Tell me, what’s good about your job? I know you can tell me what's annoying, frustrating, pisses you off, exhausting, exasperating, aggravating, bothersome, disturbing, irritating, troublesome, vexatious… But can you list the things that are good?
Our culture defaults to the negative. Fear based news, fear based government, and fear based profiles on dating sites. It’s everywhere. Fear can motivate us to take positive or negative action. Often we don’t even realize that we are in a cycle of fear and negativity that lead to negative thoughts that lead to negative feelings that can lead to negative actions. If we don't catch ourselves, we may end up quitting in a fit of rage, or lashing out at a direct report, or find ourselves crying in the work bathroom. I’m as guilty of focusing on the negative as you are. It feels familiar, and therefore “natural,” to complain about what’s not working. It’s not natural; it’s learned and it can be unlearned. We’re talking glass half full or empty. It is a choice and we have the power to choose which way to view the glass.
A client was listing all the challenges she faced in her job. The company she worked for was merging with another company based across the country. She’d been offered the chance to stay in NYC and work remotely. The stress of whether she should start looking for a new job or try this out was making her anxious and fraught with worry. It was becoming hard not to panic. We met and discussed the situation. She needed to vent and vent she did. As she described her concerns, she began naming a long list of complaints in great detail. After a while, I asked her to write them down in a list. As she began writing, she realized that it was actually just 4 main items that concerned her. The venting was important; it’s valuable to release the anxiety in a safe space and it was this release that enabled her to narrow it down to 4 main issues. Here they are:
- A new boss who seems unsure of himself
- Reduced marketing budget
- Friends have left or been let go
- Different health plan
Now these are real concerns. It would make total sense for her to begin the search immediately. Interestingly, when I asked her why there was a question about beginning a search, her answer was underwhelming. She felt that the market was soft and jobs were hard to find in her niche. These were facts, but it wasn't reason enough to not take action. So I pushed a bit. I asked her to write the things that were good about the job. She looked at me funny. She’d been complaining for a good 35 minutes and I’m asking what's good about it? Was I even listening?
I was listening between the words. There’s no way someone can list all the bad things and then say she can’t take action…unless she wants to stay. You can see where I’m headed, yes? Once she started to list the good things, she realized that she was afraid of the new set up and didn't like some of the changes, but was clear that the job was still right for her. Maybe not forever, but she knew she didn't want to leave right then. Want to see her list?
What’s good in this job:
- They value great creative
- The hours
- The paycheck
Doesn't that look like a great job? I’d stay also! But only if those things mattered to me more than the annoying things. For some clients, a reduced budget or a new boss might be a deal breaker. Each human has a unique set of metrics – what makes a job good for you? For me, it’s a long list, but I rarely have all of it at once. The task is to make your list and then rank it in order of priority, or deal breaker categories, to determine if you can stay or need to move on. Lists change over the years, depending on where you are in your life, both physically and emotionally. You may have taken a job overseas where the language classes were more important than the retirement package, or a job in a new industry where a kind and patient boss was more important than a short commute time. There are so many variables in work that can bring us joy or distress. It’s our responsibility to ourselves to define this so we can pay attention to what’s important and head the negativity off at the pass.
Here’s my list today:
- Meaningful product that serves the wider good of the world
- Smart, fun colleagues with whom to laugh and from whom to learn
- Feeling useful to the team
- Teaching Compassionate Management by coaching and example
- A company culture that values working smart (rather than measuring hours)
- Feeling valued by management
- Growing a business
- Safe, light filled environment
- Direct deposit; I love when money just appears in my account
Are there other things that would make me happy? Yes! A huge salary, a short and easy commute, a large team, a masseur onsite, delicious and free food for lunch, a funded cell phone, lots of vacation time... In other words, I want to get what Google employees get without the hours, what Trader Joe’s employees get without having to stand on my feet all day, and what PWC management consultants get without having to travel all the time. No one has it all. So what’s most important to you today?
Try it out. Make a list of pros and cons. Focus on how you FEEL more than the facts. It may be fact that my clients’ boss was new to her, but she didn't feel bad about him yet because she had just met him. She felt apprehensive, but not actually bad. So the fact was that he was new, not good or bad. Once she finished her “good” list, she looked up and smiled. Wow! There was no need to take action because this job had the 4 main qualities she values above all others! We revisited her “bad” list and added to it, so then it looked like this:
- New boss – unknown! [TBD if he’s ok or not.]
- Reduced marketing budget [I can still do great work.]
- Friends have left or been let go [Some friends are still here and I can meet the others for lunch.]
- New health plan [It might be great.]
And she could always start looking whenever she wanted. There was no need for panic or anxiety. (Btw, she’s still there 2 years later and very happy.)
So if you're not thrilled in your job these days, make a list of the good and the not so good. Focus on the feeling and start naming what makes you happy. Then see how many of these criteria are met in your job. And now you know whether you need to take action or readjust your view.
Photo credit: costculator.com