From time to time, people ask me how I figured out what I loved to do. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s a strategy I used when I didn’t have the time, energy, or money to do something big or drastic. That’s the beauty of it, though – you can start to find the answers in your day-to-day routine, and over time, craft a new future for yourself.
If you eavesdrop on the conversations in a typical workplace, you’ll pick up a consistent theme. Just like the lyrics of that catchy Loverboy song from the 80s, it seems like everybody’s working for the weekend. Whether you have a Monday – Friday schedule or do shift work, you know what I’m talking about: people everywhere are grinding it out all week so that they can kick back and enjoy some time off before the cycle starts all over again. It isn’t supposed to be fun or enjoyable. Work is about trading your time and talents for money. Isn’t it?
At least that’s what I used to believe. Even though I was no stranger to the saying “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” I didn’t think it applied to me. First of all, this implies you’d have to love doing something that people would be willing to pay you for, and as an exhausted mother of toddler twins, I’d yet to see a job listing for a professional napper. When would I have the time, energy, or money to figure it out?
Bouncing around from job to job felt risky. I had a family to feed, and giving up a stable career to find something I liked better seemed like a selfish luxury. Not to mention that I didn’t have a college degree and no real skills beyond what I was doing at the moment. I felt stuck. Years passed before I realized that maybe things could be different. And then, something changed. I adjusted my attitude and added a few new habits. Before long, this turned into a powerful cycle that set me on a life-changing course.
Are you in the same boat? You don’t have to be stuck there forever. Here are a few things you can start doing today to bring you closer to job satisfaction, and they don’t cost a thing, either.
- Believe that you can enjoy what you do for a living.
This one’s simple. If the idea of finding joy at work seems downright impossible, it will be. Don’t shut yourself off from seeing the positive. Just like those who believe they are lucky are more likely to catch a break, believing that work doesn’t have to suck opens up opportunities that are right in front of you. But be realistic – you won’t instantaneously enjoy every aspect of it. It’s a process.
- Reframe your workday as a journey towards self-discovery.
What can you learn about yourself at work? Go about your business as usual, but start paying attention to how you feel throughout the day and under different circumstances. Use your commute to reflect on questions like these:
- Are you more productive in the morning or afternoon?
- Do you enjoy being around people? Which people?
- What kinds of activities drain your energy? Can you avoid them?
- Do you ever experience flow, when you lose track of time doing something you enjoy? Can you create the conditions for yourself to do more of that?
- When do you feel proud of your work?
- What kinds of activities stretch you?
- Do you enjoy working with your hands, or does office work suit you?
The more you know about yourself, the more you can advocate for the kind of work experience that brings out the best in you. Chances are it’s a win for you and a win for your company, too. Which brings us to the next step…
- Find ways to do more of what you enjoy.
Now that you have a better sense of what makes you tick, it’s time for a mini-job redesign. Take 30 minutes or so and think about what a perfect day at work would look like. You can write it down, or even create a few different versions. Compare that to your current situation. What changes are possible for you to make right now? Test them out! Are there some small tweaks that require your boss’s approval? Don’t be afraid to ask. After all, you doing better work is better for your company, too! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Need uninterrupted time to do complicated tasks in the morning? Can you find a space where people won’t bother you, or even book yourself a conference room?
- Does your energy dip in the afternoon? Maybe you can take a walk outside, or find a way to interact with people who get your ideas flowing.
- Boring meetings got you down? Revamp your sessions using Gamestorming techniques. They’re easy to learn and bring out your team’s creativity.
- Do you need to develop a new skill? Will your employer send you to a class or a conference? How else might you learn it? Don’t forget about books and TED talks, too.
Look, you know yourself and your job best. Even if these don’t fit what you do, there’s usually something! Start small and think of it as a series of little experiments to bring you closer to where you want to be. With each new improvement, the productivity and quality of your work will increase. It won’t be long before people notice, and you’ll find yourself in a positive feedback loop that will open up doors that you didn’t know existed.
Or you could just keep doing the same thing…