People are always touting the phrase, “Do what you love, and the money will follow,” but it’s not always as easy as that, is it?
The reality is most of us have to hold jobs that don’t match up with our dreams, so let’s please amend the phrase to read, “Try to love what you’re doing today; don’t let it define who you are, and a pretty good life might follow.”
I know--it just doesn’t have that dreamy ring to it, does it?
We’ve all complained about work, right? In college at Ohio University twenty years ago, I worked at a bagel shop, serving bagels to drunk students late at night and hungover students at the crack of dawn.
One night I went to work with a horrible attitude, grumpy as a you can imagine a 20-year-old college student serving up schmears to slurred-speech customers can be.
Apparently, I had complained just enough for my dreadlock-adorned, Grateful Dead-following co-worker to finally turn to me and slowly exhale, “Man, look around. You’re nourishing these people. Doesn’t it feel good to know you’re a part of that?”
What-the-crap-ever, I thought to myself.
I couldn’t see what he was seeing. He was in the same situation that I was in--a college kid having to work hard without having things dished out to us--and he was appreciating the impossibly positive side of it.
I wasn’t there yet then, but the fact that I remember his words so many years later means they, in fact, landed deep within me.
We all have or have had a job that can strangle the energy from us. We pick out the horrible things about it and stubbornly park ourselves there with our arms crossed, putting blinders on to anything positive that might come along with the negatives.
Do you do this? Just me sometimes?
Work, in general, has such negative connotations attached to it. Rarely anyone squeals in delight, “I get to go to work now!” It’s usually more of a begrudging moan of, “Ugh, I have to drag my butt out of bed to go to work now” before clobbering the snooze button.
But what happens if we can switch our lens to one of optimism and pride and not let work be a dirty “4-letter word”?
A strong work ethic is a mighty gift to possess. It’s right up there with a sense of humor, empathy, and an appreciation of nature--all qualities I hope my kids will cultivate.
If I can just instill in them to put their best effort into everything, I know their lives will be richer for it. And when I say “best effort” I don’t mean maniacal, obsessive goals of perfection. I just mean a desire to do their best because it feels good to dig in and put ourselves into our work.
Sometimes their imaginary play revolves around pretending to be at work, and their eyes seriously twinkle when they say, “Let’s pretend we’re adults going to work!” as if work were some fairytale land full of Skittles falling from the sky rather than eating Grape Nuts in a cubicle while listening to NPR.
I don’t necessarily equate a strong work ethic with loads of money. I hope my kids will tap wholeheartedly into whatever they’re doing from scrubbing toilets to running a company, and focus on the pride of a job well done rather than just the money.
We can go about our jobs much more successfully if we remove the drowning weight of negativity and disappointment we carry on our backs. Most of us can’t say we love absolutely everything about our jobs, but the physical act of working can be rewarding if we tackle it with purposefulness and satisfaction.
This doesn’t mean work is always a joy sprinkled with giggles and gumdrops. It sucks at times. You’d better believe I curse the alarm every morning it sings its stupid little song, but when I frantically slide into work after getting my kids to school, I find that place of calm and focus where I know work is a gift and doing the best I can is a much better way to spend my life than dwelling on the ungrateful, entitled place that also lurks in my brain.
Let’s mark our unique stamp on the work we do. There’s only one of you, so you are the only person who can do your job --no matter how "small"-- the way you do it, so embrace that.
Resist the urge to phone it in.
To be clear, mundane work is mundane work if we let it be. It’s not easy to jazz up the task of answering the phone, filing or sending emails, but when we change our lens, like my co-worker in college was able to do, otherwise mundane work becomes connecting with people and becoming part of something bigger.
It becomes the purposeful choice of doing more than just skimming the surface and coasting
by, which is so tempting to do, right?
So what does a good work ethic get you? It gets you a challenging life with no guarantees. But something magical seems to happen when you have a good outlook on life--you start to attract a good life.
Does good mean easy?
No. But it means you’re not afraid of things that aren’t easy.
It means pouring all your focus and intention on doing a great job, so when your day is over, you leave your job there, and you can focus on the other you who exists after 5:00, which is way more important.
The positivity you possess at work will spill over into your personal life, and the negativity you possess at work will spill over into your personal life. I'm no expert, but I know when I'm a pain in the butt at work, it's hard to magically shake that grumpy monkey off my back when I go home. It's not rocket science, is it?
Having a good work ethic and positive outlook still might mean wondering how the heck you’re going to pay all your bills but knowing you will keep giving your all without knowing where the path will lead.
It's not a magical potion that solves all your obstacles about work. It's a quiet acceptance that you are here right now, so be fully here and dig in deep.
Let’s look unglamorous, hard work in the eye and tackle it with honor from operating a forklift to operating on hearts. Let’s put our whole selves into our work because when we plop our heads onto the pillow at night in exhaustion, isn’t it better to know we made the most of today and gave everyone the best version of ourselves?