Archive for May 2014

Separating what you do from who you are

2-separating-2It’s really easy to take criticism personal. Even gentle suggestions have a way of eating at us and sending us into emotional crisis.

Sometimes the criticism actually is personal. If someone says “I don’t like the way you chew your food or the way you say ‘Houston’.” it’s probably OK to assume that they’re really talking about you.

But the criticism we receive in our professional lives usually has nothing to do with who we are. If an angry customer calls you yelling about something you helped them with, they really aren’t attacking you, they’re attacking the role that you fill.

The same goes if your boss or a co-worker says something to you about being late for work or that they need changes to something you’ve done. They’re not commenting on your identity, they’re commenting on your role as an employee.

Who you are and what you do are two completely separate ideas that many people have a hard time splitting apart.

Who you are is who you were born as and who you grew up to be. It’s your you-ness and it’s completely independent of what you do for a living.

Some Examples

When someone calls the front desk of a hotel yelling at Bob, the desk clerk, they’re not yelling at Bob, they’re yelling at Bob’s job. They don’t know Bob and if he thinks it through, them yelling at him will have zero impact on how he feels about himself. He won’t take it personal.

That they’re yelling at a desk clerk says much more about them than it does about Bob.

If Karen’s boss tells her the report she worked on all day doesn’t meet his standards and needs to be corrected – that’s not a criticism of Karen. She doesn’t need to change who she is, but she may need to modify how she does her job.

The criticism may have been entirely valid, but if Karen takes it as a personal attack it’s probably going to create problems for her in the long run.

When we’re not careful about keeping track of the line between who we are and what we do, it’s really easy for us to get our feelings hurt and develop a bad attitude about the people we interact with.

The more you can separate those ideas, the happier you’ll be.

How to find fulfillment in whatever you’re doing

Portrait chickenAs much as I love my farm, it’s a lot of hard work. Getting up before the sun to feed cattle in the freezing cold or chasing after ornery chickens isn’t most people’s idea of fun. But the results make all the hard work and discomfort worth it.

Not all of our jobs allow us to see a tangible result at the end of the day. With the farm, it’s easier to see the product of my efforts. The chickens lay their eggs, the tomato plants produce tomatoes, and a plowed and seeded row eventually turns green with leafs and stalks.

Being able to see a physical result of my work feels really good. So does providing my family and friends with great, nutritious food. The food my farm produces is evidence of the impact of my work on the world around me.

I  think it’s easy for us to sometimes lose sight of how much feeling un-impactful affects us. Personally, I get pretty frustrated when I feel like what I’m doing doesn’t make a difference one way or another.

Nobody wants their efforts to be meaningless.

But sometimes our perception doesn’t match reality. It’s much easier to assume what you’re doing has no impact than to think it through and find the end results.

With my farm, the end results are easy to see. I can pick them up and hold them in my hand – I can eat them. But for some of the work I do in the office, I have to try a little harder to see the impact of what I’m doing and it’s not always immediately apparent.

The results of helping someone plan their taxes, straighten out their financial situation, or find direction through coaching are much different than the farm. In most cases, I don’t ever see the actual results, just the effects of the results.

I have to look for things like – “Is this person happier or less stressed because of my help?” “Was this family able to take a vacation this year because we reduced their tax bill?”

When you’re detached from the results of your work those types of things are sometimes hard to recognize and it’s easy to lose motivation and feel bad about what you’re working on.

And the truth is, everything we do no matter how small, has some sort of impact, we just have to discover it. Saying “thank you” to a co-worker, helping someone get something off a high shelf in the grocery store, or cutting someone off in traffic all have an effect.

You being kind to the people around you may have much more impact that what you do at work and that may be a better place to look for fulfillment than in your job.