How we spend our days matters. Of course, the actual work we do is important—whether our days are spent at a desk or working in the field, fixing what is broken or building something new, caring for those who need us or leading a team. But what we do isn’t as important as how we do it.
Most of us have done work that, at least at times, felt more frustrating than rewarding. Many of us have felt stuck in our work, whether that work is our paid job or not. No job or situation is going to be absolutely perfect.
Even the most meaningful, rewarding work has challenges. Sometimes a situation is toxic and you need to get out. Sometimes you’ve learned what you can where you are and are ready to step into something bigger. That’s a different question for a different day.
Today the question I’m asking you is what you can do right now, right where you are?
It’s tempting to blame other people or our circumstances for unpleasantness in our lives, but where does that get us? It doesn’t fix the problem. Instead, it makes us victims of things outside our control rather than creators of what we really want.
There’s a lot you can’t control, from events and circumstances to other people’s choices. There is, however, always something you can control. You can control how you show up to your work each day. You can decide what you will do, why you do it, and how you do it. You can choose your attitude.
In my experience, grumbling about bosses or complaining about circumstances didn’t change anything…except make me more bitter. A better use of my energy is choosing to focus on doing my work the best I can and act in a way of which I can be proud.
Try this: Make a list of all the things you can control and all the things you can’t. Where are you focusing your energy? Decide what you want to do in the areas you can control and commit to following through this week.
In the grind of the day-to-day details, it’s easy to forget why what we’re doing is important in the first place. Maybe you believe in the work and see how it can improve other people’s lives. Maybe your why isn’t about the work itself, but about how it allows you to care for your family. There are countless reasons for doing what we do.
Even the most rewarding work has aspects that feel less than amazing. It can be easy to focus on all the aspects we don’t like, but what if we could tie the annoying parts of our work back to our why?
I used to work in an assisted living community . I took the job because I’d been looking for work for months after being laid off. Parts of the work were really rewarding, like listening to residents’ stories about their lives and being there for them when they needed help in the night. Showing them they were valued and seen became part of my why.
Many of my duties weren’t enjoyable, like setting tables and mopping floors. When I focused on how much I didn’t want to be doing the annoying parts of my job, the hours were long and unsatisfying. When, however, I remembered that those tasks were part of creating comfortable home for those who could no longer live on their own, the work became a little lighter.
Try this: Get clear on why you do what you do—whether the work itself is meaningful to you or you’re motivated by the resources it contributes to other parts of your life. Maybe it’s a mix of both.
Identify how each aspect of your work contributes to your why. Some parts may be obvious. Others, like filing paperwork or washing dishes, may be harder to see. How does each task contribute to your overall purpose? How does it feel to view a task as a necessary support instead of simply an annoyance?
Incorporate More of What’s Missing
We don’t always need to make big sweeping changes to incorporate more of what we want in our lives. Longing for more creativity doesn’t mean you have to make your living as an artist. A desire to help people doesn’t mean you need to be a nurse. Not everyone who loves learning and sharing knowledge should be a teacher.
We sometimes get stuck associating specific outcomes or motivations only with certain tasks or roles. When we can look at what’s really behind those tasks and roles, we can often find an ingredient that’s easier to add to everyday life.
Creativity can look like painting or it can look like trying a new way of organizing the closet. Helping people can mean caring for the sick or can be as simple as sharing a smile. There are countless ways to teach that aren’t restricted to the classroom.
Try this: What parts of your work do you find most satisfying? What feels like it’s missing? Try to get past broad categories and identify the specific ingredients you most want included in your work.
Now think of tiny ways to bring more of that ingredient into your life. It can be as simple as making a sandwich, sharing an article, saying hi to a stranger, or wearing a whimsical pair of earrings with your uniform. Will you commit to doing one small thing each day to bring more of what’s meaningful to you into your life?
Who do You Want to be in This?
There are countless meaningful and practical ways we can spend our time and contribute to the world around us. The specifics of the work we do is less important than who we are.
When we know what we value and which qualities we admire, we can bring our best to whatever work we do. We decide how we respond to unsatisfying jobs, annoyances, and difficult people. We can become bitter and resentful, or we can bring forth our best qualities to meet the challenge.
Try this: How can you live out your core values in the work you do? (Get your free guide to discover your values). What qualities do you want to embody? What do you want to provide for others? How can you bring those values and qualities into your day-to-day? How can they equip you to give your best even in the tasks you don’t enjoy?
Whether a paid job or not, work often includes aspects we wish weren’t there. Sometimes the things that frustrate us mean it’s time for a change—a new job or delegating certain tasks. Sometimes, however, what we really need is to create more satisfaction right where we are.
I’d love to know…what are the biggest challenges and frustrations you face in the way you spend your days—whether a paid job or not? What are you going to do this week to increase your satisfaction and bring your best to the work you do?