It's hard to keep going when there looks like there'll be no let up at work. Everyone's been through a helluva lot in the past three years and for most of us, it doesn't look like it's going to get easier anytime soon. Workload is up, support is down and pay rises or bonuses aren't anywhere to be seen.
So how do you keep going at work?
I like to turn things on their head get to this obliquely. So I'll ask someone "how do you want to make a difference at work?" in order that we tackle this from a positive perspective rather than a negative one.
Now 'I want to make a difference at work,' is something I've heard literally hundreds of people say to me over my career. Then they look at me as if they have achieved a wonderful self-insight. Hello Sherlock Holmes. The much, much tougher question to answer is how. How do you want to make that difference? And don't then tell me that you want to 'help' people or 'make the world a better place.'
If you really want to make a difference at work what you need to tune into is the activity that demonstrates you are helping people. The activity that will drive the world being a better place. That will be the unique thing that represents you making a difference in what you do and arriving at meaningful work.
Let's re-track for a second to ask why bother with this? Because meaningful work is key for purpose in life.
I hear you say 'hey but times are tough and it's hard to find meaning when things are bad'. Of course the easiest place to go to is Sartre and existentialism. This movement proposed that life is essentially meaningless and we'd better get to grips with that.
Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and creator of Logotherapy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EIxGrIc_6g&feature=related wrote a brilliant book called 'Man's search for meaning'. He suggested that we all have to find meaning especially in bad times. The moment we see meaning we can turn whatever truly terrible stuff we're going through from tragedy into triumph. The pivotal point is deciding that we can achieve something despite our circumstances. Narrowing this down, he recommended that even though we can't always change a situation, we can always change our attitude to it.
Which reminds me of the time I interviewed Alan Johnson, the BBC journalist who was kidnapped in Gaza and held there for months. There was a detail he mentioned which I found particularly horrendous. Alan is short-sighted and, because he was afraid of being kidnapped, he always wore his glasses in Gaza. The day he was taken hostage, he'd been out of Gaza and was wearing disposable contact lenses. Obviously he had to chuck them out.
But that meant when his captors shouted that that they were going to kill him, he couldn't look into the whites of their eyes and tell if they were serious. When I asked him how he'd manage to deal with that, he described a dinner he'd had with an American journalist in bleak hotel in Tajikistan earlier on in his career. That journalist had said that he thought we'd all have moments in life in which we'd be called on to behave with dignity and grace. That when we recalled those moments, that's what we'd want to remember about ourselves.
So that's a clue about how we can behave in extremis, when we're really under pressure.
But what about a guiding principle? Take a look at some of these phrases of how others I've asked have said that they want to make a difference at work:
- By sustaining nature to keep the planet intact.' Tony Juniper, Environmentalist, UK
- 'By doing what's right for humanity.' Senator Loren Legarda, The Philippines.
- 'By meeting the needs of our teachers and partners to meet the whole needs of the child.' Kate Scott, Deputy Headmaster, USA
- 'By upholding Britain and all she stands for.' Senior officer, Special Forces, UK.
- 'By making a lovely environment for our guests to be in.' Hotel cleaner, USA.
- 'By doing something that fully transforms a particular area of inequity in way that means it can't turn back.' Olivia Leland, Gates Foundation, USA.
- 'By helping people wake up.' Henry Shukman, poet and author, USA.
- 'By contributing to the advance of science.' Professor Felicitas Pauss, Particle physicist, CERN, France/Switzerland'.
- 'By making something happen in the world though wisdom and beauty.' Alain de Botton, Philosopher and author, UK.
- 'By changing people's lives one person at a time.' Martha Lane Fox, entrepreneur.
- 'By addressing a wrong and righting an injustice on a playing field that isn't level'. Gary P. Naftalis, lawyer, USA.
What links all of these amazing statements? Well they're inspired, they're big, they involve others, they're values driven and they enable each person to integrate themselves into something much bigger. Most important of all they provide a guiding light, a personal mission statement to enable you to know if you're on track.
It's true, they're not easy to develop, and take time. But I do recommend that you craft one for yourself because simply tuning into them means you can get through an awful lot of tough stuff.
If that's all too much for you, it's worth turning to one of Frankl's most famous and moving quotes.
"Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
What way will are you choosing and is it the best for you?