Finding Meaning in the Work You Do

Last night the universe sent me this awesome gift in the form of the energetic and slightly wacky Karen L. McCrocklin, coach, Hay House Radio personality, and Happy Lesbian. You know how Famous People™ are always giving away free stuff on FaceBook and Twitter, and you never win anything? Well, guess who won a free coaching session with Karen? Moi, merci beaucoup! So last night, I spent about 45 minutes on the phone, discussing goals and plans and all things big and small. And when I hung up, I was pumped and full of enthusiasm for my upcoming projects.

And that is when my beloved wife, Ms. “She Who Sees the Truth and Ain’t Afraid to Speak It,” served me up a big old scoop of reality check.

You see, one of my dreams is help people find joy in the workplace, no matter where they work. I’ve had enough jobs, corporate and otherwise, to know that the majority of people out there are just suffering through their days. Regardless of industry or ranking, it seems that most workers tend to fall into two major categories: those who see their jobs as a temporary stop on the way to getting what they really want (weekend, vacation, promotion, retirement) and those who have just given up on getting what they really want altogether.

There is a third category (small, but real) of people who are working the jobs of their dreams. They are fully engaged, aware of the opportunity and challenge of doing good work, and see their jobs as relevant and fulfilling. They may have rough patches when they feel like they are drudging along, but for the most part they are happy and satisfied with their work.

I want to help people come to that place, where they are fully engaged and aware of the amazing opportunities for growth and creative expression possible in whatever work they do. So I’m gushing on and on about the Awesome Phone Call of Awesomeness with Karen McCrocklin, and about my plans and goals and how I’m going to move forward in pursuing my dreams.

And Fey looks at me real serious-like and asks, “So when you gonna work these miracles on yourself?”

Ouch. Not her exact words, but the meaning was there. And she was absolutely right.

You see, I have a shocking confession to make. All this “creating the best life possible” and “how to find your true life’s work” stuff I’m writing about? Yeah, it’s all a front.

You see, while ostensibly I appear to be helping others, the secret truth is I’m trying to figure this out for myself! I read a lot of personal development books, listen to Hay House Radio, and basically invest a lot of time and energy into trying to improve my life.

But I’m not quite there yet. As my writing takes off, both fiction and non-fiction, and my dreams of the future become more clearly defined, I often find that spending 40 hours a week doing The Day Job™ becomes more and more difficult. It’s not that I cannot find any value in what I do. To the contrary, I am aware that I play a crucial part in saving lives. As a senior account rep for a major medical-surgical supplier, when I do my job right, heart patients and burn victims and premature babies get the care they need because their doctors and nurses have the equipment to do their jobs. That is pretty damned important work, in my humble opinion.

But when your mind is full of ideas and you have an urge to express and implement those ideas creatively, working in an office can be…tedious. On my less than optimistic days, it feels like my entire job consists of typing numbers and letters into little boxes, hitting save, and sending those lists of numbers and letters to invisible people who then Do Mysterious Things with them. I know that, several degrees of separation later, my work eventually translates into life-saving treatment. But those degrees of separation can be vast and difficult to see past at times.

The Problem Ain’t the Job, Ya’ll

It’s easy when you are working in a job that doesn’t fully align with your goals and ambitions to blame your unhappiness on the job itself. After all, they’re the ones who make you go in at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night (8 am??? Who decided that was civilized, asks the Night Person?). They’re the ones who make you arrange your schedule around their business needs, even when you have other things you need/want/would prefer to do with your time. They’re the ones who fail to recognize your Immense Worth and don’t compensate you nearly well enough for the incredible value you provide.

But here’s the rub—some of the most successful people in the world maintain rigorous schedules, balance work and life needs, and struggle to get the proper compensation for their work. And they still love their jobs.

For example:

Schedule

  • Fred Rogers (PBS’s Mr. Rogers) took a nap every day in the late afternoon, woke up every morning at five-thirty to read and study and write and pray, and went to bed at nine-thirty at night to sleep eight hours without interruption.
  • John Grisham said of his early writing rituals: “I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”

Balancing Work/Life Needs

  • An article called 12 Things Successful People Do Differently on the wildly popular blog, Marc and Angel Hack Life, states: “When you let your work life (or social life, family life, etc.) consume you, and all your energy is focused in that area, it’s extremely easy to lose your balance. While drive and focus are important, if you’re going to get things done right, and be truly successful, you need to balance the various dimensions of your life. Completely neglecting one dimension for another only leads to long-term frustration and stress.”
  • Nigel Marsh, in his talk at TEDxSidney, says “Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Moreover, I think, it can transform society.”

Getting the Proper Compensation for Work

  • A 2012 survey by the group W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) found that “58% of the nearly 1,000 artists interviewed (including visual and performing artists) received no compensation at all for exhibiting or presenting their work at nonprofits in New York.”
  • Freelancers (the Holy Grail for so many would-be writers, artists, etc.) also struggle to receive compensation for their work, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Difference is You

So what’s the difference between the crowd of unhappy, unengaged worker drones out there, and those who rise above the stress and tedium to have meaningful, fulfilling careers?

That’s the answer I’m trying to find with this series of blog posts. How do we increase our awareness, shift our perception, and improve our attitudes about the work we do? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 128 million jobs in America in May 2011, with about 6 million of those jobs considered “Management.” That leaves a whopping 122 million of us in non-managerial jobs. That’s a powerful energetic force out there, and most of us are suffering.

What if we could transform ourselves and our work lives? What if the bus drivers and waiters and office workers and construction workers out there could, en masse, simply start loving their jobs?

How would that change the world? How would that change humanity, if so many people in one place were happy, engaged, and doing fulfilling work for the majority of their time?

It’s kind of a big challenge, isn’t it? And as my loving wife put it last night, “How lucky are you that you work in a job that gives you the opportunity to study the pursuit of happiness on the job?”

And suddenly, the heavens opened and the choir of angels began to sing—well, you know the drill. It was that Eureka! moment I’d been waiting for.

Last night, my full-time profession stopped being The Day Job™ and became The Research Lab™.

Today, I went to The Research Lab™ engaged, enthusiastic, and ready to work. The job hadn’t changed at all, but my view of it had. It was no longer something I did to earn a wage while I crammed my hopes and dreams into the evening hours. No, it had transformed into a part of my work, an opportunity to learn and understand what makes people tick, how people deal with stress, and what tricks those people who are happy have up their sleeves! And I help sick people as well.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this thing.

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