A fellow writer from my writing community recently asked me why work was so tied up in my identity.
I thought about it. It is not about recognition. For me, it is about the meaning of life and nothing is separable from another.
Work is not separable from life. Family is not separable from colleagues and friends.
Holidays are not separable from normal life.
It is life as a full package. And work is a big part of life.
It is personally important to me to spend time meaningfully at work. (Although I don’t spend time - that is not work - so meaningfully all the time)
I guess I have a longing to devote my time to meaningful work.
The importance I give to work is not only about me. It is also about other people’s work. I develop opinions based on the work they do. (I know, judgment is not great but we all do it. And I am seeing my judgment.)
It is easy to judge (it always is), especially about work. Because you choose work.
(I know it is not the case everywhere, but in the 1st world countries you do.) You have a variety of options. You have a choice. You have freedom. You have opportunities. You make the call.
If you’ve made a wrong choice, you can choose again. If you are staying with your bad choice, this again is your call.
When there is freedom of choice and there are lots of options to choose from, - or better - lots of options you can create and add to the mix, the choices you move along with tell about who you are or rather who you are choosing to be.
If you are happy in your work, it tells about your qualities that contribute to your happiness at work. I would be curious to know what you are really interested in, what you love creating, what the hard parts you are working with are and which of your qualities help you to work with these hard parts. I would be curious about your strengths that you bring into the work and into the world.
If you are not happy in your work and you stay with it, my snap judgment would be low willingness for risk, lack of self acknowledgement and appreciation, and lack of assertion. Of course these might not be true. I would be curious to know what keeps you in your profession.
If you can honestly say “It is not good for me” and you stay where you are -and therefore continue not making it good for you- that makes me a bit angry.
That makes me angry because first you remind me of myself who has similar experiences in different areas of life and I don’t want to look in the mirror
Secondly you are not acting for your own benefit, for the benefit of my fellow human, you are causing or continuing suffering to my fellow human which is you.
Of course my anger does not have any meaning for you. I cannot do things for you, I cannot make life choices for you. I cannot impose anything on you. And I wouldn’t because I respect you.
But you can do it for yourself. You can have a hard look in the reality, acknowledge what you need and what you are not giving to yourself.
On the other hand, you are staying there where you are suffering and you did not die. That means something is working. What is it? What is it you are attached to? Do you really need it? How else can you get it?
The longer you stay suffering the more its impact will spread over to the rest of your life. It might already be impacting your relationships.
Look, I am not saying you should quit your job but you should treat my fellow human a.k.a. yourself with respect and give them the dignity they deserve.
Your options - to me - look like this:
Quit now and think of alternatives
Stay and think of alternatives
Stay and make your current work work for you
The first option requires lots of courage. You can do it but it is advisable that you have a plan about your financials so that you will not be driven into panic and lured into taking the next familiar thing immediately just to float above the water but start swimming joyfully.
if you don’t already have savings and you would need to figure out the next thing for yourself, you may be better off staying where you are and creating space for yourself to think of and act on new alternatives.
This option will be the choice of most of us. It is a transition option and comes with its own challenges.
First challenge: creating a sense of calm
First thing is to calm down. You need to create a space between your resentment of being in this job which did not allow you to be yourself and the mourning of your unused potential which was put on narcosis for a very long time.
Meditation, free journalling, mindful walking, drawing, painting, dance, arts can support you to allow your real self to come out and find its body again like a tube man being filled with air, raising up, and growing into its full size.
You can bring mindfulness to your every day life and to your work. The suffering comes from the thought that you shouldn’t be there, yet your body is. How can you align your mind and body? Can you want to be there while you are making plans for the next thing?
Second challenge: Adding positivity
Can you carve a little bit of space for something you genuinely enjoy doing at work? Or can you bring what you genuinely enjoy doing to your work?
If you like organising meet ups, can you start organising team gatherings or cross team meet ups in the company?
Can you take on the organisation for your next meeting, give it a different taste and touch it with your own style?
Can you maybe focus on people you love at work? What support do they need? What is your go-to way of supporting people? How can you do more of it?
Third: Working with the inner judging voice
While you carve more and more space for bringing yourself to work you will be hearing a familiar voice in your head telling you all is pointless, you shouldn’t be there, there is nothing you can do, nothing will work.
That voice has nothing new to say, it is playing the same tape over and over again and if you follow its direction (which is basically “do nothing”) nothing will change.
If you try to stop it, it will be even more fierce.
Well, you need to live with it and learn to focus on what you are doing instead. Remember: bring your mind and body in synch.
If you already have a meditation/ mindfulness practice, you know it is about placing your attention to your body. You may want to breathe in and out and place your attention on this bodily feeling of breathing.
You can place your attention to your palms, seeing every line, every shade of color, feeling the warmth of your skin.
You can place your attention to how you sit and how you give your weight to the cushion or the chair.
You can place your attention to your hearing sensation, what you hear in your environment.
Whatever bodily sensation you give your attention to, sit with it for some minutes.
Then go ahead and do what is important to you, the thing you created the space for or anything else that is important to you.
Obviously you will keep on doing the part of the work that you did not like as well. And you probably will hear the familiar voice again just before you start a task and during the work. It is not surprising. it has been with you so long. It is strong. Let it be. And follow the same process.
When you hear the voice, place your attention to your body, stay with it some time and then start/ resume the work. If it comes again, do the same. There is nothing wrong with it. You are practicing.
As you do it over and over again, the voice will be less and less present. You might even start enjoying hearing it.
If you want to add some fun to your process, name this voice such as “The Cry Baby”, “Know-It-All”, "Mrs. Perfection", "Lady MacBeth”.. whatever you want to name it.
Every time you hear the voice, call out the name:” Ah, it is Lady MacBeth again!”. Then do your practice. This will help you cheer up.
Work towards alternatives
We were talking about the option of staying at your current work while thinking of alternatives and we discussed about the calming yourself, introducing elements you love to your work. and decreasing suffering. Now let’s talk about “thinking of alternatives” part of the story.
You need to allocate space for the alternatives. Plan your time and energy for thinking, searching, experimenting and talking with people. Keep a journal for your thoughts and findings.
Find others who are also in a career transition, create mastermind groups, work with a coach to hold yourself accountable, to work deeply on yourself and continuously take action.
It is important that you commit yourself to the journey and your commitment increases when you have support, when you do the work with others. The others can remind you what is important to you and who you truly are in the moments when you forget.
You need partners in your journey. Don’t do it alone. Partner up with people who believe in the change you are seeking to create for yourself. (I want to say that the change you are creating for yourself is actually a change for the common good of all of us. Don’t even for a second think it is selfish)
One potential obstacle you might face is your feeling of “guilt”. You might feel that you are keeping a secret, that you are making plans behind people’s backs at work. You are making plans to leave. You probably decided that you will not explicitly talk about your plans while you are still looking for alternatives but you have a heavy heart. This is because you care. This is because honesty and openness are important to you. But you know openness is not the kindest thing to do. And here once again you feel the misalignment between what you do (actually what you don’t do which is "not telling”) and what you think you should do. The voice inside your head (Lady MacBeth) will keep on repeating “You are lying, you are acting”. By now you know what I’d suggest you here I believe. Yes, you will do your practice: place your attention to your body for some time and then do the right thing. This will be your practice until you have your next career step ready.
That next step may happen to be exactly where you are at. After creating space in your current work you might notice that your current work actually had much more potential than you thought it had.
The impact of doing work joyfully might be noticed by your colleagues and managers and you might find yourself in a place to extend your area of joy. You might create new projects for yourself and convince others to work with you.
Energy is contagious and it create possibilities, it moves people. You might after all want to stay where you are at when you made these changes.
Whichever option you will take, it is important that you care about yourself. You care about what is important to you. You notice when you suffer and elevate your own suffering. Because you are important. You are not alone. You are a valuable dignified member of us - your fellow people.