I think it’s safe to say most people don’t have day jobs that light them up. Most of us go to work because we have to. We have bills, kids and hungry bellies, so work is more of a means to an end rather than an exciting part of our lives, right?
We get stuck in dayjob routines where we lose sight of what attributes we bring to the table, even in the smallest of ways.
I was in a Subway restaurant recently and the people who work there are called Sandwich Artists. I saw that and smiled. I thought to myself, “What if we all viewed our jobs as a way of being an artist of whatever task we’re performing?”
An artist of office work.
An artist of dentistry.
An artist of teaching.
An artist of caring for our family.
The word artist has connotations of performing something unique to who you are. Whether you’re doing construction work or conducting an orchestra, no one else will do it just how you’ll do it because, well, no one else is you, right?
I imagine most of us are not so great at looking at our jobs through such a lens. We get tired and bored and view our jobs as simply something we have to do to avoid being naked and hungry. Rarely do we pause to feel the satisfaction of doing the work we do.
Sometimes our jobs feel like a heavy weight to bear that comes with being an adult. Working can be a mix of drudgery and routine, and it takes a step back sometimes to refresh the way we look at how we bring ourselves to each day instead of shoving the day on auto-pilot.
Not many of us are lucky enough to have jobs that match the vision we had in our heads as kids. If we had a choice, most of us would choose jobs that are totally in line with our passions. But what happens when life serves up situations that fall short from the visions we conjured?
We roll with it. We see ourselves as artists at work, putting our spin on the job we do that only we can bring by being uniquely ourselves. We see how the work we do reaches the people we come in contact with and put an extra personalized touch to our work.
How do we do this? I have a day job where I answer the same questions over and over each day, so I remind myself even though it’s the 10th time I’m answering this question, it’s the first time the person on the phone is asking it. So I’ll answer it like I’m not exhausted from it. I’ll help her because she needs it, and I’ll do it with patience and friendliness because good energy begets more good energy, and I want that rather than getting sucked into a vortex of grumpiness.
I make it a point to have fun at work. I listen to music and laugh with coworkers. I have a standup desk to keep me energized. I jot down personal goals as they come to me throughout the day to look forward to personally and professionally.
If I look at each day as a project and challenge to make that day the best it can be, I find my work more rewarding. If I take time to appreciate where I am instead of where I am not, my day has more depth.
I once visited my grandma in the nursing home before she passed, and I asked her how they were treating her there. She sighed, “Oh, they’re nice enough, but I can tell they rush through things because they just want to get home to their own families.” I responded saying how awful that is, and she answered, “Oh, no it’s fine. I get it. I would be the same way.”
We’re all guilty of wanting to be somewhere else other than where we are, especially at work, right? Our minds drift to when we get done, so our “real lives” can begin. We sometimes put half our effort and energy into projects because we no longer see the purpose or importance of our work or the people who are on the receiving end of our work.
That thinking is a slippery slope to no longer being engaged at work, and we’ve all been there, I imagine.
I recently saw a dancer on public TV who was in his nineties. He said dancing never felt like work to him because every single fiber in his body was immersed in joy when he danced. I have no activities at work that do that for me. Work feels like work. I am not immersed in joy so much that it doesn’t feel like work, so I’m not going to set the bar of expectation so high in my life.
The truth is, it’s okay to feel the effects of work. It challenges us and makes us feel like we contributed in some way. My biggest goal in raising my kids is that they have strong work ethics. I don’t care if they make a lot of money. I just want them to have the gift of being able to feel the joy that comes with working hard and touching others.
I had to write a letter to my daughter and put it in a time capsule for her graduation day 5 years from now. In the letter I told her to work hard and put her heart in all she does. I told her if she needs to wash toilets to make money, be the person who washes them the best with happiness in your heart while you sing along to the radio. I told her the pride and joy in her work will be contagious and learning to have that outlook in life will make her content, no matter the job.
And that’s the real goal, right? To always keep striving for more, but to also dig into the job we’re currently doing to cultivate joy and happiness right where we are instead of fooling ourselves we’ll arrive there only when we get the work of our dreams.
Our dream job starts today with the artistry we bring to work.
Work is an honor and privilege. And it’s also a major pain in the butt. Both truths can coexist rather comfortably. It’s a conscious choice to spend more time on the optimistic side of this coin. That’s where our best selves live, and if we're firing from that engine instead of from the one that whines, we'll see the world differently.
If we can accomplish that change in how we look at work, it just might extend over into our personal lives and relationships. Then we’ll be the richest “artists” of all.