Joy in the Workplace: Part One

There’s No Such Thing as The Perfect Job

It has occurred to me that over the past 20 odd years I have spent more than 40,000 hours in the workplace. During those 40 grand hours, I’ve typed, filed, made calls, composed letters, created spreadsheets, and stuffed envelopes as well as a host of other office type activities.

Sadly, I’ve also whined, complained, suffered, seethed, stewed, and fantasized about how great my life would be when I finally found that perfect job.

It’s been over 20 years, Deb. The perfect job does not exist.

At some point in every working person’s life, this sad truth becomes unavoidable. There is no such thing as a perfect job—even the coolest, hippest, most glamorous job in the world is going to have its off days. And let’s face it, being a corporate drone is not exactly cool, hip, or glamorous.

So for the bulk of my adult life, I’ve been miserable. I turned 44 this week, and I figure it’s about damn time I start being happy—not just on my own time, but during those 40 odd hours a week I spend working for Da Man.

Happiness is No Further than Your Next Thought

For years I searched for happiness outside myself—in faith, in knowledge, in books and music and Feng Shui and food and all sorts of other things. Most of these things are extremely positive and taught me a wealth of truths that help me in my daily living. In the end, however, the surest and easiest path to happiness rests in my hands. There is nothing more empowering than the realization that anyone can be happy, any time, and in any situation.

Crazy, you think?

Not so much.

You see, there is one common denominator that runs through all events—good and bad—throughout a person’s life. Our experience of an event depends 100% on our mental perception of the event.

How easy is that? 100% of my happiness is completely in my control, any time, all the time. Professionals such as life coaches, career counselors, therapists and the like can teach you all sorts of important tools to make your life better. They can help you come up with plans, with strategies, and give you the confidence you need to make change. I am a huge fan of life coaches, career counselors, therapists and the like.

But in the end, only you can make yourself happy.

The nay-sayers among you will scoff and say something to the effect of, “How can I be happy when (fill in the blank) keeps (filling the blank)-ing?” Most of us spend the majority of our time worrying about what somebody else is doing. That chick who cut the line at the bank, the loud fellow on the Bluetooth who hasn’t figured out the meaning of the word “library,” the boss who passes you over for a raise yet again while giving his loser cousin the corner office—these are the people to whom we willingly turn over our most precious commodity—our peace of mind.

So, if my boss gave me more money and I was at the front of the line at the bank to cash the check so I could buy a SuperSpeshal Bluetooth Deactivator and Restore Silence to the Library, then my life would be perfect and all things would be good, right?

Sure, until the next idiot shows up and cuts you off in line, or the grocery runs out of your favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, or your coworker decides that tapping her Lee Press On Nails repeatedly to the rhythm of The Addams Family is the surest path to Nirvana. Then that peace of mind is out the door and off again.

The fact is, nobody can take away your peace of mind. You can only give it away. Period. End of conversation. You tell the story of your life, usually in a disgusted mental voice while glaring at the person who is offending you. But the best thing about telling a story is that you have the power to edit, rearrange, or just chuck the whole thing. Face it—you have no real idea of what anyone really thinks or feels except yourself. Any belief you hold about someone else is a fiction. So why stick with crappy fiction?

When things happen at work that annoy me (oh, and they do), I’ve come up with a simple routine to curb my negative self-talk.

Step One: Stop

The first step when things start getting ugly is to simply stop where I am and be still for a moment. Negativity is self-perpetuating. The longer you indulge in it, the stronger it gets until it’s a hairy, slobbering monster from Betelgeuse. Just by stopping—firmly, abruptly, and completely—you cut off the monster at the source. You starve it, trap it, and keep it from doing anymore damage while you figure out what to do.

There are half a zillion ways to stop the constant thread of noise in your head. Meditation, physical activity, acts of service all help (it’s rude to worry about your own problems when you’re helping someone needier than you are). You can also do what I did at the start—set a timer to go off at random points in the day. When it sounds, stop and write down whatever thought is in your head. You may be stunned after doing this for a day or two at how negative your internal thoughts can be.

Another good way to stop is to become aware of your emotions. If you are feeling what you would perceive as a negative emotion—anger, fear, doubt, worry—stop and look for the thought behind it. I promise, you won’t have far to look before you find it.

Step Two: Observe

Once you’ve gotten the monster in the trap, study it for a minute. What kind of things is it saying to you? Are they true? Can you really be sure they’re true? Are hairy, slobbering monsters from Betelgeuse renowned for their honesty? I think not.

A big hint that this interior voice is lying to you is that it makes you feel like crap. A healthy, positive inner voice is never going to make you feel like crap. It may voice your concerns, express difficulties, and suggest potential dangers. But it sure as hell isn’t going to work you into a dither about real or imagined slights instead of helping you out.

Taking a cool, critical look at the things your inner voice is saying will help you sort out the lies from the facts, which leads you to the next and most important step.

Step Three: Adjust

Every single moment we’re alive is a moment with opportunity. Every situation we encounter gives us a choice—do we turn left or do we turn right? Do we speak up or remain silent? The choice of what we do may be affected by external forces, such as weather, other people, disability, etc.

But the choice of what we think is always our own (barring mental illness that requires a doctor’s care. That’s another story altogether.) Still, assuming you’re reasonably sane, you always have a choice of what you think and what story you tell.

Let’s take the idiot with the Bluetooth from earlier in this post. There are so many ways to tell this story, and only a few of them end in bloodshed. Let’s start with:

Oh, my gawd! Who is this loser? Doesn’t he know this is a library? Seriously, where does he think he is? Starbucks? Turn off the phone, Dummy! I realize that Male Pattern Baldness and Erectile Dysfunction have led you to the Dark Side, but for heaven’s sake—show some class, will you?

Such a fun story, huh? Don’t you want to read this story to your mom and your kids and your Sunday school teacher? No. It’s a sucky story. But fortunately, each of us was born with a brilliant and creative ability to make stuff up—especially about other people. So let’s revise the story.

Wow, this guy’s pretty loud. I wonder if he realizes he’s that loud? I mean, it’s a library, and you’re supposed to be quiet in a library. Maybe I should ask the librarian to speak with him. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding, and when somebody tells him, he’ll quiet down.

Better. Very polite, giving Mr. Bluetooth the benefit of the doubt. But it still places the bulk of responsibility for your happiness in whether the guy shuts up or not. Let’s grab the red pencil and start again.

Wow, this guy’s pretty loud. I wonder if they have the new Stephen King book? I think it would be on the new releases shelf. Where was that again? I’ll go ask the librarian. Ooh, and maybe I can check out a couple of books on tape while I’m here. I love listening to them while I work out.

Much better. In this latest fiction, we simply acknowledged the bad behavior then moved on. By shifting our thoughts just slightly, we can turn something from a drama to a side issue. Let’s face it—who’s more important in this scenario? Some guy who can’t keep his voice down, or you? (Hint: The answer is, you.)

Joy is Your Birthright

It takes practice to turn around a negative attitude. There is something inherent in negativity that feels empowering without actually being empowering. Resistance is strong, especially after years in the habit of thinking and feeling the worst about people and situations.

But that habit robs us of the most important truth of all—that we were born to be happy. We are geared toward it, and it is our birthright as human beings. When we get out of our own way, when we stop the senseless monologue of negative thoughts that bombard us, the mere act of being alive can be joyful and satisfying.

The rewards of taming that hairy, slobbering monster from Betelgeuse are innumerable, starting with the fact that you’ll just feel happier. When you approach the world from a place of peace and stability, problems seem more manageable, victories are sweeter, and everything in between just feels better overall.

Beginning my 45th year on this planet, I realize how important peace, joy, and stability are. I may not have it all down yet—I still have to stop myself from indulging in negativity. But I truly believe I’m on to something, and that my next 45 years are going to be amazing.




One response

  1. Great job Debbie. You have always had this awesome way of writing. Hang in there….your time is coming..
    Thanks again for that.
    Love ya…..

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