Is Your Job Crushing You? Here’s How to Find Meaningful Work without Becoming a Bag Lady
It wasn’t so long ago that I was sitting in my windowless office at the hospital, eyes up to my microscope, and dreading the busy day ahead. The practice of medicine, which I had been passionate for for twenty years, had lost its lustre. Over time, I had grown weary of our relentless focus on disease and I got more curious about what makes us well. I was yearning for beauty, creativity and play. I worried that this was selfish and that I it was possibly I was going mad. I was also angry, depleted and sad about all of the parts of myself I had thrown under the bus in the name of my career. I also yearned to be with my kids who were growing up fast. And I was scared to death to quit.
If you are currently in a soul sucking job, I am sorry. Maybe your heart has been crushed too by the long hours away from your beautiful kids or grandkids? Maybe you can’t remember the last time you had the energy to do anything joyful? Or maybe you are sick and tired of being resentful of everybody and everything. And worse yet, maybe you are chronically ill and have a sense that your work is harming your health. It’s absolutely horrible.
The golden handcuffs may seem impossible to remove, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise. What is happening to you right now is an extremely uncomfortable and weird wake up call to deliver you (if you are willing to do some soul searching and apply yourself), to a place so good you will be astounded.
Eventually, I left medicine for a challenging and delightful new vocation and you may too. Or, you may find that you uncover deep peace and prosperity right where you are by changing your experience of your current circumstances. Happily, it is the very worst experiences in life that invite us to discover the very best things, so let’s get started.
Step One: Acknowledge there is a problem and reach out to someone who can listen without judgement to your grief and anger.
It could be the free session your HR department offers as a benefit, a friendly life coach or that friend, cousin sister or brother from another mother you can count on to just hear you. In a pinch, a drugstore spiral notebook can be an excellent listener. You can shout at all of your horrible coworkers on the pages– and everybody else who doesn’t seem to want to give you a break. Don’t be moral or enlightened or woke when you do this writing- tell your boss what she should do with those extra assignments in salty and extremely certain terms. Let it all out.
Maybe you’ve been whining to everybody you know about how awful your job is and you can sense they are growing very weary of you. Perfect. You are ready for step two.
Step Two: Take an Inventory of all of the things that actually DO make you feel good.
You already know what doesn’t feel good but you probably haven’t thought of what does in quite a while. Grab a notebook and write down all of the things you have ever enjoyed doing in life. As a child, a teen, an adult: Going to museums, redecorating, raising hogs, putting together star wars models, drinking coffee with friends, doing yoga, winter campling, race car driving, throwing parties, painting your nails, meeting new people, learning Calligraphy, identifying edible plants, dancing, drawing, reading. Stumped? Write down your favorite films, famous humans (dead or alive) books, blogs, documentaries and television shows and search them for clues to remind yourself of your obsession, loves and dreams. What is it about this media or this person that you love on so hard?
This may be hard at first because you haven’t been doing most of these things in a long time or if you have it’s been difficult. Scan through old photos on your phone and albums seeking out sweet moments in time where you were happy or deeply content.
Make a list, too, of the people who make you feel good. They can be from the past or present. You may be shocked to discover that it is only 1 person or even zero. Where the hell have all of your friends gone? Don’t worry, more are coming! Remember this is an uncomfortable wake up call. Then, make a separate list of those who DON”T (this list, I suspect, will be blissfully easy to write!)
This exercise will remind you that you are not dead inside…you DO know how to enjoy life and you know who and what you like, but lately its been really hard.
Step Three: Begin operation FEEL GOOD at work by doing more things that feel good (and less things that don’t).
For example, stop trying to cheer up the snarly gal in the office down the hall and only make contact when absolutely necessary and then, get out of there quick. Sit outside for lunch and read a book (if reading is on your list of feel goods!) that delights you instead of remaining at your desk where the gossipers hang out.
Or, while on the phone with the clients that challenge you, instead of sitting still at your desk (feels horrible and stuck), put on a wireless headset and imagine you are a dancer as you pace gracefully around your office (feels good!). Place a photo of your choreography hero, Twyla Tharp, on your desk. Skype with your beloved college roommate and catch up instead of grabbing your usual 3 pm mocha.
Repeat and keep tweaking.
Step Four: Act as if you are already doing the meaningful work you crave.
This might mean pretending you are now a yoga instructor living on $40,000.00 a year. How could your budget change? Could you reduce expenses? What would your new budget look like? Take your favorite yoga teacher for dinner and interview them (one colleague to another) and ask them what they love about their work and what is challenging. As yourself, “If I was a yoga instructor, extrordinaire, how would I approach my current work differently?”
Or, if you are longing to be a Travel blogger, follow other fellow bloggers on social media and ask yourself,
What kind of clothes would I wear if I were a travel blogger….
How would I do it differently- what is missing from these other blogs?
Would I carry an REI backpack or a Tumi travel case?….
What apps do I need on my phone?
Where would I want to write my first post about?
What do I want my readers to know most about travel?
Research what you’ll need. Check out books from the library about your dream destinations. Plan a short trip and write about it. Write your own authentic 3 line bio. Attend a meet up of other travel bloggers on the weekend and share your bucket list of destinations with them.
Step Five: Observe and take notes on yourself during all of these FEEL GOOD experiments.
You may be shocked to learn that you love yoga but hate accounting (which will be needed if you are going to be a star yoga entrepreneur). See how you could tweak things to do the part that feels good and jettison (or bring ease to) the part that doesn’t.
Maybe, like me, you thought interior design would be a blast but the installment and detailed ordering left you exhausted? What part of it do you love? What part of it feels really hard?
During this extremely challenging trial and error process, continue to ask yourself, what would feel better? Allow yourself to stop an experiments that don’t feel good at all. It can feel, at times like you will never figure it out but everybody who sticks with it does. Promise.
As you offer yourself more and more compassion, little by little things will improve. And if you need more support (I know I did), offer yourself the things you need. A class on a topic that really intrigues you, a workshop or private lessons in the field that you’d like to master, a gentle massage, or a session with someone in the healing arts. These beautiful things you do for yourself will help you so much. You are worth it. You are loved and you belong here. You will find your way home.
As Joseph Campell tells us, once you have said YES to your own Hero’s Journey, the magical helpers will appear, and strange things will happen that help you to know (down in your bones) that the Universe is a kind place and its here to help you find your way.
And I will leave you with one salty question that I began to ask myself (and still do…), “How good are you willing to let it get?”
Much love and elephants, sarah
If you’d like some help and guidance on your quest, I am always at your service.