In respect to our work life, most of us have complains: poor work-life balance, feeling like we’re not being paid enough for what we do, to the worst of all- not enjoying what we do.
Most of these narratives, to a greater extent, can be blamed on the delusive society we live in everyday- where we only see results, not process’, where we try our best to deduce things to black and white, instead of developing a more healthy pessimistic attitude and noticing the grayness that is life.
Take the entrepreneurial stories you hear everywhere as an example- how yet another kid dropped out of college and is now making a fortune. How someone went to a third world country and found “their calling”.
These stories, although on the one end inspire us to believe, also lead us astray.
From the surface, it seems like we’re in the wrong- suddenly, we’re questioning everything: Are we not truly following our dreams? Are we wasting our time and resources in dogma?
I started working about three years ago, and ever since, have tried my best to collect insights to optimize my working life. Normally, these kinds of articles are written by folks who’ve been working for a very long time, and hey- maybe some of what I’m suggesting seems naive, but I hope these help you find some solace at work.
#1 Get a Notebook
Although the world today is a big advocate of loving what you do, the ironic fact is- none of us know what we want to do with our lives, or rather- what we “love” doing.
Some of us hope for a day when we’re in the middle of a task, perhaps painting on a canvas, or gardening and suddenly the world will stop and God will come down to earth herself to hand you a certificate of assurance.
We expect our passions to be automatic, almost supernatural forces that we cannot understand rationally.
The truth is, fortunately, that there is hardly an inherent calling we’re born with; we can, with curiosity, not only find out what we fancy doing but also use that information to guide our professional and (sometimes) personal lives.
To do so, we need something as simple as a notebook.
To understand where our interests lie, we need to take notice and record our thoughts and feelings while we engage in tasks at work.
This helps us in two ways.
First– it helps us understand ourselves better. As we curiously look at our notebook, we can question, for example, why we felt particularly engaging in making that poster, or why negotiating that deal made us so excited. These can help guide us to the right job.
Second– it can help us look at the bigger picture. A typical thought pattern starting level employees go through is believing that the task they’re engaged in is “not that important”- that, no one is going to look at that presentation or that fifty page proposal you wrote that took a lot out of you.
However, a glance at our notebook can make us realize that literally everything and anything you do at your job, if traced back, is significant to the overall efficiency of the company. To give you an extreme example- think about the job of an office cleaner. From the surface, it may seem that their job is mundane, and that it doesn’t really matter in the long run. However, a messy office can decrease morale , which, can affect work.
So, if you really think about it- an office cleaner plays as much of a role in the overall efficiency of a company, by doing a good job.
Its what Marcus Aurelius said- Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy; none of its parts are unconnected. Together, they compose the world.
Get a notebook and record your thoughts and feelings. Apply some gentle curiosity to your daily work-life, watch yourself at work like an archaeologist would, an artifact.
#2 Have an internal scorecard
We’re masters at evaluating ourselves though factors that are beyond our control. At first, it may be tempting to look at the tangibles that rule our professional lives- the amount of money we’re making, or the number of times our managers gave us an approving comment, but, the truth is- we cannot control these things.
Our stakeholders could fail to notice the job we’re doing because they too, have things to do on their plate. That big report you turned in could go unnoticed (despite those grueling hours you put in writing the introduction), simply because your manager may be having a rough day.
And so, to stay internally motivated we need to look at metrics that are within our direct control- how many reports we read, templates we created, time we spent critically thinking or building something.
As we step away from seeking approval from the world, we start taking a proactive approach to becoming our best professional and personal selves. Not because we want someone’s approval, not because we want to be appreciated in a meeting, but for a higher good- for making the world a better place.
#3 Stay Away from the ladder
It may be tempting to look at our job as a ladder, with the ultimate goal being- to go as higher up as possible and become an executive. After all- that’s when we’d be able to afford that sweet ride we’ve been dreaming of since twelve.
This mindset, however, has consequences.
First, if we put higher level positions ( and the people who’re in them) on a pedestal, it makes us believe that the executives know it all- they have a picture perfect vision of how introducing that new product will revolutionize lives and make the business significantly richer. From afar then, these folks seem like God like figures who’ve got it all figured out. And so, if we’d like to become them, we’d have to start trying to incorporate their habits, routines, and personalities in our lives.
The truth, fortunately is- no one really knows.
Regardless of how many white papers prove the executives decision, or how many forecasting studies yielded positive, inherently, they too, just like us, are afraid of luck playing out its card.
It’s rather dangerous to believe (sometimes wholeheartedly) that the reason we’re at such a higher level is because we possess something special- that, maybe the Gods rewarded us with something magical after all.
And the more we start living with this narrative, the worse our performance gets. Instead of trying new things and being curious about everyday process’, we’re trying our best not to fail, all the while forgetting that failure gives us freedom to become, be, and do more.
Your goal, then, shouldn’t be to climb the ladder. It should be to use whatever craft you’re in for making our societies less chaotic.
The rewards and levels shouldn’t bother you- they are externals.
#4 Look at it from above
Regardless of what your job is, it’s imperative that at some point in your professional life, you would have had to do something that you’re not really excited about- chasing around someone for their signature, copy pasting things into an excel file, updating information on the company’s directory; and it may seem like you’re not making much of a difference in your job.
After all- how can updating the emergency contact information make a significant impact?
And that is when we can apply a stoic concept that can help put things into perspective- a view from above.
First, start by getting a solid understanding of what the company you work for aims to do- what problem is it trying to solve? From the big five global challenges, which one is your business trying to solve?
And then go higher and ask yourself another question: what is the industry you’re in trying to solve?
Thinking about these questions can help us in a number of ways.
First– it can help us prioritize our tasks. If copy pasting formulas into an excel file doesn’t really amount to much, we can think about how that process can be automated, so, your stakeholders and you can spend time and energy in being engaged in tasks that really deserve our attention.
Second– it can help us improve professionally. As we get our heads out of the trivialities, we can finally stop obsessing and worrying about learning new skills for our LinkedIn profiles. Now, these very skills simply become means to achieve bigger and better things- automating that task, introducing a new newsletter, building an app.
So, the next time you feel like you’re wasting time in obsessing over things that don’t really matter in the long run- stop and watch. Just watch what everything looks like from the top- see how the pieces move, look at the problems, and then- go work on those fucking solutions regardless of how trivial they might seem.
Like pain, the size of a problem too is absolutely relative-a problem is a problem and if it persists for too long, it can create other problems.
Your job, then, is to solve.