Illustrated By Ly Ngo.It's so easy to rant and rave about work, and complain about the endless stress it causes us. Almost too easy. The annoying co-workers! The never-ending exhaustion! The crazy boss! But really, what gives with all the negativity?
Are things really as bad as we make them out to be? Well...probably not. “The problem is that we don't think it's possible to design work that we love, so we sometimes get bratty about giving it our all,” says Laurie Gerber, executive and senior coach at Handel Group Life Coaching. “What I have found with countless clients is that designing a great career and giving your whole self to it is one of the greatest joys in life. Also, giving 110%, though we fear and avoid it, actually feels great! But, truly going for it means we have to talk down the internal voices of the 'brat' and the 'chicken' (fear).”
Think about it — if you enjoy what you do (or find enjoyment in bits and pieces of it, anyway) and can Jedi mind trick yourself into perceiving your work and your role there more positively, how could that not be a good thing? But first, to break it down, there are a few basic things you get out of a day's work, beyond just the work you produce. “There are definitely positive aspects to work,” says Susan Weinschenk, PhD, founder and principal at Weinschenk Institute in Edgar, Wisconsin, and author of How to Get People to Do Stuff. “First, there's having a sense of self. If you love your work, then work is like play. If you can approach your work creatively, then work is an outlet for creativity, which keeps you positive and engaged in life. Second, work is often social — a lot of our friends are people we know from work. People often struggle psychologically when they leave a job or retire — because work keeps us engaged in life.”
There’s also the idea of being needed and contributing to something outside of your personal goals. “Feeling a sense of purpose is perhaps the most important thing in life,” says Gerber. “You don't have to get this feeling from your job or career, but it's your best bet (outside of raising kids, which is also a job) since, if you are an average American, you will spend over 90,000 hours at it in your lifetime.”
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
So, how can your 9-to-5 (or whenever you get out of there) job be better for you than just being horizontal on a beach 24/7? “Anytime you have a vision, and you take the right actions to fulfill it, you build confidence all around,” explains Gerber. “And, when you give 110% in your workday and show yourself what you can do, you add value and build trust in yourself and your worth.” Plus, work is sort of in our DNA: “We are born with a desire for mastery,” says Weinschenk. “We like learning new things and getting better at what we do — it motivates us.”
Gerber agrees: “Any area of life you give attention to will get better, but career, love, and health seem to be THE most important — and career is the most time-consuming of the three,” she says. “When you are happy doing what you love to do, your health improves and your relationships improve because you have a foundation of self-respect. Any addiction will have unhealthy side effects — workaholism is no exception — but that shouldn't be confused with committing yourself fully to what you do for work.”
And, interestingly, work lets you write the script for who you think you are. And obviously, that feels good, too. “We all have several ‘self-personas’ — the stories we tell ourselves and others about who we are, what's important to us, etc.,” says Weinschenk. “And our work persona is a very important part of who we are. If you are successful at work then you feel you are a successful person.”
But, balance is obviously key, here. When work ends up consuming your entire life, when you dread your alarm going off and aren’t doing the other things that you enjoy, you may have to reevaluate not only your career but, perhaps, how you view it. “Decide on your ‘sphere of influence’ and stick with it," says Weinschenk. “Oftentimes we get stressed because we see something that isn't right at work and that should be fixed, but we aren't in a position of authority to fix it — and that can make you miserable. So, if something is stressing you out, ask yourself: 'Is this within my sphere of influence?' If it is, then fix it. If it's not, then alert someone who has authority — and then let it go.”
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.Then of course, there’s the play-nice-in-the-sandbox idea. “Working usually means learning how to get along with others, and each individual has their issues in relating with others,” says Gerber. “Often, issues play out with peers in the workplace that echo sibling dynamics and, with higher ups, echo parent dynamics — what better opportunity to work those out?” But, how do you resolve workplace conflicts so you can focus on being a rock star in the office instead of all the BS?
“The first step is to acknowledge your role in the dynamic and decide which habit or trait you are going to change. Tell a trusted advisor or non-work friend the challenge you are giving yourself and make a promise with a consequence,” says Gerber. “For example, if you are working on being more collaborative, you could have a promise to ask two people's opinions each day. If you don't do it, then you lose your coffee. Or, if you find yourself afraid to speak up, you could promise to speak up at least once in every meeting or promise to ask someone new to lunch each week.”
Yes, these things might feel a little silly — and be easier said than done. But, if those few tweaks could make the difference between loving and loathing your job; if they could make work, well, work for you, why not, right? “These may seem trite, too simple, or too hard, but [making] the right promises to correct a personality trait that trips you up can make all the difference between hating your job and excelling at it,” explains Gerber. “Think of your job and career as, at best, an expression of your mission and, at worst, a laboratory to learn within — a place to grow and to develop into a better you. If you dedicate time and heart to this, you can even have both.”