about what’s important to you) gives you an opportunity to ask my favorite question: “Is there a way for us to meet both our needs here?”

This approach takes time and a willingness to remain calm, keep asking and digging, and listening for the interests and concerns behind the words.

“How do we both win?” It’s the golden question that, when coupled with really hearing what the other person needs are, can help move us into constructing a shared solution.

I like to eat, I like to eat….apples and bananas.

image

I needed to pick up some fruit this week for a morning birthday party at the office and I wanted to ride my bike.  I mapped out a route past the nearest grocery store (thankfully we have many) and backed out a little extra time in my morning.  Things went smoothly until I loaded a bag of oranges and a bunch of bananas into my pannier.  And the bike fell over.

Do you have any idea how much fruit weighs?

(hint: it’s heavy)

It made me wonder how my eating habits would change if I had to buy my family’s food this way all the time.  We’d probably eat less, shop more.

But we might just switch to dried fruit.

Live Your Dreams – a check-in

streetscape doodle

I came across an article in the May issue of Yoga Journal (How Yoga Can Help You Love Your Job) that was probably one of the best work-related pieces I’ve read in a while.  It was a response to the “What if I don’t love my job” angst that seemed not only to fit the magazine’s readers who might be looking for a strong connection between meaning and their daily activities but it also fits one of the recurring themes seems so pervasive it’s hard to notice any more.  Live Your Dreams.

As the article points out, it would be nice if we could all rely on the universe to provide once we’d embraced our true destiny, but I’ve got these bills sitting on my desk in a messy pile next to my computer and these kids who need things like clothing, food, and the occasional weird rubber bracelets or “awesome” socks.  So what to do?

I love my work, I’m not in a soul-sucking-situation where I can feel time smothering me like molasses (I’ve been there, I’d recognize it for sure) but there are moments when we all look up and think “This is it?  Is this what I’m meant to do?”  I think people are wired to search for the big picture – some sort of meaning beyond themselves.  At least most of us.

The article had one of the most elegant responses – the meaning is in the doing.  Think about that for a moment.  You bring your core self to the task, doing it in a way that is consistent with your values and your larger self.  The implication?  You let go of the results.

Whiplash anyone?

I think of doing good work as getting to the “end.”  You know, A+, success, smiles, check that one off the list.

I had to think about that one for a few minutes.  I had to think hard.

My work is not predictable – even if I do my best in the execution, the end result is usually up for grabs.  Letting go of the notion that a “failure” is still the result of good work does not come naturally.  I’m still trying this one on – tentatively – and thinking that if I can’t just pick up and live my dreams a la Hollywood, maybe I can give it a shot at the micro-level.

We’ll see how it goes.