If you've woken up today with a sense of dread about what awaits you at your desk, you're not alone. A 2019 Gallup poll found that out of the...
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Work is a pain in the proverbial. It's also where most of us will spend the bulk of our waking hours. The average person spends over 13 years of their life at work... and only 328 days socialising with friends in a lifetime.
If you don’t like the work you do, the people you do it with, or the way you do it, you should change one of those things. This isn't an unhelpful push to quit your job - though some of you probably should - because for many of us, we'll face the same issues everywhere.
There's a few reasons for this:
- Modern workplaces all experience the same problems - I've worked with hundreds of different teams and organisations now, across the public, private and NGO spectrum, and they're all battling a version of the same stuff. Siloes, overwhelm, short-termism, bureaucracy and frustration exist everywhere.
- You're the same person everywhere you go - By mid-career, you get set in your ways. If you're prone to make your life harder than it needs to be, a perennial martyr, or a pedant, for example, you'll find all those habits resurfacing in a new job too.
- Doing good stuff is hard - If there was a path to meaningful work that wasn't paved with challenges and stress, we'd all know about it by now. The more meaningful your work is, the more challenging it will be. Choose the problems you're willing to live with, because there will always be something.
So if you can't or don't want to leave your job, or you think you could be the problem, here's 7 ways to feel better about your job.
1. Live your values
Most things can and should be compromised - your ideas, opinions and preferences are all in this category. Your core values are different, and you owe it to yourself to honour them.
If you value loyalty, you will never be OK in an environment that puts recruitment over retention. If you value action, you will never be OK in an environment that specialises in theory. When you know what yours are, you can seek opportunities to fulfil them - and when you do, you'll feel great.
2. Put work into perspective
The best work has a clear boundary between you and it. Set yourself up for success by not tagging too much of your value or identity to the work you do. Your life is a rich, diverse tapestry of relationships, hobbies, ideas and goals - and work is only a small part of that. Don't rely on it to define you.
3. Do things you're awesome at
The most unhappy people I know are stuck doing things they hate - introverts talking to people all day, pragmatists stuck behind a desk, ideas people drowning in admin. Shape your work and calendar to prioritise the activities you love and get energy from.
4. Lower your standards
At least 50% of your work is irrelevant, inconsequential or will be forgotten in the next month. Your reports don't need to be perfect, your emails can be direct, and your meetings can end in half the time. Be very clear about what needs you at your best, and do the rest at the minimum it requires.
5. Remember why you do it
It's so easy to get caught up in details and best practice. By the time you've had 12 meetings, written 3 reports and waded through 100 emails, you can be forgiven for forgetting the impact you're here to make in the world. Remind yourself as often as possible. Talk to customers, put good news stories on your wall and connect to purpose regularly. Your work matters.
6. Focus on the good
Negativity bias was once a useful survival mechanism... and is now a fast-track to modern day middle-class malaise. We remember negative comments and events far clearer than the good so we need to actively counteract that. File away positive emails (mine are in a folder called 'validation'), pin up reminders of projects gone well and take more time to celebrate a win before rushing onto the next pressing issue. You'l feel much better.
7. Widen your network
When we battle out problems alone and in our own brains, it's easy to think there's something uniquely wrong with us, our work, or our job. Odds are, most people experience a version of what you're currently struggling with, but you haven't talked to them. Not An MBA students often comment on how useful it is to learn alongside people from such different industries, with such similar problems. Join professional groups, interact on LinkedIn and talk shop with your mates now and again to get a similar effect.
Til next week,
PS - If you're an ambitious leader that found this useful and exciting, you should join the next intake of Not An MBA. You'll be surrounded by other clever, curious thinkers who are taking their careers to the next level. This is your final chance to join the Feb 2023 intake! Sign up here.