For many, work is a 4-letter word. Songs are written about how much we hate it. There are television shows that share how awful some jobs are. The source of our greatest complaints in life are either about our family or our work.
But what if instead of seeing work as a sentence, we saw it as an opportunity to do more of what we do best? What if we actually found work fun? Unthinkable! Impossible! Stop kidding around and get back to being serious – this is work we are talking about. Our “work ethic” says that work is supposed to be tough, challenging, complicated and demanding. What if we had it all wrong?
If we could use more of our talents and live more of our passions, we could raise the enjoyment, engagement and fun in our work. But most of us get pushed into work situations instead of intentionally choosing them. We think money matters most when it comes to work.
However, talk to those who are exceptional at what they do and love doing it and they will share that they used fun, engagement and impact as criteria for selecting work, a job or a career – not just money. After all, you choose what you will have to do each day. It seems reasonable to choose something that engages and inspires you, not one that will be a challenge to get out of bed for each morning.
Besides being a workplace and life coach, I am an adjunct professor for a college in South Florida. Most of my students have no idea of not only what they want from college, but what things they should be studying to be ready for life after college. They have not been taught how to look within themselves to see their unique abilities and passions, and how to review their world for the places that will let them do what they do best. They are setting themselves up for work that they won’t find fun, exciting and engaging. We are creating the next generations of those who will continue to write and sing about how bad work is and how we have to just put up with it until they get to come home – or die. Every moment of life is one worth living wisely and with intention. And if work uses the greatest number of the moments of our lives, isn’t it worth it to find a way to build fun AND impact into our work?
This makes me want to ask 2 questions:
- If you could realign to a field, job or position that would activate your greater talents and passions, what would it be and how could start to make the change?
- If you can’t make a job or career change because of your current situation or commitments, how can you look at what you do and find more things in the workplace that feed your spirit, soul, talents and passions?
Here are some examples.
Steve is an entrepreneur – his work is to evaluate business ideas in which to invest. His job is so much fun for him, he told me he can hardly stand it. He is excited and “on” every moment.
Marie waits tables – work is fun for her. She can’t wait to meet the next person, share stories and hear theirs. She takes on extra shifts, not for the money, but for the time with new people.
Bob is the CFO for a company. Month end is his favorite time of month as he reviews the performance of the company, prepares reports and makes presentations. For him, it doesn’t get better than this.
Tess is an administrative assistant. Though she is good at what she doe, it isn’t her favorite work. She is intensely creative so she asked to coordinate the office events and write the company newsletter. These raise the fun meter in her role.
We choose our level of happiness and fun. If it isn’t as we like it, we must change it. There are always things we can do to improve how we see the world, and what we do in it. As George Bernard Shaw shares, “Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” Make the moments matter. Make the most of everything. Don’t wait for things to change, change them.
Love life. Love work. Have more fun. Make more fun. It is possible. It is up to each of us to make it happen.
Six months ago I spent half of my savings on a gym membership and a personal trainer at the gym down the street from my apartment. It was supposed to be a three month membership only because I had this Groupon, but I’m a sucker and they brought their whole sales team out. Next thing I know I was handing over my debit card, feeling convinced that I was finally making the right positive change in my life. I was also under the delusion that if I lost the right amount of weight that I could potentially replace Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane in the next installment of Spider-man (and basically my entire life would be a fantasy). I woke up the next morning having a full fledged panic attack. If you’re not aware, six months of personal training is expensive. Like thousands of dollars expensive and while I love my job, being a wellness blog editor does not really afford such luxuries. When I called the gym to cancel they informed me that they don’t do refunds on personal training unless you get hit by a bus or something. This is not a fact they mentioned the night before, or else I’d like to believe I wouldn’t have been so willing to just hand over the cash.
The point is I paid for this trainer. And now it’d be my job to make it worth it.
Yesterday was my last session. I have lost a total of five pounds. It’s not my trainer’s fault really – or at all even. The thing is that even though you’re paying someone all that money to help you get in shape the job is still yours. So you can pay someone to tell you how many reps to do twice a week but if you go home and eat an entire bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips – you’re only screwing over yourself. This is not to discredit the work of personal trainers. Their enthusiasm and guidance are invaluable, but they can’t lose the weight for you and if you’re not in the mindset to do it then all the wisdom in the world isn’t going to get you there. I can make a lot of excuses about why I didn’t lose more – I was depressed, I was juggling too much, there were scheduling problems, I couldn’t get a regular routine – but at the end of the day I just didn’t do it.
It’s hard not to feel like a failure with something like that. It’s not like I didn’t want it, you know? I’ve been chubby to obese my entire life and for once I wanted to know what it felt like to try on pants at Old Navy without having to go to the maternity or plus sizes section. I wanted to know what it felt like to go shopping with my friends and not want to curl up in a fetal position thirty minutes in because none of the clothes I want come in my size or look right. This was the perfect opportunity to get there and I didn’t make the most of it. I’ve been beating myself up about it for weeks as I knew I was running out of sessions.
It came even more acutely at the end of the session yesterday. I had made it through warming up, backward bench presses, arm curls, rowing, twenty minutes of boxing and ab exercises (Okay, so how much did I have to gorge to only lose five pounds doing all that? I KNOW.) But to finish it off my trainer wanted to do these push up exercises. You start on your elbows and then push up into regular push up position. Then rotate back down onto your elbows, repeat. On top of being a chubber I also have basically no upper body strength. So I got onto my elbows and could barely hold myself up. I tried to get up on my hands and every time I did I would collapse onto my front. My trainer kept trying to encourage me, but it happened two or three times and the frustration really set in. Really? I know I didn’t lose the weight but I really can’t do a few push ups on my last session? Universe kick a girl while she’s down why don’t you? So I started crying. Now I’m just collapsing onto my still larger than doctor recommended belly in a boxing ring that is literally in the center of the gym, with tears streaming down my face as I explain to my exasperated trainer “I can’t! I keep trying and I can’t! *falls* DAMNIT!”
But I kept going. Even when Darlene told me that I had basically done the 10 I needed to do, I knew I hadn’t done a full one. So tears, chub and all I kept pushing myself up and falling until I got up on my elbows, rotated my hands, pushed up, and down on my elbows again before collapsing to the ground. “I killed your arms today,” Darlene tried to explain, “Don’t beat yourself up because you couldn’t do this. It’s more important that you kept trying. It’s only once we lose that, that we have a problem.”
I have only lost five pounds. And all of the excuses – holidays, work, family drama, etc were killing my arms. The important thing is to keep lifting yourself up. Keep trying to do the push up. Maybe you never get to do it or it takes 5 times as long as you expected it to. The important thing is you keep at it because it’s only once you give up that any of it becomes impossible. I’ll be seeing you eventually, Old Navy.
So many of us feel like our lives are a race – a dash. We are sprinting through the events of our lives to get them “all done.” We have amazing to-do lists; we are compelled to achieve and accomplish; society says this is how we get ahead. We pride ourselves on being so productive.
But what if, instead, the value of life were not in the dash and amount of things we do, but in the quality of life’s events – in the time we spend enjoying, connecting and becoming part of what we do? What if life were more like a garden path than a superhighway?
My dad was an amazing gardener. And the garden was the learning ground for so many lessons in life. The greatest lesson I remember is the role of the garden path.
He explained that the garden path is designed to help us slow down and connect to the Earth, Mother Nature and the amazing flora around us. A path zigs and zags – it is never a straight line. The straight line pulls us to a destination; we feel obliged to keep moving – get someone where. The meandering garden path, on the other hand, encourages us to slow down and to spend time on each curve, connecting with and admiring each new view because at each bend in the path, the view is entirely different. There is so much more to see; there is so much more to be part of.
It is the same with life. With each new event in life, we see things differently. We learn. We appreciate. We participate more fully when we slow down and become more present.
Life on the straight path – on the superhighways – encourages us to move quickly; the garden path encourages us to slow down and connect with our amazing planet, nature and the beauty of our environment. We show up more to the moments of our lives. Life is fuller. Life is richer. Life is more amazing.
For my family, planning what was planted along the path was a labor of love. We would visit nursery after nursery, looking at plant size and colors (in all seasons), and sampling fragrances. The walk along the path was to be a full sensory experience – to hear the wind in the foliage, to see the colors in the flowers and leaves, to smell the scents and to touch the textures. Our gardens were outdoor masterpieces – works of art that were inspired by love and created for the benefit of all who would commit the time to come off of the highway and intentionally choose to walk instead of run, notice instead of ignore and share instead of take. Heaven.
My dad is no longer with us, but his love of gardening, plants and nature courses through the veins of all of my five siblings and me. Though we are also a family that can get comfortable on the superhighway – focused on achieving and doing – we always remember the valuable lesson of the garden path – I lesson I am glad to share. We know that there is more to life than a grand to-do list. Life was not designed for the dash; it was designed for the meandering walk along a great garden path, to appreciate and be part of the things along the way.
Here is one of Dad’s favorite garden poems that my siblings and I now keep posted on our fridges or computers – to remind us of what he used to regularly call to remind us: go out in the garden, life is beautiful there.
There’s peace within a garden,
A peace so deep and calm;
That when the heart is troubled,
It’s like a healing balm.
There’s life within a garden,
A life that still goes on,
Filling the empty places
When older plants have gone.
There’s glory in a garden,
At every time of year;
Spring, summer, autumn, winter
To fill the heart with cheer.
So ever tend your garden,
Its beauty to increase;
For in it you’ll find solace,
And in it, you’ll find peace.
Be intentional about your time with the gifts of our planet, that generously share themselves with those who take the time to notice. Go out in the garden.
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
I stood outside in the yoga class and listened as a young woman told her friend, “well if it’s meant to be, it will be.” As I always do, the words from the Beatles above filled my head. “Let it be.” One of the lessons I have learned on the journey is that indeed, it is often to let things be.
But there is a second level of the process of more to it than being a passive observer of your life, and this is another very important lesson that I think gets lost in the desire to be in the flow, and to let things happen. I have learned this the hard way as well.
It’s almost a two-step process – especially for Westerners. We live in a society with technology at our fingertips. We’ve modified the organisms of the food chain. We feel that we are in total and complete control of our destiny and of the world around us. We’re not. We need to understand that as much as we think that we have controlled the world – the world still has mysteries and secrets that we will never understand.
Usually, this then translates, in yoga studio lobbies, to men and women talking about other men and women and debating the outcome of a relationship. It usually involves party A who has been trying too hard to force the relationship with party B whom they’ve either been dating, been wanting to date, been wanting to marry or procreate.
Faced with obstacles and frustration, they then declare that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” It’s as if they have decided that it’s out of their hands and in the universe’s. This is, in my mind, a simple bastardization of the concept of flow and the role it plays in our lives.
To me, to be in the flow is first to listen. You have to understand what is happening around you, and most importantly, within you. You have to eliminate the chatter of the world and most importantly, the chatter within you. You might think that the reason you are nervous / scared / anxious about an issue or person is clear-cut and simple – it almost certainly isn’t and if you think you can see and understand what you are feeling and why without serious quiet and introspection, I’d be careful.
Let’s say you are deciding what you want to do for a new career. You need to think about it and ponder the pro’s and con’s in a logical way. How much money will you make? Where will you live? You will not become a yoga teacher by chance – it takes conscious action.
Once the input has been entered, then it’s time to sit down, meditate and think about it. How does it feel? What does it look like? What direction can you give yourself with the input entered?
If it feels right still, then here’s the important part – the power of positive flow.
I described it once to a friend in Burma last year like this.
Imagine you are standing on a river bank and the water is moving by you. You won’t get anywhere if you just stand on the river bank. The water is not going to come out and get you and pull you in.
You have to step into the water.
Then, you have two choices.
You can go against the current. And here I often think of my friends who are lawyers, and are miserable being lawyers (not all are, but a lot seem to be.) They turn into the stream and trudge hard against the current. They try to swim and fight upstream. They won’t succeed.
So you turn the other way, you are in the river and you let the river take you.
Here’s where positive flow comes in.
The river will take you but you will get there faster if you move with the river. If you have ever swum downstream in a river that’s moving fairly fast, you know that a leisurely swim moves you quickly – it’s almost as if you are flying down – that’s what you want to do.
If the man or woman you are interested in moves to another city, you can’t simply hope it will work out. It’s going to take real work and real effort. I have learned this recently with this wonderful woman in my life. It’s work to talk and communicate and share – more work than I have experienced before. It’s not just simply going to happen.
I also learned a lesson a few years ago. A woman I really enjoyed was flying to South Africa and the schedules got topsy turvy and I wasn’t going to be there for much time at all when she was going to be there. I debated changing my ticket home (I was on a business trip with a good friend.) My friend advised me not to. “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” And I left. The last email that the woman flying in sent was “Wait, we’re not even going to have dinner?”
I should have stayed.
So now, I feel that it’s a combination of swimming and floating. Of listening and acting. Of holding and letting go. The right place for me is a pulsing between the two. I listen now to myself and to the people important to me.
I always make sure that I am in the river. And I always make sure that if I am headed in a direction that feels right, I don’t mind floating and watching the world move by me.
But I also don’t mind putting my head in the water and slowly helping the river push me.