Work is a funny thing when you think about it.
You study and train so you can land a job in a building full of strangers. You do tasks all day long that you wouldn’t normally do. Frequently it feels like you have to be there, and even if you like your work, there’s a strong chance you’d rather be elsewhere doing something more fun.
It’s a pretty weird structure to slot into, and the very act of being part of someone else’s structure, hierarchy, and regime gives rise to questions. Questions that could well lead to struggle.
Here are three big ones that you really should stop asking yourself.
1. Do They Like Me?
Whether you’ve been in your job for a day, a month, or a year, there’s that part of your head that wonders what your co-workers say about you when you’re not there.
Maybe they roll their eyes and moan about what’s it’s like to work with you, maybe they all snicker because they know you’re not like them, or maybe they’re all in on some cosmic joke of which you’re the punch line.
It’s perfectly normal to think like this, and it’s the result of being hardwired to connect with others, having the constraint of not being able to see into other peoples’ heads, while also needing to ensure your own safety and security. Those three things create some pretty rich ground for second-guessing and self-confidence bashing.
Leave those things to run unchecked, and you’ll be the one running around trying to please everyone to avoid displeasing anyone and becoming a perfectionist in an effort to never get singled out for anything other than praise.
But you know what? Nobody thinks about you as much as you think about yourself. Everyone else wonders the same thing. And, surely, it’s better to be driven by doing your best work rather than making sure Larry from Accounts likes you?
Put your efforts into doing great work, and let the liking and not-liking take care of itself.
2. When Will This Get Better?
Sometimes you ask yourself how long you can keep doing what you’re doing. Perhaps the volume of work has been crazy for so long that it’s become the new, unsustainable norm. Maybe the level of work is so dumbed-down that you’re slowly losing the will to live. Or perhaps it’s the lack of support, respect, growth, or recognition that’s getting your goat.
It’s natural to want more. Whether it’s fun, money, respect, or anything else, you may always have your sights set on something bigger and better. And when that desire butts up against the office walls and the entrenched culture, you wonder one of two things. Either, “When will this get better?” or “How long can I keep this up?”
Those are the wrong questions to ask, because they keep you powerless. And the more powerless you feel in your job, the more damage you’ll do to your confidence in the long-term.
So instead, ask “What’s my next choice?” And then, choose something that serves you well.
3. What Do I Really Want?
Come on, answer the question. What do you really want?
Not that easy, huh? It’s one of those questions that you might roll around in your whole life and never really get to an answer. Do you want to build your own business? Do you want to do something fundamentally creative? Do you want to do something that gives back somehow? So many questions, so many possibilities. How to know which is right?
First of all, forget about the notion of following your passion. Let me raise my hand on behalf of the personal development world and apologize for all the talk, articles, and hyperbole around “passion.” It’s a red herring that has people looking for one single thing that they would happily do forever, and it just doesn’t work like that.
We’re all made of a combination of different things. All kinds of stuff smooshed together into a whole. So there probably won’t be one single thing that would tick every single box.
It’s better to look at the things that matter to you, and then look for ways to honor, express, or demonstrate those things.
If creativity matters to you, then you might look at working in design, becoming a copywriter, or simply creating a space to paint and be creative in your home. If connecting with people matters to you, then be sure to forge open and honest connections with your co-workers, maybe work in HR, or find ways to serve your community somehow. Or if you feel like you’re firing on all cylinders when you’re halfway to solving a thorny and complex problem, perhaps ask the CEO if you can help turn around an ailing service, look into management consultancy, or consider going at it alone as a business troubleshooter.
The whole point is to consistently and deliberately honor, express, and demonstrate the things that matter to you. Leverage the things that leave you feeling strengthened. Honor the things that are woven deep down inside you. Celebrate the things that have always exerted a pull for you.
In my book, that’s just about as wonderful as it gets.