Lately I’ve been thinking about the strongly held beliefs we can have around the subject of work. Specifically the ones that creep in and wreak havoc with our peace of mind when we’re not feeling particularly fulfilled at work.
It’s a good idea to identify those beliefs and think about how well they’re serving us – or if they’re serving us at all!
Easter Bunny vs. Flying Bell
I’m a big fan of David Sedaris (pictured) and his funny, observational essays. In his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, which focuses on a time when he had just moved to Paris and was learning the language, Sedaris tells of a day in French class when they were discussing national holidays and a student from Morocco asked (in French),
“Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?”
What followed was a series of explanations from the class about what Easter is and how it should be celebrated. The Polish students kicked it off with explanations of religious beliefs like,
“It is a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus… He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
Explanations quickly veered in the direction of food. The Italian student said,
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb. One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
The French teacher chimed in to ask,
“And who brings the chocolate?”
The American (Sedaris) said,
“The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate. He come in the night when one sleep on a bed.”
The teacher shook her head and issued a correction,
“No, no. Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”
Sedaris’s essay doesn’t even get into the more confusing Easter traditions that are popular in America: The rabbit (a mammal, presumably) brings eggs that it may or may not have produced itself – it’s unclear. Sometimes the eggs are chocolate, sometimes they’re hard-boiled and dyed. There are also small marshmallow chicks consumed in some circles. Let me stop here.
What are your beliefs and how do they sound?
The point is: How aware are you of all your strongly held beliefs about “the right way” to do something, whether they’re about how to celebrate Easter, or about what your work life should be like?
For example, do you strongly believe in no pain, no gain? How much does that affect your perception of work? To what extent are you in pain when you’re working?
Or, how about the idea that if you’re earning a big salary, then you have to put your personal life second because, after all, isn’t that what they’re paying you for? Does your work life always come first for you?
Think about the strongly held beliefs you have about work? Do yours sound like any in this list?
- No pain, no gain
- My work life always comes first
- If I’m having fun while I’m doing it, it’s not work
- Why would anyone pay me to do something I love to do?
- I’ll be happy when I get promoted
- Other people should notice how hard I’m working
- My value as a worker is in how much I’m paid
- I haven’t worked hard enough if I’m not drained at the end of the day
- The longer my hours, the more productive I am
- I’m not supposed to feel fulfilled at work, I get that someplace else
Now ask yourself this: If you had to explain your beliefs to someone else, would they make good sense? Would some of them sound arbitrary, as the students’ attempts to explain Easter in Sedaris’s story did?
What if you believed something different?
How tightly do you want to hold on to those beliefs? Are they serving you? Or are they holding you back?
As an example, let’s take that belief about having fun at work. Let’s say you believe that if you’re having fun, you’re not allowed to call it work.
Current belief: If it’s fun, it’s not work
For argument’s sake, imagine for a second that you didn’t believe that. Instead, that you believed the opposite.
“What if” belief: My work is fun
How would your work life be different if you operated with the understanding that the “what if” belief is true? How about your life outside of work be different? Would you feel more free to consider other work, or to try an approach you haven’t tried before?
According to Henry Ford
I really like the quote attributed to U.S. automobile manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford:
“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right”
I think that sentiment applies to most of our beliefs, and our self-talk. So, back to the belief about having fun at work, consider this:
If you think you can’t have fun at work and still call it work, you’re right.
If you think your work can be fun, you’re right.
Try this exercise
This week: Write down two beliefs about work that are limiting your capacity for fulfillment. Imagine yourself explaining those beliefs to people you know. How does the explanation sound? Does it make sense to you? To them? How would your work life be different if you believed something different?