I receive a lot of questions from people frustrated with their jobs and even more frustrated with their unfair and unimaginative managers. Every job is good in parts, so here are a few things to keep in mind to make work bearable, or even joyous.
First, be grateful. Any job is better than being unemployed and you have to be unemployed to appreciate this. Work is not just about income. It provides identity, community, and structure. Good work enables the thrill of creative effort and the joy of learning and achievement. Work is vital for well-being. Most workplaces and managers are a mixture of good and bad and the trick is not to let the bad overwhelm you. What I’ve found helpful is to see my job not as lifelong but as a finite project and see myself not as an employee but a freelancer. Framing things this way is liberating. You’re here for a finite period, your mission is to do the best work possible, leave a small legacy, learn a lot, build your reputation and move on. Learn to see your career as an adventure, a series of projects and experiences.
Second, job satisfaction, success and happiness are hugely determined by our mindset. Psychologist Carol Dweck differentiates between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset assumes that character, intelligence, and abilities are given, and success is the affirmation of our inherent intelligence. People with a fixed mindset try to look smart, are critical of others and everything, pretend to know it all and avoid failure at all costs. A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, is positive, thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of their incapability but as a springboard for growth and for stretching their existing abilities. They are solution oriented rather than problem oriented.
Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour and our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness. The good news is that this growth mindset can the slowly cultivated through awareness, experiences and effort.
Third, try to infuse meaning into your work. Remember, the apocryphal story of the three masons? When asked what they were doing, the first replied that he was laying bricks, the second said he was building a wall whilst the third explained that he was helping build a cathedral. The same task can have different meanings in our mind. Good leaders are able to connect the work of their teams to an inspiring mission but don’t wait for a good leader. Nothing stops you from framing a mission for your work.
A software developer can feel inspired by her code that helps airplanes fly safely. A mid-level manager can see his work as helping the team be successful and enabling each member achieve their potential. An Uber driver may be able to make his job more joyful by thinking of it as enabling people to get to safely to their destinations.
Fourth, use your job to learn voraciously. Learning agility is not just the ability to learn new skills; it encapsulates a person’s ability to quickly size up a new situation or problem and decide what to do. Learning agile individuals are curious, have an open mind, enjoy taking on new and big challenges, learn quickly from experience, and are able to grasp new concepts and complex issues. Developing learning agility is like building a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger and better you become.
Finally, try to figure out what you’re really meant to do with your life because it’s likely you were not born to do this job. For a variety of reasons, too many of us allow the world to define what we should do and whether we are successful while we desperately cling to a job we don’t really enjoy.
How do you find what you are truly meant to do? The Japanese concept of Ikigai suggests that this lies at the intersection of your passion, your abilities and what the world asks of you. Sometimes this is quite clear but other times the only thing you are certain is that it’s not whatever you’re currently doing. This then is time to try many things, meet different people, and experiment and find what you’re supposed to do next. And you can do a lot of this while you’re still working.
So the bottom line is this: instead of feeling frustrated, focus on seeing the present workplace as a temporary perch and make the most of it. You’re more in control of experiencing satisfaction and success more than you imagine.
Ravi Venkatesan is a business leader and writer.