“It’s work! You’re not supposed to like it. You’re paid to do it.”
You’ve probably heard this statement before. It overlooks the possibility of contentment with your work. That kind of work involves swapping your time for dollars and putting your nose to the grindstone to fulfill your part of the bargain. And if you’re not satisfied, you can always leave.
But anywhere you go, it’s still work.
Even if this point of view is true, so is the possibility of recognizing your contentment. You can fulfill your part of the employment contract and still look for ways to appreciate your work by choosing to focus on what’s going right. Disney’s “Snow White” referred to this ability we all have as ‘whistling while you work,’ a metaphor for how you should be thinking while working.
In any job you take, or even in your life more broadly, you have the option to make yourself content even in dissatisfying situations. This self-sustaining ability is made possible by the fact that contentment is an emotional response to your own thinking. Emotions aren’t dependent on your circumstances or what employers do, they’re dependent only on how you choose to think.
The benefit of thinking intentionally in a non-negative manner is your improved attitude, motivation, and performance. This is in addition to your increased resilience, your ability to persevere when faced with frustrations linked with such things as low pay, long hours, lack of recognition, poor supervision, etc.
You also have the option to think habitually in a negative manner about your work. Rather than look for what’s going right, you could ruminate about what’s going wrong. So instead of whistling, you whine and complain.
But when you allow yourself to think this way, you risk creating the emotions of fear, worry, envy, doubt, and anger. You risk jeopardizing how well you feel and perform and the impressions you create. You might even lose your job and the income it provides.
The following is an excerpt from my book titled, “Career Contentment: Don’t Settle for Anything Less.”
This is about a man called Clay, who managed to recognize his contentment while painting an old rusty fence.
“While home from college one summer, our family doctor hired me to paint a rusty iron fence surrounding his home. It was located on Main Street of my hometown. I initially dreaded this job because the fence seemed like a mile long, and required a lot of sanding. I had to keep telling myself that I was doing it for the money.
“The job took nearly four weeks because of the rain, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable tasks I was ever paid to do. Things started slowly and then gradually went faster as I understood what I was doing and how to do it. Literally, everyone who walked by had something nice or encouraging to say like, ‘big job, nice work, you’re making progress, never saw this old fence look so good.’
“I began to look forward to each day. I knew what to expect, what to do next and how to do it, and no one was looking over my shoulder except the whole town. I found enjoyment in how the rust came off and the paint went on. I even enjoyed cleaning the brushes at the end of the day. When it rained, I didn’t work, but I was concerned about whether the rain would affect the new paint.
“I frequently entertained myself by imagining how wonderful this old fence would look by the time I was done. Only after I finished the job did I realize how content the work had made me. I thought of this experience each time I went back home and saw that fence.
“The paint I applied lasted for years, but eventually the rust started to reappear. Then one summer while I was visiting home, I was glad to see someone was hired to repaint the same fence. I parked the car and made a point to walk by and tell him, ‘big job, you’re making good progress, and I’ve never seen this old fence look so good.’
“I won’t repeat what he said, but I knew firsthand the job would go faster and be a lot more enjoyable if his thoughts were more upbeat and optimistic. But then again, he was just getting started and had a long way to go.”
Clay discovered how each of us has the option to recognize contentment in any work we’re given to do. He knew the task would be difficult before starting. But he also realized that unless he focused his thoughts, he might not finish or receive a paycheck.
He succeeded in controlling his thoughts, finished the job, and was handed a check. In the process, Clay unexpectedly created contentment in a dissatisfying situation. Furthermore, his contentment with this task lasted for years, and will probably continue for the rest of his life.
Jeff Garton is a Milwaukee-based author, certified career coach, and former HR executive and training provider. He holds a master’s degree in organizational communication and public personnel administration. He is the originator of the concept and instruction of career contentment. [email protected]