“Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be” – Abraham Lincoln
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about my career and whether or not this is the right path for me in life.
I think at some point, no matter what road you are on, you will ask yourself this question. It doesn’t matter if you work in an office and do the 9-5 thing, are a special forces soldier or are a professional street artist, at some point along your journey the excitement will begin to fade, you’ll settle into a comfortable equilibrium, and begin to get bored.
Even if you were to follow the dream of starting your own business or making a living online you would eventually find that there are tasks which bore you (SEO and technical aspects of blogging for me), and other routine, mundane things which need to be done in order to keep your new startup afloat.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a dream and a lie. I know first hand A) Because I grew up in a household where my old man was a successful businessman and I saw first hand what it takes to keep a successful business afloat, and B) Because I own my own business and I can tell you for a fact that while making your own cash is nice, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes and at time can be tedious, boring and just like any other job.
So that’s just the way it is. You can delegate a fair amount of the boring stuff if you run your own business if you are making enough money to do so, but eventually you’re going to come up against things you don’t like or necessarily want to do in any career/job/business.
So given this unavoidable fact of existence, how can you make your job or career more fulfilling? How can you be happier at work? Do you really need to make a major change, or do you just need to change your attitude?
Let’s take a look at these questions and more.
The happiest man I ever met in the workplace
When I was a kid I would spend weekdays after school and some weekends around at my dads furniture store. He imported all kinds of furniture and crafts from the far east and also had a workshop where skilled tradesmen could put together unique, sturdy, quality pieces which would then sell for a relative fortune.
My dad could charge whatever he liked because this stuff would last until the day you died. I still remember the solid pine wardrobes in my bedroom as a kid, how they would stand as solid as a rock even after 10-15 years, unlike the junk from IKEA people foam at the mouth for today.
But I digress. Back when I would go and hang around in his store I would go into the workshop and talk with the men who worked there. One in particular had been there seemingly since the beginning of time. Let’s call him Willy.
Willy was old. He was bald and had a pot belly and walked around smiling and whistling, ruffling my hair and pretending to box me as he walked past. He was a man who went about his daily business without a stress. He did his work without any complaint and seemed deeply interested in what he did.
I’d always see Willy whistling while he worked, just doing his thing as if it was play to him. He told me stories sometimes about the old days and how he had wanted to travel around the world but life just hadn’t worked out that way. The thing is, he said this with absolutely zero regret or remorse, and was actually smiling and laughing as if he didn’t give a crap. He was at peace, this was his life and he liked it anyway.
Willy retired not long before I left to go to Asia, but I still remember to this day how he would happily, contentedly go about his work. He never complained, even though he cut three tops of his fingers off once in an accident with a bandsaw. This was just what he did, and my dad told me he had never even taken a day off after the injury. He came to work, went about whatever duties he could manage, and whistled along as he did it.
The secret of happiness at work
Willys’ secret, of course, was his attitude. He had decided to be happy and at peace with doing what he was doing, and because of that he had found contentment.
This is not to say he had given up on life or anything, nor is it to say you should stick with a job you absolutely hate or which is clearly wrong for you. I myself have left several jobs in pursuit of what is right for me and encourage everyone to do the same if they feel the need.
However, the point remains – deciding to be happy and involved and content at your work while you work away at something else or at some sort of side business is a huge factor in your job satisfaction.
As the old saying goes Attitude is a little thing which makes a huge difference.
Next time you go into work try to enjoy it. You might be surprised. You might actually find contentment at the very least or even fulfillment at best when you actually decide to get actively involved in being happy and doing something about the state of mind you are in while at work.
I’ve heard countless people refer to work as “slavery” or “selling your soul”. Well, if that’s how you view it then you’ll probably feel negative emotions about work and want to escape from it. But would the world really be so good if you didn’t work? imagine having to wake up hungry and go out and find food and water. Imagine there is no such thing as society and you don’t have access to doctors, dentists, automobiles, air travel or anything else.
Would life really be so awesome if you were a “free man”? What if everybody decided not to work and to make a living blogging, for example? The world would quickly stop turning, the computers would crash, the trash would pile up in the street a mile high, the water would stop running in people’s taps, the sewage systems would back up, there would be no medical care, and we would all be fucked, for lack of a better word.
I think one of the biggest secrets to happiness at work is realizing your job matters. It may not be the best job, you may not get to jet around like Mark Cuban or Bill Gates, but you do something which matters, even if you can’t see the direct result. If you don’t believe that, imagine what the world would be like if nobody did your job. What would the result be?
Most common negative beliefs which cause people unhappiness at work
There is a hell of a lot of negativity surrounding the concept of work these days. It’s constantly shoved down our throats by internet marketers that we can make a living sitting on our asses at home watching a computer screen. Maybe we actually can, and I for one wouldn’t say no if I could make a few extra bucks online.
But if everyone did it the world would cease to function. Chaos would erupt. Civilization itself would fall apart.
Here are some of the most negative beliefs about work and how they are incorrect. You may find a few of these lurking within yourself. Be honest with yourself, have a look inside, and see how many of these you hold. They may be causing you a great deal of unhappiness without you even knowing it.
Work is a form of slavery
Bullshit! Most people who work a job today enjoy more freedom than anyone in history. If you work a 9-5 office job you have it easy compared to the vast amount of human beings in history you are living like a king and enjoy more time off than they ever did. The idea of a holiday to a hunter gatherer or farmer back in the day was a dream. They worked every day until they died.
If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about then I’ll illustrate with a real life example. When I worked out on the oil rigs in West Papua some of my colleagues were local guys who laboured 12 hours a day for months at a time. They had no holidays or rotation 4on-4off like I did, but they worked happily nonetheless.
I asked them once don’t they get tired and what they did before. They told me life was way harder before the oil company showed up. They’d go out hunting in the jungle, exposing themselves to snakes, poisonous creatures of all kinds and harsh, merciless weather.
Life in the modern industrial world is a piece of cake compared to elsewhere. If you think you’re a slave, quit your jb and go live off the land for a while and see how free you feel then.
I should be doing something I love
This one is all to common and is backed up by quotes from ancient Chinese philosophers like Confucius. Here’s the thing – it’s a load of nonsense.
If you can find something you genuinely enjoy which serves others then you have hit the jackpot, but the majority of jobs involve just that – serving others! There’s a reason why they pay you to do it, because they don’t want to do it themselves. If it was pleasurable and easy then they wouldn’t hire you in the first place.
Getting paid involves giving something of value to others in return for money. You work for them doing something which probably isn’t pleasant, and therefore they compensate you with cash.
This idea of doing what you love is not exactly wrong. You should do what you love, bu don’t expect to necessarily get paid for it. For example I love writing and I have therefore been plugging away at this blog for a year and a half, but I have yet to get paid. Perhaps some day I will begin to generate revenue, but it isn’t a big priority for me.
The same goes for students. If you choose a degree you “love” you might find yourself with 100k of debt and a piece of paper that leaves you unemployable. Last time I checked the market for philosophy graduates wasn’t very big! You know why? Because your degree in philosophy allows you to deliver exactly zero value to anyone which is commercially viable. You might make a good conversationalist or start a beautiful blog related to this subject, but I highly doubt you’re going to get paid much for it.
Do what you love by all means, and if you’re exceptionally talented perhaps some day you will hit the big leagues and get a major payday. Until then, why not focus on what you can do for others in order to get paid? Why not trying loving what you do, rather than doing what you love?
I don’t want to have a boss
This is not so much a negative belief as it is a mistaken one. The truth is, everyone has a boss, even Bill Gates.
What do I mean? Well Bill Gates has shareholders and if he doesn’t deliver a constant stream of fat profits to them or if they don’t like the direction he is going, they can dump their Microsoft shares and Bill will very soon find himself worth a lot less. The point is that even the richest man in the world has to answer to somebody, even if he doesn’t necessarily have someone specifically giving him orders every day.
I think this mistaken belief comes from viewing the structure of the world as a pyramid. While most organizations are structured in this way, it is helpful to think of things as a circle instead. The CEO may sit at the top of your organization giving out orders which those below him have to execute, but what you don’t often see is that the CEO is taking his orders from the man on the street – the customer, the investor, the bank manager who has the power to call in his business loan at any minute.
If you really do aspire to have no boss to answer to in your day-to-day life it is possible. You could build a blog and deliver great content and perhaps over time have some sort of income from it. What you’ll quickly find, however, is that your readers are your customers and they have the real power. If you produce trash, they’ll leave and your profits will quickly dry up.
Everybody is answering to someone guys! Don’t be under any illusions about that.
I don’t like taking orders from others
The problem here is ego, pure and simple.
This is another illusion, because when you own your own business you’re going to be taking orders left, right and centre if you want to have any degree of success.
Your customers are going to be the hardest people you can imagine to work for. You think your boss is difficult? Wait till someone gives you a large order and you don’t deliver on time. Wait until your staff calls in sick and you have to explain to someone who has already paid you that he or she can’t be served. Wait until that container of exotic furniture coming from Vietnam sinks in the middle of the Pacific ocean and all those orders that have already been paid for are going to take another three months to get there.
These are all realities in running your own business. It probably involves taking more orders than a regular job. If you think you are beholden to nobody when you become the big shot, reread the last point about not having a boss.
There’s a reason they say “Heavy lies the crown”. If you can’t serve one customer properly (your current manager who is a customer of your personal services), you can forget about being able to serve many.
Positive beliefs you can implement to enjoy work more
This beats the unemployment line
What you’re doing may not be the best job in the world, but I’ll be there’s a line of people out there who would be happy to have any job at all.
Anyone who has ever been unemployed can tell you that it sucks majorly. I’ve been there for a short period of time and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It sucks away your very soul, and eventually you become defeated internally.
If your job is grinding on you and your boss is being a dick, just remember that it could be worse. You could have no job at all, like millions of other poor suckers out there.
You may not ever grow to love what you do, but you can accept it, grow content in it and be thankful for the opportunity to put food on the table for your family and pay the rent.
It’s a lot more than some people have.
This is a stepping stone
I’ve had some crappy jobs in my life. From picking fruit in 40*C searing heat in the Australian outback to serving drinks at functions, G Freedom wasn’t always an oilfield mac daddy.
I also know that it can be hard to handle a crappy job, but if you view it as temporary and set a time frame on how long you need to do it for it can be really helpful. Seeing a light at the end of the tunnel can refresh you and even motivate you to do your best and see the positives.
The absolute best thing you can do here is take action in another direction. Start taking night classes at a community or online college to gain skills which allow you to do something else. Put in evenings building a small business (if you can’t think of an idea you don’t have what it takes) or start making connections with people who can actually help you move in another direction.
As an example of connections I’ll tell you about my friend Big Hulk. Hulk hated his soul sucking 9-5 office job selling office space via an inbound call centre. He was disgusted at himself in general and wanted a way out. He didn’t have many skills because he’d decided school wasn’t the way for him and had the mindset of a hustler, always making his own way in life.
What did he do about it? He started volunteering in the evenings at a homeless hostel helping others. He loved the work and took a cheap diploma in counselling in the evenings. After about six months of this he got hired by a city hostel to help people with drug and alcohol problems on night shifts. He was doing this as well as working his 9-5 grind!
Eventually he got so good at what he did that he actually got hired full-time and was able to tell the office to take a hike.
This is what it takes to make a change. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice, put in the hours and do the work, then you have nobody to blame but yourself. Things only get moving when you do.
I am going to take over this joint
One of the absolute best ways to stay motivated, in control and focused is to take your anger out on the place you hate working by vowing to take over it.
Go to school at nights if you need to and get an MBA. Learn the skills you need to learn to master the business you are in, and use the current company you work for to master every aspect of the business you can.
When the time is right, launch a rival company with the intention of decimating your current employer.
Don’t think this is possible? A company I have worked for had an employee do exactly that. They are a massive oilfield services company and two of their employees left, took out a bank loan and started a rival firm. They are causing real problems for their old bosses and plenty of sleepless nights.
Don’t get down about where you work. If you hate it, get motivated to either change it or defeat it.
It can be done, but only by those who have the guts and the will!
Nobody can move me but me
This is not only an extremely empowering belief in work, but in life in general.
Nobody can actually make you feel anything you don’t consent to feel. Nobody can particularly upset you unless you choose to react negatively. So your boss is being a little snappy and giving you a hard time? Laugh inside and think about how miserable he must be to bring such a toxic attitude around with him, or wish him well if you are a compassionate person.
Next time someone yells at you, try to disengage emotionally. Detach yourself and realize they are just making loud noises and spitting hot air through their mouths. I’ve actually burst out laughing when someone yelled at me when I thought about this, and it wound them up even more, giving me the victory.
If it really is miserable, just stop giving a crap. Start looking elsewhere and detach yourself internally from all the toxic negativity. You may have to exist in this environment for a while, but you don’t have to let it affect you.
You are in control of your emotions – nothing and nobody else.
Enjoying work is largely a choice. All it takes to be empowered is for you to realize that nobody has any real control over your emotional state other than you.
Even if you have to tolerate a fair amount of torment in your place of work, you can decide not to react with anger, bitterness, hate and sadness. You can empower yourself by going further, learning more, taking control of your own mind and deciding not to let it get you down. The trick is to feel empowered, because most misery in life comes from feeling powerless.
This is not to say by any means you have to stay in a job that is wrong for you which you hate and learn to live with it. If you really know you aren’t on the right path and could never be content and satisfied, then work at changing things. Pour every extra hour you have into extra education or a new business.
What you might then find is that you’ll actually come to value your job because it supports you and acts as a platform for you to do something better. You can also let the massive desire to escape from your current hell be a motivator which can drive you to new heights and achievement.
There are no excuses. You have every opportunity to make a change. All it takes is a decision and action.
Until you can do something about it, why not be more like old Willy that used to work for my dad? Why not commit yourself to mastering what you already do, and whistling while you work? Why not decide to be happy?
Until next time,
Desire. Decide. Persist.