Start with Gratitude when Thinking About Work
Career Corner is a program produced by the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network, part of State Services for the Blind, and it is recorded for people are blind or have reading disabilities. You can listen to the stream of the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network at www.mnssb.org/rtb, and the password is RTB. Your host, for Career Corner is Anne Obst.
Next we’ll turn to the Working Strategies column from the November 27th edition of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press entitled “Start with gratitude when thinking about work” By Amy Lindgren
Thanksgiving week is an appropriate time to consider gratitude in all things. Some things are easy to feel grateful for: Loving family and friends, a comfortable home, enough food to eat … if these are gifts you’re enjoying right now, it’s only right to count them among your blessings.
Of all the gifts we might remember in our Thanksgiving rituals, one that could easily be forgotten is work. Undoubtedly, anyone who recently found a job is feeling thankful for the new opportunity. But what about those of us who have held our positions for a while — where does work fall on our gratitude list?
As a career counselor I’ve had uncountable conversations with unhappy workers temporarily blind to the bright spots in their work situations. That’s to be expected, as people don’t seek counseling to discuss what’s going well. They need perspective or perhaps solutions to problems they can’t entirely resolve on their own.
Some of the scenarios they describe would be challenging to anyone: Abusive bosses, hostile co-workers, long hours or unsafe working conditions. In these circumstances, our conversations usually focus on exit plans, with a dose of prevention to avoid repeating the situation in the next position.
Since I’m naturally optimistic, my take on things can lead to some interesting discussions. For example, it’s not unusual to talk with someone so beaten down at work that they’ve overlooked many of the advantages the position holds, including
• paid sick days or holidays, or flextime options
• opportunities for training, transfer or promotion
• prestige, or perhaps authority or leadership opportunities
• simple perks such as free coffee or an on-site health club
Identifying those pluses doesn’t shift my attention from the need to strategize the exit. But ignoring them feels wrong as well. When we as workers slip away from recognizing the good things in any circumstance, we become easy prey to a host of unproductive mental habits including entitlement and self-centeredness. Those aren’t exactly appealing traits, and we’re never as good at hiding them as we think we are.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a number of ways to redirect thinking from what a position doesn’t have to what it does have, and from a feeling of deficit to one of abundance. Achieving this mindset is gold to me because the world starts feeling like a place of opportunity, rather than a place that repeats the word “no” at every turn.
One of my favorite ways to create this turning point in myself and others is to use the magic combination of empathy and perspective. Take empathy, for example. When it seems that someone’s boss couldn’t possibly be less supportive or more abusive, I change the conversation momentarily to explore what might be going on with the individual who has power over my client.
Learning that this supervisor has been stalled in his or her own career or has been divorced three times doesn’t excuse the behavior. But it can provide clues that help the suffering employee avoid internalizing their abuse.
To apply perspective, I like to think about my client’s full career path to date. If this is a seasoned worker, they’ve likely developed coping skills that we can revisit and activate for the current situation. And if it’s a young worker, I can sometimes identify the current problem as one of the challenges everyone needs to master at some point — which lets us re-cast the situation as an opportunity.
Another way to utilize perspective is to place the current job in context with other roles that don’t hold as many advantages. The idea isn’t to convince someone to stop complaining because others have it worse. Rather, I want them to recognize what they do have so they can redirect energy from complaining to problem solving.
For example, one can gain a sense of perspective by comparing employees and the self-employed: People in employee roles often have access to things that many self-employed people lack, ranging from paid leave to on-site technical assistance for their balky computer. Meanwhile, self-employed people usually enjoy the ability to control their days and their projects — something employees often find missing in their positions.
One thing I’ve discovered is that the lessons of thankfulness, empathy and perspective seem to need frequent re-application. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to challenge myself until the end of the year to view my work through a single lens: Gratitude. Regardless of the small annoyance or the big-picture challenge on my desk, I vow to start by being grateful for the opportunity it presents — even if I find myself grinding my teeth while doing it. If you’d care to join me in this challenge, I’d be interested in hearing your perspective.
That concludes the Working Strategies column from the November 27th issues of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press titled “Start with Gratitude” by Amy Lindgren.