Ever ask yourself, how did I get here? What do I do now that I realize where I am and where do I go from here?

It is 2:30 p.m. and you sit at your desk and wonder what in the hell happened. How did I get to this point in my life (big picture) and what have I been doing since I got here this morning (little picture)?

It is 11:17 a.m. and you stare blankly at your screen or allow the person leading the meeting to become a low droning in the background like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. Wah, wah, wah-wah, wah, wah.

Sound familiar? I’ve been to these places and more, in odd circumstances and at times when I marveled that the conclusion seemed so obvious to me. ‘This isn’t what I was meant to do. This is not why I was created.’

Now, before you discount what follows as some existential gobbledy-gook, let me lay something on you that hopefully will diffuse your pessimism; I used to be a hog farmer. If that doesn’t fill you with confidence regarding a discussion of our place in the cosmos, I don’t know what will. My point is pretty simple. So simple even a hog farmer could make it really. (The hog farmers out there understand that)

Coming to the conclusion that a job isn’t what we were “meant” to do leads us to not apply ourselves, which further confirms the belief. It’s a loop that we can’t get out of but what do we do while we figure out what we’re meant to do? Let me tell you, I’ve blown through all the stations on the examined work express.

First stop: Denial. We tell ourselves ‘It’ll pass, it’s just a phase. I just need to work harder/apply myself/find something I like about the job.’ The list goes on and on and on and I’ve said them all to myself. My spouse has said them twice! Unfortunately, denial of the validity of the feeling assumes we are flawed. It assumes there’s something we need to fix about our feelings. While it’s true we’re all flawed, our feelings matter. Even if we just buck up and things get better it’s rarely permanent. Sweeping things under the rug works for only so long. Eventually we trip on it and everything is exposed. So, one of the alternatives is…

2. Quitting. Not walking out the door, take this job and shove it, kiss my ass stuff but in your mind. As far as your effort is concerned you’ve turned in your resignation. I’ve done this on Fridays, I’ve done this on Mondays and I’ve done this on nondescript Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and you know what? I come to work the next work day. It’s self-deception I know, but when it seems pointless and you can’t find a reason to make things interesting sometimes stepping off the curb at the end of the day and saying, ‘I’m done with this place!’ feels good. Why all the anger? No one’s making us stay.

We blame the job when it’s not really the job’s fault. We’re to blame too. After all we applied, we accepted their offer and we said we’d show up and do the thing. The job didn’t lie to us and yet somehow it hasn’t been what we thought it would be and now we’re just hacked off. We’re looking for a way to get back at the job for making us feel so…blah. Sometimes a vengeful breakup, even if it’s only in our mind, is all we have and if that doesn’t work we…

3. Cause trouble/make waves. This one…. this one, you have to be careful with. In the wrong environment, one that lacks humor, this could get you canned. Still, the danger, even if it’s minimal, adds excitement. I’ve been known to propose outrageous things that would get our company sued, bankrupt or completely drummed out of the club (whatever that is) just to hear people shout me down. After the uproar subsides you can clearly state you were only playing devil’s advocate or trying to shake loose more ideas or spark creativity. Who knows? All that b.s. might even impress your boss. A word of caution: use this technique judiciously. You don’t want to be seen as a trouble maker or the boy who cried wolf or worse, “that guy”. Use it once in a while and deliver your suggestion with a straight face. Most will wonder if you’re serious, some will fly off the handle and others will think you’ve just lost it. Unfortunately others will have relegated the conversation to drone-status (see first paragraph).

There are probably a million other coping mechanisms people use because they’re not invested in their work. Statistically about 70% of us do not love what we do. Sometimes it’s just the nature of the thing that there are days or weeks or months that we would much rather be just about anywhere else. The thing is that our behavior and performance ensure that our feelings are justified. We won’t put forth full effort if we don’t think we fit or belong somewhere. So how do you make yourself “fit”? How do you belong? As a lifelong alien I wish I knew.

What I can say is I believe our perspective is huge. I’m convinced that contrary to the objections of some, everyone looks for meaning in their work. It’s difficult not to resent an entity that doesn’t appear to acknowledge our worth especially when we give it nine plus hours of our life every day. For most of us it’s the biggest time commitment we have so when it doesn’t seem to reciprocate our sacrifice, we’re disappointed, we’re angry, we’re hurt. For many, work is merely a means to a more enjoyable end. Whether that’s on a small scale (the weekend) or a larger one (security for our family, a vacation or the promise of a retirement) we justify our drudgery with the hope of something better down the line. But even that isn’t enough some days and in those days it is our perspective, our philosophy that becomes a key. I’d like to be able to give you the key but only you can determine what it is.

The answer you need to be happy with your work or to at least make peace with it lies within you. You’re going to have to come up with that on your own I’m afraid. And don’t feel bad if it doesn’t always hold. Just like the goofy ideas above, even your philosophy will be tested and sometimes won’t pass. However, finding the overarching thing, the reason why you work and where it fits in your life is worth it. It’s vital really. I wish you the best.

We all have those days, don’t we? Hopefully if nothing else this let you know you’re not alone and if you know someone who is having a tough time putting their work into perspective you’ll pass this along.

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