“KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN…”
Starting my first corporate job, knowing nothing about political correctness, human resources, client interaction, 401(K)’s, expense reports, nor how to stay planted at my desk for 9 hours per day, I felt like I was thrown into a different universe. Observing the office day-to-day was like watching a bunch of confused monkeys in a testing lab being put to work on mindless tasks, never questioning “how” or “why.” I didn’t feel a sense of belonging, and it seemed like I was the only existentialist in a sea of lifeless drones.
My days consisted of coming into work and being fed a laundry-list of time-burning tasks. That’s fine, I got them done and collected my paycheck at the end of each week. The lure of climbing the corporate ladder and making more money eventually got the best of me, pushing me to work 12-hour days to prove my worth. The gears continued to turn and grind, but results weren’t coming quickly enough. I figured it was time for a chat with management. To save you the long script, the conversation ended with me being told to be patient, keep my head down, and work hard. Good things will come.
“Keep your head down and work hard.” I don’t know what it was about that phrase that set me off, but this was no longer about money, and I began seriously questioning my motivators. I understand the intent behind that phrase — grind hard and plan for the future, but you probably already know how I feel about that mentality. I get the approach and I understand the intent of future planning but it isn’t the right way to reach and condition young minds who are seeking purpose today… as in right now.
Telling somebody to keep their head down and grind for 10+ years is no better than telling them to lock themselves in a dark basement, sacrifice a decade of their youthful years, and emerge blind and oblivious to the changes and advancements which have occurred in the surrounding world. But hey, it’ll be totally worth it because you’ll drive a corvette when you’re 60 years old!
Let’s remove money from the equation for a moment. It’s common for professionals to be frustrated over feeling undervalued, so let’s focus on the bigger issue at hand — our ‘why’s.’ Maybe it was just young(er) me being impatient and immature, but after the conversation with my boss, I was ready to say “f**k this” and storm out. I was just chasing an imaginary finish line hoping to find some sort of fulfillment in “success.”
IS THIS WHAT OUR PROFESSIONAL LIVES HAVE BECOME?
Are we just putting in hours chasing finish lines established by our corporate superiors and collecting paychecks? Is work nothing but a running marathon consisting of ‘sacrifice’ and dreading the thought of waking up bright and early to train just so we can prove to ourselves that we can make it to the other side? Are we convincing ourselves that crossing the ‘finish line’ will fulfill our purpose in life? If this is your approach to work, then please step forward so that I can backhand-slap your face with some perspective.
Even if you aren’t a runner, I want you to close your eyes and visualize… actually no, you need your eyes open to read what’s next, so just visualize for a minute. You’re standing at the start-line with your teammates and friends, surrounded by the warm, embracing energy of onlookers. Goosebumps forming across your body as the groups ahead take crowd. Adrenaline spikes as the whistle is blown for you to bolt off. You hear the cheering of onlookers fade into the background as you focus on your breathing and hear the wind cutting around you. Do you feel that runner’s high that makes you feel weightless as you move? Are you counting down the steps to the finish line or are you thoroughly enjoying the experience in the present moment?
Let’s apply this back to work. We’ve all heard the saying “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” That’s true, it’s green where you water it. The first step is changing your attitude. Figure out what drives you. We choose to show up for work each day, so why do we do it? Let’s take financial obligations out of the picture. Dig deeper. Why? Perhaps it’s the pen-biting, head-scratching drive of solving a problem, the engaging brain-storming sessions with your team, or the feeling of helping a community and knowing you had a positive impact on somebody’s life. If you are an entrepreneur, maybe it’s the thrill of the sale that lights a fire inside of you. These are the things we tend to ignore — the day-to-day hidden riches. All it really requires is some time to breathe, relax, and dive deeper into your ‘why’ because sometimes we spend our entire lives searching for gold that’s buried right in our back-yards.
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”Paulo Coelho
IDENTIFYING OUR “WHY”
Even if you are like the vast majority and you work for somebody else because your financial well-being depends on it, that’s okay! Maybe providing for your family is what drives you and that is very selfless and admirable. However, I don’t have it in me to tell you to keep sacrificing your own career happiness for your family because there are ways to be a provider and enjoy your work simultaneously. Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Maybe you are fully independent and money brings you fulfillment. That’s fine too, but remember that chasing money is an endless road. I strongly encourage you to consider other riches as well — community, challenge, growth, networking, etc. Identify what brings you joy and happiness each day at work. If you’re counting down the hours until the clock strikes 5pm, adjust your attitude and shift your focus. Life is what we make it, so make it count.
There is no right answer for ‘why’ we do anything, but without a reason for our actions, we are all just sprinting toward some finish line hoping our questions will be resolved and our lives fulfilled. Will that promotion cure the toxicity of your workplace? Will having children fix a marriage between two incompatible people? These are just a couple of examples portraying this common delusion of how ‘finish lines’ will save us from our problems.
TO WRAP IT UP…
I’m not here to preach that it is easy to just “do what you want to do.” I know it isn’t, because I myself struggle every day. However, I enjoy that struggle — growing the hobbies that make me happy, nourishing relationships that fulfill me, and purging toxicity out of my life little by little until it’s gone. Life is about progress and enjoyment through action. You may not get to where you want to be in a day, a couple of weeks, or even a few years, but once you learn to appreciate each step you take knowing that it was done with purpose, you won’t notice any finish line until its well in your rear-view mirror.