Remember What You Loved About Your Job? It’s Still There If You Look.
When I ask my two teenagers about remote school, they tell me it’s all the work and none of the fun. They still have the pressure of grades, homework, and college prep, but without the joys of friends, after-school activities, and new experiences. With no clear end in sight, the situation feels both uncertain and threateningly permanent.
Most adults can relate to this because we feel similarly. Even parts of our jobs that we thought we disliked (hello travel!), we’re realizing actually had overlooked rewards (goodbye novelty). It can feel like we’re all in a massive unplanned retirement experiment, where the days pass quickly with little to differentiate them. Same home office, different Zoom calls. Is it the holidays already? Vaccines look promising, but experts warn that the impacts and timing can’t yet be determined.
Even if we are in the office, it’s definitely not the same. Instead of eagerly catching up in the breakroom, we’re watching our distance and trying to not be super spreaders. Business travel is rare but occurring, though being packed tightly on a plane in a pandemic is not exactly relaxing.
Work – and life – is simultaneously boring and very stressful. The level of anxiety in our environment is unmatched in most of our lifetimes. This stress bleeds into everything else. It can be hard to feel great about your promotion when your neighborhood restaurants are shuttering.
And yet, being the resilient humans that we are, we put on our literal and figurative masks and keep going. We still have a need for joy, engagement, surprise, and delight. I go back frequently to the words of the poet Jack Gilbert, “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” Seems about right.
This is our normal for now, and until further notice. Work done well needs to have moments of deep satisfaction and joy. The question becomes, how we get more of what we love about our job back into our day-to-day?
Anchor back to what you love.
It’s easy to forget what you actually do love about your job when the work situation feels pared down, disconnected or even completely different. To start, spend some time recalling what you enjoy about your work. Consider one of your best days or projects. What felt energizing? What were you doing when you lost track of time? What tasks made you excited to share? When you have a sense of those moments, write them down so you have a list of what’s made your work fulfilling.
Challenge yourself to recreate those situations.
After you have a sense for what you love about work, pick a few and see how you can create them in our current environment. For example, if you loved travel because you got to meet new people, how could you meet new people virtually? If you thrived in creative brainstorming meetings, how could you organize your time to be in more of those?
This is not to gloss over the fact that many things are patently hard to recreate – just that we usually have agency to regain positive aspects of our work that we’ve lost. For me, I miss being in conversations with groups of people where we all walk away with gained perspective. I’ve made it a point to create more interactive virtual offerings to model this environment – they aren’t an exact replica but the conversations are dynamic and invigorating. I’ve also joined a few professional development circles where we push each other to learn and grow. Would I rather be in a room with everyone? Sure, but this also works.
Be a creator of connection.
Seven months into the pandemic, and we’ve already gone through a couple of cycles. We had hyper communication, then Zoom fatigue, and now we’re in a grind it out phase. Some new communication norms have been established, and otherwise, we’ve settled into a rhythm where we assume everyone is busy and try to be judicious about asking for others’ time.
While it’s good to limit unnecessary meetings, what’s getting lost is serendipitous connection. Studies show that we are communicating more with fewer people, and our indirect connections are atrophying. Because we need a multitude of relationships for career advancement, personal growth, and inspiration, this trend deserves attention. Many people lament the pandemic’s negative effect on connection and would love a remedy – so there’s an opportunity to take the lead. One client of mine has gotten together a small group as “thought partners” – with both direct and indirect connections. They gather one morning a month to compare ideas, brainstorm, and give each other advice. While it was my client’s idea, the entire group is grateful to be in community.
Small teams and big ideas.
Research is starting to emerge around how teams are thriving during this period. Two themes are emerging and converging: working with small teams and tackling big ideas. Teams that find ways to coalesce around solving important issues tend to have the most engagement. This is related to the last point – when people create a community and do their best work they will be more connected to it.
Further, without the spontaneous aspect of the workplace, our jobs can feel painfully routine. Taking on something new, with new people, can give us the lift we need. Again, this may not just happen but require us to put the wheels in motion.
Follow your energy.
Finally, a reason we need to connect back to joy in our work is because it fuels energy, creativity and passion. Our energy gives us signs that we’re on a positive path if we pay attention. While it may take momentum to start something new, if we’re doing something we enjoy, the energy starts to flow.
This is a time that requires experimentation. Not everything we try will pay off. Meeting new business contacts on Zoom may not be very engaging to us, so we decide to double down on working in cross-functional teams instead. Let your energy be a source of information – whatever you do should be creating more of it.
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