Thinking About Thinking - 2015


I Hate My #*?#& Work!!

By Balaji Prasad

“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity." - T.S. Eliot

You hate your work? That is terrible! Oh, not all of it – just some parts of it? I get that. That's perfectly reasonable and expected. You are not alone in that. We have all been there.

It is critically important to make sure that you are managing and optimizing your experience in the workplace. Why? Because work is probably, in sheer number of hours, the most significant part of your waking life. If you are falling short in your work experience index, you are compromising your overall life experience. Also, few people like to feel that they are not moving ahead. Most would like to grow, expand and thrive. Growth is often elusive though. Promotions, raises and recognition do not always beat a path to your door. And, of course, all this ignores more organic kinds of growth that go well beyond “growth".

Step 1: Put up a sign: Me, Inc.

Words matter. They tell you how you think. Not what you believe you think, but what you actually think. If you look back at what I wrote earlier, it put the responsibility for poor compromises squarely on your shoulders, not on the big, bad, evil corporation. It may be more helpful to view yourself as an intrepid entrepreneur with a majority share in Me, Inc. You can never forget your most important shareholder!

The notion of “Me, Inc." is not to suggest that a life that is all about I, me and myself is the way to go. Far from it. There will always be others. Minimally, Me Inc. begins with some angel investors – your family and close friends – who do have a stake in you. As you move forward from there, if you think like a company, you don't treat your customers like dirt, nor your partners or your colleagues and associates. So Me Inc. starts from a center, but it does not stay centered on the imagined center. That would be a sure way to implode, quite ungracefully.

Words matter. Me, Inc. helps you bootstrap your business. But if you were smart enough to build some flexibility into your sign, just as you would do in your business, you would have used 3D letters rather than actual paint. So the “M" can be turned upside down to make the “me" a “we", as your little corporation goes beyond surviving to thriving.

Step 2: Contemplate your navel

It can be easier to start from a simple outline that lays out the basic pieces. Strategists and business consultants use a lot of frameworks and models to help corporations think with clarity. I have been there. We do this because the human mind is a rather stubborn hairball that resolutely tangles itself into little knots that are impossible to find and unravel, unless you find some tools to keep things straight. There are some that have been very successful in helping companies think about their “business model" and lay out the basic building blocks that are important to any business.

The point here is that you need to start by grasping what is needed, and what you have in hand. This is the essential first step in strategizing how to move Me, Inc. forward. You don't have to be a new corporation to do all this. If you are branching off into something new, you need to stop and take stock. If you are unhappy with where things are, you need to regroup your resources and chart a plan to bring the gleam back to your eye. And, if you think the world is being bad to you, you definitely need to go into navel-gazing mode. The world ain't going to change. You are!

Change is good, transformation is better

The fact is that change is hard! And the kind of change that we call “transformation" is even harder. We can think of transformation as being more structural, something that does not simply tweak existing things and configurations, but is more of an overhaul that reframes, reorients and renews.

Transformational change requires an attitude of openness; everything should be on the table. Including, most importantly, your own self. This is the hardest part, but the most critical, because what we are is what we do. And, many of the things we are simply habits hardened into our emotional infrastructure by circumstantial forces. But it doesn't need to stay that way, unless you want it to. Sometimes people get attached to who they happen to be. “This is who I am, and I need to be accepted for who I am" is pretty close to a death sentence, as far as any kind of transformational change is concerned!

I can't think! My mind is a twisted pretzel!

Telling people that complex things are simple is like that infamous line attributed to Queen Mary Antoinette who said “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" (Let them eat cake), when she was told that the peasants had no bread. Whether she actually made this statement or not, eventually the French revolutionaries got to her and guillotined her, as they did other people of the nobility.

Like Marie, we can sit in the stands and “know" exactly how the batter or the soccer player should behave, or what employees need to do to succeed. But this kind of knowing is simply an inability to relate and respect people's circumstances and their current shape. Transformations require deep thought. That kind of thinking needs a mind that is free and engaged in the pleasure of self-discovery and the possibilities. But you cannot even begin to do this if you are distraught, anxious and worried. Insecurity is a normal human retreat when times seem difficult. The mind swirls around twisting itself around itself, unless there is an external force that is not caught in the loop, and can play a role.

Step Zero: Consider getting a trusted friend or coach

Some of us have close friends or family who have our interests at heart, and are able to put aside their own biases and self-interest to serve as coaches and trainers. Sometimes these people also have the wisdom and experience, but quite often they don't, especially when it comes to the work environment, and knowing about the nuances involved in surviving and thriving in some very dysfunctional places. Anxiety is okay – it can become a source of power, if you can use it to channelize your capabilities. A good coach can help you strategize, plan and discover yourself, if you can find one. I happen to know one.