August 2009 Archives
I was sitting with a local business owner recently, discussing the flood of bad economic news that was affecting his business. It seemed like every day was bringing new problems and throwing up new roadblocks in his effort to survive as a business.
This distress expanded into worries about what would happen to his family if the business failed as he began to envision selling off his personal property and facing personal bankruptcy if things did not get better.
After about 30 minutes of this discussion I stopped him. “You said, when we started, that there were a few good things and a lot of bad going on. We have been discussing the problems but you haven’t told me about the good things yet. I’m curious about those too.”
What happened next was fascinating (for a psychologist). As he began to talk about the good news of the past week, he also began to talk about ways to solve the problems he was facing. He was no longer complaining. Even when he considered the worst outcomes, he saw options that made him feel less helpless. We discussed this change and he confirmed that his mindset changed when he began to include the good things as part of the conversation.
There is a reason for this change, according to research done by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. Positive thoughts lead us to actions that will “broaden and build.”
Discussing the stress that is really happening in the economy puts us in a “fight or flight” mindset. That means that the solutions that are considered tend to be narrow, immediate, and oriented toward survival rather than toward thriving. But a positive mindset is different. It engenders more open thinking, creativity, and broader possibilities.
The business owner decided to put up a good news board at the worksite. He and his management team are now paying attention to all of the data that is coming in, the positive as well as the negative, and it is changing the way they think about how to thrive in a difficult economy. And it is already beginning to show up in their bottom line.
One of my siblings responded with the following, “Only people who are happy with their jobs or think they have job security say something like that.” Well, consider me guilty as charged. I do like my job, and I work my butt off because of that, so I don’t feel as though my job is ever in jeopardy.
No one would mistake me for an eternal optimist! Just ask my wife, my friends, or my co-workers. I think that, with some exceptions, most people who are unhappy with their jobs have no one to blame but themselves. For example, take my two siblings. One did not finish college. Whose fault was that? Sure, sometimes when we’re young, we make mistakes. The great part about life is that we often have the opportunity to fix those mistakes.
When it comes to fixing mistakes, though, we have to decide that there is something better out there, figure out what we want to do with our lives, and then take steps to get there. Sitting around complaining about how much you hate your job does nothing but make you look foolish for not changing the situation.
That being said, the other sibling should have even less to complain about. She completed a bachelor’s degree at a time when that put you ahead of the crowd, but has spent much of her career bashing her employer for trying to turn a profit. She thinks employers are using the recession as an excuse to further exploit employees! She has been miserable at work for a long, long time, and she simply counts down the time until vacation and retirement.
I don’t know about you, but such an existence would drive me absolutely crazy. I have worked very hard to be in my current position: I have a job that I enjoy, a job in which I find meaning, and a job that allows me to excel. I consider my job to be a calling. It’s hard to complain about that, right?
However, I didn’t just accidentally end up there. I identified something that I was good at, I worked hard to cultivate my strengths in that area, and I work hard every day to perform at a high level. Along the way, my family made sacrifices, we racked up student loans, and we are still paying off those loans. We make sacrifices even today so that I can perform meaningful work. We decided that was more important than earning a lot of money but being unhappy at work.
Do I love everything I do in my job? Hardly, but the things I love far outweigh the things I don’t. If that ever changed, I’d find a new job. It isn’t rocket science! It’s about truly wanting to have a work role that does more for you than just provide a paycheck. Most people spend a minimum of 40 hours each week at work. I don’t want those 40 hours to be hellish hours. I want them to be productive, meaningful, fulfilling hours.
What do you want out of your 40 hours? Do you want the same thing I do? Do you get that out of your current job? If not, I would suggest that you take a long, hard look at why you don’t get what you want out of your work role. Don’t blame your manager, your ex-wife, your co-workers, or your parents. Look in the mirror, and then decide what you plan to do to make your work life better.
Photo credit: Chris Owens