Sometimes I really do wonder if I’m allowed to enjoy my job as much as I do. I don’t mean that as a huge stroke to my employer’s ego (sorry, but I don’t) – I really do mean, “Am I allowed to have such a satisfying sense of workplace happiness or does that make me seem lazy and uninspired?”
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve grown up in a professional world where the hustler is praised eternally for having something that “non-hustlers” lack. And by “non-hustlers” I mean people who have a sense of “This is enough.”
What impression do you have of the person who looks you square in the eye, fairly-early into their career, and says they don’t really have a desire to pursue anything too far beyond what they have now; they’re pretty happy?
Seriously. What do you think of that person.
Can We Stop Competing for the Sake of Competing?
I have long told people that I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. I never have – not even as a kid. I do things because I think they’re fun or fulfilling, and that’s about where my inspiration stops. I don’t necessarily “seek to win” because then my fun would be over (in my mind).
That has its benefits and drawbacks.
On one hand, I never had to worry about having a sense of “keeping up with the Jonses.” I have never been concerned with another person’s paycheck, and I find it fairly easy to be happy with what I have and sleep well at night. I find what I like – and I strive to do “whatever that is” well because it gives me a sense of personal achievement and productivity that I value.
That philosophy has pretty much gained me a reputation (I think) of being seen as a non-cutthroat coworker who is fun (or at least “ok”) to be on projects with.
On the other hand, someone who doesn’t know me might think I’m coasting (in a bad way). They wouldn’t look into any of my past accomplishments or actually view how I’ve moved into my current position, because people have a tendency to build incomplete proxies of each other so that we can navigate socially.
We create perspectives of strangers within a few minutes of conversation based on our past perceptions of people who we think they act like (within a few seconds), and that can sometimes be a hard thing to shake.
When I mention “I don’t compete with anyone about anything” it’s genuinely jarring for some. And, I’ve basically never viewed my career as a competition – so I’ve gotten a spread of reactions to that statement (both positive and negative).
Clarifying a bit: I have “never viewed my career as a competition” that I care to be in with everyone else. I strive to be a little better than I was yesterday.
And then there’s also the question of what would I be competing for? Prestige? Power? Money? Have you seen the video where the guy demonstrated Jeff Bezos’ wealth with grains of rice?
I feel like there has to be more I can get out of my working hours than chasing “a few grains of rice.”
I also don’t care to participate because I don’t define myself by my job or my career. I feel like my personal aspirations go beyond that portion of myself. I am not saying my career is insignificant in my life! I have done the job where I felt like my soul was dying a little each day, so I genuinely VALUE pursuing a certain kind of “peace” in my vocation.
But… isn’t THAT the goal for everyone? Peace of mind? And if it’s not, should it be?
When people see fault in someone who has really found a sense of true workplace happiness, it makes me wonder what’s wrong with THEM — not the happy person. Maybe the other person is a little jealous because they don’t have that sense of satisfaction in their job!
I just don’t think you have to necessarily “aspire to more” in order to “aspire to be better”. Those don’t sound like they’re the same phrase to me.
Can We Safely Interrogate Our Motivations?
When I think of the image above, the one with the people running, it’s not an unfamiliar feeling that the image brings on. Some roles I’ve held have felt like “running as fast as you can toward an ambiguous prize based on society’s expectations, not your own”!
It all just feels like one big cliché representation of the negative side of corporate employment (speaking VERY broadly here). “Go for the bigger cookie,” ya’ know? Not because you want or need it – but because it’s there.
In instances like that, I actually always wonder about stupid things like, “How are the people who officiate the race living their day-to-day? What are their goals and motivations in all of this?” Like, if everyone just wants to have time with their friends and family, why not just do that?! You don’t need EVERYTHING in order to have everything that matters to you.
“Be the best” is a very hollow term without context. Are you being the best version of yourself? Are you being the best at satisfying your clients/customers/members? Are you being the best at making the money? These are all very different questions.
I like working with others who value collaborating over “looking out for theirs and theirs alone”. I enjoy working for places where I get to be myself. I like finding comfort in my work (not stress). I enjoy having fun (yes, on the job). I am all for sharing vs. hoarding information and skills because “spreading the wealth” is beneficial to everyone in the long-run.
People who hold those same outlooks on their professional pursuits and goals are my tribe, but I understand that’s not everybody’s cup of tea.
And, “No,” this doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels. It is possible to have a sense of Zen AND still get things done and innovate. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.
This is all in my mind, though – and I’m open to being wrong. I just really wonder how many people would honestly prefer something different? How many people desire the first “race for yours”-style career path illustrated by the race vs. the one I just described?
Especially if they knew that 97% of the people involved in either scenario all end up getting to the same place.
Or, does being the first to that 3% mean that much to some people?
Are We Allowed to Embrace a Different Hustle?
If your preferred path is the rough and tumble race to the finish… If you ARE the very definition of competitive… If you see people who don’t want to compete as being “left behind”… Do you. Enjoy that. I think we are all entitled to whatever motivates us toward some sense of self-actualization.
I just ask that you be open to others embracing a different hustle than yours.
For some, it’s a hustle to find balance between “enough” and “better than now”. There is an end to that. It’s not just an endless rate to some unknowable “top”.
There isn’t anything wrong with that.
But… Who knows? I could be completely wrong and the answer may just be to go for it all!
I promise I’m not lazy. I promise I’m very inspired (about certain things). I just may not be inspired to pursue the same things that you value.
I’m ranting now, so it’s time to wrap this one.
Share any thoughts you may have on the smattering of things I’ve thrown out above in the comment section below.