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Check your attitude

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the most unfortunate things about work culture in many Western societies right now is the fact that hating our jobs is pretty much taken as read. We assume that almost any job that involves an office of any kind is equivalent to some sort of air-conditioned, coffee-fuelled slavery, and there is an entire genre of humour–countless jokes, movies like Office Space, everything Scott Adams has ever done–based on the premise that we are all bitterly unhappy about the work we do to pay the bills, and that we were really destined for something far greater, if only . . . .

Well, if only what, really? If only the world recognised our genius? If only we’d been born to wealthy parents? If only we hadn’t gotten married and had kids and bought a car and a house and thereby made ourselves slaves to our mortgages and the next generation?

Really? Are those the problems? Are those problems at all?

Contentment in any area of life can be a complex thing, and it’s more complex for some people than for others. Part of that complexity for any given person resides in the fact that there are a great many things in the world that are beyond our control, and some of those things will intersect with our own lives, including our work lives. But here’s one of those clichés that’s actually become a cliché because it’s dead-on true: attitude matters, and attitude is down to you. You CAN control your approach to and outlook on your own life, and what you do with that control can determine an astounding amount regarding how happy you will or will not be in your job, whatever it is.

Now, don’t mistake me: I’m not some Pollyanna saying that if you just look at a mud puddle the right way, it will suddenly turn into the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea, lapping a sandy beach at your feet. What I am saying is that job-hating is part of a popular herd mentality right now, and if you don’t like to think of yourself as part of a herd–as part of that army of wage slaves–you might want to step back and ask yourself some straightforward questions about your work and your attitude toward it. These questions may include:

  1. What, specifically, is it that I hate–or think I hate–about my job?
    Hint: The answer to this isn’t something like, “All my co-workers are imbeciles,” because, frankly, whatever you think, that’s unlikely to be true. What is it that really cheese you off about doing what you do? If you have to walk yourself through an entire day of what you think is drudgery, do it. Write down every single thing you don’t like. Be specific about why you don’t like that in any instance in which that isn’t self-explanatory. “The guy in the cubicle next to me smells terrible” probably doesn’t need much elaboration; “My ‘office’ is a cubicle” actually does, since there’s nothing, in fact, inherently awful about cubicles.
  2. What do I really think of my co-workers?
    What are they really like? What are their weaknesses–AND their strengths? Try to eye this with a little distance. If there’s someone you really loathe, be specific about why you loathe him or her. And even for that person, try to think of some things he or she does well or contributes to your workplace.
  3. What do I really think my workplace should be doing for me?
  4. What do I figure I deserve from it?
  5. What do I bring to my job?
    If there’s a problem with my workplace, do I contribute to it through my attitude, my treatment of others, the way I conduct myself with clients and colleagues? Why should anyone want to hire me? This can be a hard one. Think calmly about your skills and abilities–you’ve got a lot of them, that I know. But how do you present them? What kind of employee or colleague am I?
  6. Am I asking my job to fulfil and satisfy all of me, rather than making it one piece of the puzzle that is a wonderful, worthwhile life?
    The answer to this may surprise you. It’s astonishing how many of us become disappointed in our work lives because we’ve forgotten that they’re just that–work lives, not whole lives.

The above exercise may seem a bit harsh, but it’s worth doing. I’m going to leave this here now, and pick this up next post with more talk about what we can all do to get a whole lot more out of our jobs–beginning with the power of attitude.