“How’s work?”

Whenever I’m asked about how work is going these days, I usually reply “It’s great.” Maybe I’ll follow it up with “I really love my job.”

Then I get the look. A mixture of surprise, bemusement, and a little dislike.

“Really?” they’ll ask.

I never used to love my job. But some important things changed.

Most of my career

For the most part, I’ve worked in large corporations, including 15 years at my current firm. I’ve had some good bosses and very bad ones. Some great teams and mediocre ones. And feelings ranging from anxiety to exhilaration to depression.

But it always felt like, well, work. Something I did to make money instead of something I genuinely wanted to do.

So, every Sunday night, I’d start dreading the week ahead. I’d hit the snooze button in the mornings. I’d buy lottery tickets.

The big difference

Changing all of that didn’t involve joining the Peace Corps or changing firms. I didn’t even change my desk.

I just stopped being afraid. Afraid of trying to accomplish something I cared about. Afraid of the consequences if it didn’t work out.

A year ago, in my first blog post, I listed 10 things I believed about work, including what motivates people at work:

“I believe that autonomy, mastery, purpose, and community are fundamental human motivators. (Daniel Pink writes of the first three in “Drive”.) We are hardwired to want control over the work we do and to get better at it. To do it for a good reason and with people we connect with.”

By learning to overcome the lizard brain (as Seth Godin would refer to it), I was able to see opportunities within my firm and go after them. That gave me a purpose – one that was self-directed so I felt in control. A purpose that inspired me to learn and build new relationships because I cared so much about it.

Tapping into the basic human motivators made all the difference in how I felt about work.

What about you?

It’s possible anywhere. The psychiatrist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched people who find “flow” in all sorts of work environments and are both happier and more productive. Viktor Frankl wrote about finding meaning in a concentration camp.

For 45+ years, I ceded control of my happiness and my career to other people. That was my fault. And I’m determined not to make that mistake again.

What about you? “How’s work?”

If you don’t like the answer, what are you going to do about it?

You don’t need to wait for permission or a crisis. Start learning how to work out loud, take control of your reputation, and build relationships. Invest in yourself now.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to “How’s work?”

  1. Tom Gilbert says:

    Great post John – I always enjoy your writing. Mentor me? 🙂

  2. Hi John, great post. Only sorry I didn’t get more chance to work with you. Glad things are working out – you’ve earned it with your grit and determination. As the popular saying goes: Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration!

  3. John Stepper says:

    Thanks very much. Tom, I’d be honored! Take a look at the “Building a purposeful social network” course.

    And Madeleine, I really appreciate your kinds words and hope we cross paths again.

  4. Jacquic says:

    Great post, as always, John! Thoroughly enjoyed it and chuckled at some parts too!

  5. naina says:

    Great Post..short and crisp enough to create some noise inside.

  6. Ana says:

    Things changed for me when I started planting seeds of change inside my company (something I talked about in my latest post http://artlifework.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/change-agents-at-the-office/), when I realized what was my drive and purpose, what got me into the flow (Drive by Daniel Pink is really an eye-opener, isn’t it? 🙂 ).

    But interestingly, things also changed once I started doing valuable projects outside of work: the satisfaction it gave me, the things it taught me, and the resources & learnings I then brought into my work were great! And one day, out of the blue and while I was preparing my first Ignite talk, my new mantra was born: “Your work may not be your life but let your life ignite your work!” 🙂

  7. Mary-Pat Nealon says:

    Thanks, John. I just came out on myDB as a, gulp, Lottery Fantasizer Yes I acknowledged my secret publicly at work and feel tremendous relief by removing that burden…hahahaha.

    I agree with Ana and really began focusing, about 3 years ago, on all the things our employer offers in conjunction with our ‘jobs’ or ‘roles.’ I’ve not only gotten great exposure, I’ve learned some valuable and interesting things about the Philanthropy space. I can truly say I started to love working for DB because I opened my eyes beyond my function, which has changed a few times since then because I was not afraid to root around for something new. I began to feel supported by our Org from a more comprehensive view.

  8. “People join companies but leave managers”. Managers get their power from the top and leaders get theirs from the bottom. I wonder which is more authentic?

    As for work: I now view work as an instrument of self-development and personal autonomy, and entrepreneurship not as a status symbol, but as an attitude. An attitude I think everyone is going to need.

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