Learning How to Find the Value WITHIN Your Work
One of the most common pieces of advice I hear given to people that are unhappy and unfulfilled with their jobs is to just find something fulfilling to pursue outside of work instead. The second part of this advice usually entails adopting the mindset that your current job is what allows you the opportunity to pursue your interests outside of work. This is thanks to the income and stability your work generates for you. Therefore, even if you really hate your current job, you’re supposed to remind yourself that it does give you the means to pursue your interests or passions.
Generally, this makes sense on the surface. As I mentioned before, money makes the world go round, and you can often enhance your enjoyment of a hobby if you have a bit more disposable income to toss at it. Regardless, while I agree there is a tiny bit of value in this mindset and belief, it just doesn’t work for me. To be frank, I think it’s a terrible way to approach the situation.
It sounds good initially, but once digging deeper into it, it’s really quite depressing. Most of us are spending 40, 50, maybe even 60+ hours a week at our jobs. We get up, go to work, come home, and find that we don’t really have as much free time as we would like. Between the time spent getting ready for work, commuting to and from, and actually working, the average person can expect to spend 10-12 hours per day with work. Throw family, pets, errands, chores, and other adult responsibilities into the equation and a person might only have 1-2 hours of free time a night (unless they start to sacrifice their sleep!)
Seeking Happiness in All Parts of Life
Why then should we spend 8-12 hours a day doing something we hate in order to have only 1-4 hours for something we enjoy? The few hours we might be able to spend with our passions or interests each night just does not make up for the anxiety or dread we might feel about needing to go to the job you can’t stand the next day. This small window of free time we start to live for becomes nothing more than a mere consolation prize after a long day of stress and dissatisfaction.
When you really look at how little free time you have, the idea of trying to add fulfillment and happiness to your life outside of work hours just doesn’t seem entirely possible. That’s ultimately why I believe the advice to only find value outside of your work stinks. Sure, finding meaning and enjoyment outside of work has importance, but I think it’s more important to find value within your work itself. Somehow, someway. Work is where you spend most of our precious time, and life is too short not to make the most of it.
Some people may assume that my advice is suggesting we need to pursue our interests as a career, or that we must work for a cause deeply fulfilling to us. Sure, these things would likely make most people feel happiness in their lives, but unfortunately, there is a good chance that this type of career pursuit isn’t very realistic, tangible, or even a wise thing to do.
Rather, the real answer lies in changing our mindsets regarding the type of value we seek from our work. There are many ways we can derive satisfaction from our work if we know what to look for.
Looking for the Value Within
We can appreciate the opportunity to socialize daily with our colleagues and the public. We can find humor in the drama or ridiculous company politics that often occur in the workplace, leading to some great stories to tell to friends later over lots of laughs. A short commute can be something to be very thankful for, or if we have a longer commute, maybe the travel gives us some quiet time or allows us to patronize some stores or restaurants that are normally too far away to visit. We can be happy about the smallest details of our workplace, whether it be a decent computer setup, clean bathrooms, the location of our workspace, or a well-stocked break room.
Maybe we have a workspace with a window that gives us some great sunlight and an interesting view of the outside, where we can find amusement in anything from the random passersby to silly birds to the weather. We can value having a great parking spot, or we can value the exercise we get if we have a job that requires us to work physically. Maybe our work has good coffee, or a co-worker brings in snacks for the team. We can appreciate working in a climate controlled building or working in a location where safety is valued and we are given the proper equipment.
Lastly, why not value the impact and reach we have with our work? Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Your position or work responsibilities may seem insignificant at first, but with a broader perspective, you’ll realize you add value to the world in a multitude of ways. A line cook in a restaurant is an integral part of feeding the hungry family whose eyes light up with joy at the good meal you have made for them. A customer service rep can make someone’s entire week if they help them through a tough issue or concern. I could probably go on forever, but you get the picture. It’s more than what you do, it’s what your work leads to and the people you can reach.
There is always something we can appreciate about our work. By changing our perspective and reframing situations to focus on the small things that make us joyful rather than focusing all of our energy on our dissatisfaction, we can start to find value in our everyday work pursuits no matter what they are.
Practice Makes Perfect
To put this into practice and strengthen the perspective shift we are trying to achieve, try writing down three good things about your job or your work day every day at lunchtime or during a break. Keep a log in a notebook, your computer, or your phone that you can look back on later. What are you grateful for, what are you happy for? It doesn’t have to be something ground-breaking. It can be as simple as your cup of coffee, the co-worker you spoke with that morning, or a quick thank you email you got from a client or customer.
By doing this, you’ll eventually feel a whole lot better about your job and not dread it like you used to. You are shifting your focus to the positive, and positivity not only makes you feel better but those around you, too! It makes the 8-12 hours spent at work not so unbearable and the 1-4 hours doing what you love that much more enjoyable. You should still never give up on finding a better position if you are chronically dissatisfied at work of course, but adopting this strategy in earnest will make the present moment feel so much more worth living.
– Mr. Happy Work