What Do You Really Want from Your Work?

Many years ago I participated in an “Aligned Thinking” seminar, designed by Jim Steffen. One of the exercises in the program made a big difference in my life, so I want to share it with you.

Think about how you would answer this question: What do I really want from my work?

To break this down, make a list of five things you would really like to get out of the work you do (e.g., income, skills, training, camaraderie, pride, positive feelings, etc.). Don’t rush this—think it through. Choose the five most important things you can imagine gaining from your work. Now, give each one of those items a value from 1 to 10 in terms of how well you feel your job is achieving that goal or fulfilling that particular desire right now. When you are finished, take a look at how you scored yourself.

If your current job is giving you most of the things you desire from your work, you are one of the fortunate people who have a fulfilling work life. Your job is probably providing enjoyment, excitement, energy, etc. Good on you—that’s great!

But what if the things you want from your work are different from what you feel you’re gaining in your present job? In that case, it may be time for you to ask yourself a few questions, such as “What am I getting out of my work now? How is that different from what I really want to do? Are my tasks at work connected to things that are meaningful to me? How can I adjust my actions and attitudes so that my work can better meet my needs and wants?”

When I took this quiz, I came up with these things that I know I want to gain and enjoy from my work:

  1. The opportunity to serve others. I’m convinced we finally become an adult when we realize we’re here to serve, not to be served.
  2. Meaning. Every day I would like to make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s just by giving them a warm smile. I’m always looking for meaningful encounters.
  3. Fun. If something’s not fun, I don’t want to do it. Of course, not everything we do can be fun—some things have to be done so that we can accomplish other more important things. But if I can squeeze some fun into my day, I will.
  4. Social interaction. It’s important to me to work and play with smart, fun loving people. That’s why I have so many coauthors—I really love working with and being around people.
  5. The opportunity to grow and learn. I never want to stop learning new things. As I’ve said many times before, if you stop learning, you may as well lie down and let them put dirt over you.

I made this list many years ago, and I still love doing the kind of work that provides meaning, fun, social interaction, the opportunity to serve, and the opportunity to grow and learn new things. Most days I still do pretty well at checking off those boxes.

Of course, the ebb and flow of deadlines, special projects, health concerns, etc., keep many of us from being able to say our job satisfies our wants and needs every single day. But when we determine what we really want from work, we create a purpose—an individual mission—for working. And we can start taking steps toward achieving those desires.

Life is a special occasion. Work is an important part of it. People who practice Aligned Thinking know how to get more of what they want out of work—and life.

 

Five Principles to Apply When Problems Arise

If you’ve ever faced a business failure, a health crisis, a broken relationship, or any other life dilemma, you know how easy it can be to let negativity pull you down into self-doubt and helplessness.

Life puts us into situations that challenge us—and working on those challenges stretches us. In fact, the toughest dilemmas often provide the biggest opportunities for growth.  While we may know this intellectually, this knowledge provides cold comfort when we’re in the middle of a difficult challenge.

When problems arise, I find it useful to apply the wisdom I gleaned from Norman Vincent Peale, my late coauthor on The Power of Ethical Management. In that book we introduced the five core principles of ethical decision making. These same five principles also can be applied to dealing with problems—no matter how hard those problems may seem.

Reflect on Your Purpose

When you are faced with a setback, reviewing your purpose can help get you back on track. Your purpose will be inherently motivating, because it’s the ideal toward which you are striving. Unlike a goal, which has a beginning and an end, a purpose is ongoing. It’s your reason for existence and answers the question “Why?”

Let’s say you just had a career setback. If you obsess about the missed goal—a lost contract or job—you’ll be discouraged. If you focus on your purpose, you’ll redirect your attention to the person you want to be in the world and the life you want to lead.

If you don’t have a life purpose and want to create one, check out my blog from a few weeks ago, Writing Your Personal Life Purpose.

Tap into Your Pride

Pride sometimes gets a bad rap. After all, they say it’s the last thing to go before a fall. And if you’ve taken a fall, you may be feeling anything but pride. My definition of pride isn’t having a big ego; rather, it’s the healthy self-esteem of people who aim high but know they’re human and make mistakes. Pride is essential if we’re going to have the strength to get up, move forward, and fulfill our purpose. As Ben Franklin quoted in his Poor Richard’s Almanac way back in 1740, “It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.” So, don’t be afraid to tap into your pride!

Exercise Patience

Life unfolds on God’s timetable, not ours. If you ever saw “Oh, God!” you might remember that in the movie John Denver asks God—played by George Burns: “Did you really create the world in six days and rest on the seventh?” God/George replies, “Yes, I did, but you’ll have to remember, my days are a little longer than yours. When I got up this morning, Freud was in medical school.”

Once I learned to be patient and trust the timing of a higher power, I noticed that things began to work out for me. When you have patience, you realize that there may be a good reason why things turned out the way they did.

It’s important to develop the capacity to accept or tolerate the delays and suffering that are inevitable in life. If you are making your best effort and doing the right thing—even if things look tough in the short run—your efforts will pay off in the long run.

Apply Persistence

Of course, you can’t just sit back and do nothing; patience without persistence is not sufficient to fulfill your purpose. Once you’ve processed your feelings about a setback and dusted yourself off, it’s time to continue working toward your goals and commitments. I agree with Calvin Coolidge, who said, “Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Get Some Perspective

Perspective is the capacity to see what is really important in any given situation. To do that, you need to get some distance from your problem. As my wife, Margie, puts it, you need to take the helicopter view of your life. When you stand two feet from a mirror, you will see the slightest imperfection—and suddenly that imperfection becomes a huge deal. But if you view your life from the helicopter, you see the big picture and the little things take on far less significance.

I’ve written extensively on how to maintain perspective by starting your day slowly. Perhaps your knee-jerk reaction to that statement is, “But I need more time to start my day slowly!” You have the same time we all do—a 24-hour day. Suppose you’re playing chess and your opponent says, “Checkmate!” You’re cornered; the game is over. You can’t say, “I want more board!” Yet that’s what you’re asking for when you say you need more time.

Taking time to reflect gives us the perspective we need to listen for guidance from within. When we do that, our purpose comes into focus and we’re able to make wise choices moving forward.

The next time you’re faced with a big challenge, try reflecting on your Purpose, tapping into your Pride, exercising Patience, applying Persistence, and getting Perspective. You may not get instant answers to the problem you’re facing, but I guarantee you’ll grow from it.

Taking Care of Each Other

My prayers and love go out to all of the folks whose lives have been impacted by the terrible fires in Northern and Southern California. Special prayers go out to families and friends of people who have perished in these fires. Times like this emphasize how much we need to care about each other and live every moment to the fullest—because we never know what’s around the corner.

Margie and I know what it’s like to have a home destroyed by fire: in 2007 we lost our house of 25 years in the Witch fire here in San Diego. We were out of town when it happened. When we were finally allowed back in our neighborhood, we walked down our driveway and our whole place looked like it had been cremated, including our cars. We were fortunate—although losing our house and all of our possessions was devastating, nobody got hurt.

Special praisings go out to the selfless firefighters who have come from all over to put their lives on the line as they battle the fires. Without them, the devastation could be so much worse. Many thanks as well to other courageous first responders including police and EMTs, as well as volunteers staffing the shelters that have been set up for displaced people, pets, and livestock. We are blessed to have these amazing servant leaders aiding our communities during this tough time.

Please take care of yourselves and those you love—and always keep your “I love yous” up to date!

Escape the Tyranny of Your To-Do List

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by my to-do list. I can end up grinding my teeth thinking about all the meetings, projects, and deadlines piling up on my calendar. That’s when I know it’s time to take a deep breath, calm myself, and affirm, as the Daily Word recently reminded me:

I have all the time I need

to do all that I need to do.

Once I’ve calmed myself, I’m able to reprioritize and see that everything is happening perfectly—on God’s timetable, not my own.

When you’re on a tight schedule, one of the things that can add to that feeling of stress is an interruption: A traffic jam puts you a half-hour behind. An urgent phone call breaks your train of thought. An unexpected visitor interferes with your carefully planned day. But don’t be too quick to look at interruptions as the enemy. Sometimes those unwelcome intrusions are blessings in disguise. For example, there have been times when I’ve gotten bogged down in my writing and an interruption occurs. Surprisingly, when I return to my writing, I find the right words. Neuroscientists call such interruptions “disfluency” and confirm that they can enhance creativity by leading to insights and innovation.

A variation of the interruption is the plan gone awry:  New developments undermine the project you’re working on. The dream job you wanted so badly isn’t offered to you. A layoff derails your carefully planned career. At times like these, it’s wise see if the bad news is, in fact, good news in disguise. An example I often give is when the California wildfires of 2007 burned down our house. At first, that loss seemed devastating. But it led to our moving across the street to the house we’d always dreamed of living in—which was priced lower than the cost to rebuild our old house!

So escape the tyranny of your to-do list and don’t be too discouraged by setbacks. How many successful people do you know who are doing what they thought they’d be doing at the outset of their careers? Often the path to achievement is more like a winding road than a vertical ladder. While focus is a wonderful thing, it’s important that your commitment to a goal doesn’t blind you to the opportunities that a so-called derailment might be presenting to you.

Life is a Very Special Occasion

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!

Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.

Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.

Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!