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ProloguePrologueMonday Morning Dread
The alarm broke the peaceful silence of the bedroom with an ugly metallic buzz, the dial glowing sallow green numerals of an obscene hour. Brian rubbed his eyes; consciousness came slowly. Soon, that old feeling of "work dread" began to smother his spirit. The day ahead of him drifted into focus, and his all too familiar feeling of dismay was close behind: It's time to go to work.
Like many, Brian lost his "will to work" years ago. The thought of a whole week at "that place" made him want to go back to sleep or to vanish and never return. The conflict, the oppression, the sadness, and the boredom were unbearable. Yet he could find no alternative. Bills needed to be paid, and he had become fond of eating.
Old habits die hard. Brian had dreaded his job for so long, it was the first thing he thought of as he awoke. But then he remembered something else. Six months ago, he had been given a book, one that claimed he could like his job again. It explained different ways of looking at work, through filters or lenses that could help to identify some of the dread and replace it with action. "One kind of Genius," the authors claimed, "is the ability to see the same situation from multiple perspectives."1 Changed understanding can produce changed action; changed action produces changed results. He was utterly skeptical, but he had no better option. He read his new book and waited for failure.
To his surprise, it helped. It wasn't long before he felt a small shift. This made him just a little less skeptical. The more he used the book, the better it worked. His job became first more tolerable, then more enjoyable. When he had started reading, he had been intent upon quitting his job as soon as possible. Now, he wasn't sure. Maybe it wasn't so bad if he approached it the right way. This was a novel thought for Brian.
As he awakened that Monday morning, Brian felt the familiar dread and then remembered his new strategy. "What am I dreading," he wondered? He recalled that often it is a single, fixable problem that overshadows everything else. Several difficult things were going to happen that day, but which one was causing the dread? One by one, he tried the different perspectives taught by the book, isolating each possible source of his pain.
He found it. He would have to work with a particularly troublesome person that afternoon, someone he would otherwise avoid. In his mind's eye, he looked again at that interaction with his new perspective. He considered what would probably happen and planned his responses accordingly. He knew things wouldn't be perfect, but he decided he could at least make a slight improvement.
He checked, and his feeling of dread had vanished.
Welcome to Brian's book.
Why Do We Work?
Besides the obvious answer, "to survive," there are deeper, more meaningful reasons to work. The idea of applying our energy to create a positive result is fundamental to both our culture and our belief systems.
The ideal of "the value of hard work" is culturally pervasive, from the children's story of "The Little Engine That Could"2 to the iconic account of a person of modest background who works hard and "makes good." One need not be from the United States. Otherwise privileged students at the People's University of China, for example, work in service-oriented jobs for educational credit. Why? To learn the value of working hard and efficiently, a value espoused by Chinese President Hu Jintao.3
This value runs deeper, to our spiritual beliefs. A large number of creation accounts have existed, from ancient times to present, describing a creator working to construct the world as we know it.4 From the Japanese account of gods Izanagi and Izanami5 fashioning the world from chaos, to the Iroquois (Native American) account of animal spirits creating terra firma with mud from the bottom of the sea,6 to the Judeo-Christian account of God creating the world in six days and stating "it is good7," faith traditions abound that discreetly reinforce the link between work and positive outcome at the highest level.
Work at Its Best
Whether it is a spiritual account of a creator at work in the heavens, an iconic literary figure turning gumption to payoff, or an employee spending energy to produce a result and receive a paycheck, work is the application of effort to add value to the world. We have no shortage of problems; opportunities abound for us to contribute however we can. Through work, we become "part of the solution" rather than "part of the problem." Whether you are working on the cure for cancer, grilling burgers for hungry customers, or laboring at home to raise your children, you are contributing positive results to the world.
Work validates our own sense of value and contribution and gives us a sense of identity. For many, work is where we spend most of our time; it becomes the backdrop against which we define ourselvesso much so, in fact, that many of us don't want to leave. There are more than 4.5 million members of the workforce today who retired and then began working again because they "wanted to." This group's motivation was not financial; instead, they listed reasons such as health, energy, and fun for returning to the workplace.8 Work adds value to us even as we add value to the world.
As we grow and develop in the context of work, it forces us to look inward and understand who we really are: our gifts, talents, weaknesses, and passions. Work can support us at multiple levels of development, from building physiological safety and security to learning self-esteem. Over the years, it becomes the canvas on which we self-actualize.9 So many of us have individual accounts of how we learned and grew individually from experiences at work.
At its best, work can help us learn patience, understanding, humility, empathy, constructive confrontation, honesty, and integrity. The lessons and skills that make us more effective at work can also make us more effective in life. Ideally our work should bring us joy.
Work at Its Worst
The reality is often the opposite. Work can produce negative results. It can be used to cheat, to lie and to hurt other people. Much "work" was done within World War II and the holocaust, for example. Work can tear down others, even those we love. It can hinder the progress of others simply to make someone look better, and working energy can be spent to cover up wrongdoing. We can even work hard at pretending to work!
Work can build us up, but it can also tear us down. It can involve long hours over an extended period and physical and emotional stress. Many of us have experienced negative workplaces that demean employees, either accidentally or intentionally. This has a tremendous impact on self-esteem, productivity, and morale. Many people come to feel devalued, insecure, and discouraged because of the environment in which they work. They get no feeling of pride, accomplishment, or value from working.
Some of this is not directly in our control; we can't "stop" an environment from being difficult. On the other hand, downtrodden employees often have more capability, resources, and options at hand than they realize. We cannot choose the actions of others, but we are always free to choose how we interpret and process them. In those choices lie chances to grow.
What Work Offers
You might simply feel as if you have to work to survive, and all you want to do is experience less dread and misery. If so, this book can help you achieve that goal. If you've been suffering for a long time, "less dread" in itself may seem to be an ideal or unreachable goal.
We hope that you will consider another goal for work. Work teaches us much about ourselves. Some of the most useful pieces of information are the reasons behind our satisfaction or misery. Viewed carefully, those reasons act like mirrors, showing us hidden facets of our strengths and preferences. How carefully we gather that knowledge and what we do with it is entirely up to us. This book isn't only about "suffering less." It's also about "learning more"that is, learning more about ourselves, more about those around us, and more about how to find or create the environment we need to thrive. We can build on our knowledge and let it direct our paths into the future.
There is, of course, a risk. With knowledge of our strengths comes knowledge of our weaknesses. As we learn, we must use the knowledge we gather for ourselves, not against ourselves. Rather than being proud of our abilities, it is easy to become depressed about what we lack. But if we focus on our weaknesses and ignore our strengths, our greatest gifts lie dormant and undeveloped, and we become weaker still.10 The goalof this book and at workis not to harp on weaknesses, but to find a way to play to our strengths as often as possible.11
How Far Could You Go if You Loved Your Job?
Imagine a work life so compelling that winning the lottery would change your bank account balance but not your daily routine.
How would this type of joy and balance affect your life? How far could you go? How much money could you make? How much could you learn? How well could you support your loved ones? What could you contribute to the world? What could you contribute to yourself?
Imagine living and working like this for 10 years. How about 20, 30, 40 years? Now imagine looking back on all of this productive, joyful work. What will you have accomplished?
This book is not a stop-whining-fast program inflicted on you by someone else. It is about you doing what you can to make your work life better. Imagine for a minute that you looked forward to Monday morning. Imagine work that was fun, engaging, and felt more like recreation and less like...well, work! Imagine thinking, "I can't believe I get paid for this."
It's hard to believe that a conscientious worker would not also be a successful one in such a situation.12 It might sound like a naïve and impossible goal if you're in the majority, dissatisfied with your job and feeling trapped, but it is possible to achieve this kind of satisfaction. And like any object of pursuit, your odds of success increase tremendously when you understand what "it" is and what "it" looks like.
So let's begin...
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