Finding your purpose in life seems to be what everyone is writing about today. I personally have no fewer than 30 books on my shelves (yes…I still have paper books) about that very topic written by philosophers, like Paul Coehlo, survivors, like Victor Frankl, coaches, like Martha Beck, and pragmatists, like Jen Sincero.
I have been wrapped up in finding my purpose for at least 15 years. What am I here to do? What does the universe have in store for me? Should I be contributing more than I do? What is my calling? Or, my favorite mid-life one: Is this it? These and many more questions have gone through my brain for a while now.
Some people truly feel “called” to something early in life. Others, like myself, aren’t really sure what that “should” be. One thing I have learned through all of my book reading and reflecting is that pondering this question over and over can drive you nuts.
There may not be a clear answer to this question. There may not be “I should do this” purpose statement written in the clouds. Perhaps what we should focus on is deriving as much joy and fulfillment out of what we chose to do as possible. So, this has led me to think about how to do that.
Here are my six tips to find joy at work:
- Exercise gratitude – How easy is it to get wrapped up in the day to day? This person stepped on my toes; my boss wasn’t clear about what he wanted; I don’t want to do that project her way; that customer is driving me crazy. But, honestly, there are plenty of things to be grateful for in and out of work, if we just take a minute to think about it. I find listing them helps me. I have a Gratitude app on my phone that I used to list what I am grateful for on my train rides into the city. Now, I start my day at my home office this way. You may ask if I am in a job I don’t particularly care for right now, what is there to grateful for? First, let’s start with having a job. Not everyone does. I realize not everyone feels this way but I feel lucky to be employed doing something I can derive some joy from. How about you?
- Identify what I can control – I have written about this before but in a situation where you report to a boss or are accountable to customers, identify what you can control and then manage that area the way you see fit. This can be as small as organizing your own schedule or drafting emails to customers to as large as leading project or managing a department. This is my go-to thought when I feel smothered or micro-managed. I think about what is in my control and I focus my energies there. This not only helps me be productive but feeds my “joy-meter”.
- Do the have-tos first – Every professional I have ever met has things they must do that they would rather not. I have mentored a few younger professionals and they all complain about reserving conference rooms or being the help desk. They have often shared that their boss gets to do all the “fun stuff”. I sincerely doubt it. Maybe at some level, we stop making room reservations (although, I still do this!) or being the customer service rep (I do this too at a higher level) but there are plenty of other non-sexy things to be done at all levels. I get these out of the way first in my day. Any time management professional will tell you to get the hard stuff out of the way first. For me, the hard stuff are the tasks I don’t really want to do. The challenging items I love to do, I leave for my peak productivity time, which is 10 am for me, after two cups of coffee.
- Determine what I can start that may be a little different than my day-to-day – Similar to tip #2, identify what I can start or offer to start that is currently not in my control but could be. Can I identify something that should be fixed, changed or started that is low risk? There are plenty of these opportunities laying around that people don’t have time for. If you want to do more facilitating or speaking, then offer to do that on something that is in your control. Ask to speak at the next team meeting about a process you execute or a project you manage. Make the opportunity you want to feed your “joy-meter”.
- Work cannot be our entire life – This is the most important lesson I have learned in my life thus far. I used to look to my career to fill up my entire cup. This only set me up for disappointment. My career was never going to be enough for me as I had tall standards and many things I wanted to accomplish in my life. I couldn’t possibly get this all from work. That was unfair. I left job and after job in search of this only to find that I was disappointed every time. You can feel called to your career, you can derive great joy from your job but life is more than work. Life can have purpose but purpose is not defined as a single item.
- Do something on the side/volunteer – If you simply cannot find enough joy at work, do something on the side whether that be for money or as a volunteer. Some people want to do more of what they do for charity, like accounting or writing; others prefer to do something completely different like packing lunches for hungry children or painting schools that cannot afford to hire contractors to do so. Whatever aligns with your values and interests, pick that something and get involved. If you prefer not to be hands on, then do something administrative or creative. I have never been turned down by a non-profit to help in whatever capacity I offered.
I could write more on this subject, and may, as finding joy is critical to one’s own sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. There are ways of feeling joy at work even when we feel frustrated. We need to think about our lives holistically and not just focus on our job or career.
We need to proactively, not passively, find ways to feel joy at work. If we wait for someone to make us happy or give us what we want, we will be waiting a long time. We must be the ones to reflect and take action. This has become an everyday habit for me to feed my “joy-meter”. I hope you find what works for you.