How I Learned To Love my Work Again
‘Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.’
-Henry David Thoreau
It took me a little over 4 years to realize that I was spending the better half of my twenties in discontentment. It was alarming to consider myself burnt out at the age of 24, and even more daunting to see 25 on the distant horizon. The day I graduated from high school was also the same day I entered into the working world.. and the monotony of routine. Work, home, eat, sleep, repeat… day in, day out. I had travelled, I had been in a couple relationships and I had dabbled in a few interests. All in all, life was working out fine, but that’s all it really was… fine.
After a while, my uncertainty about life grew. I fell into depressive bouts of misery and a probably a little too much self pity over the lack of lustre in my life. So I decided one night as I was lying in bed that I would start sharing my photography over Instagram. I opened a new account late one evening and reached out to the world for some feedback. I didn’t know what would come of it, but it gave me something constructive to focus on. Curiously, people were interested in what I had to offer and slowly I began to accumulate a following. Over time the account grew, and so did my confidence in what I could accomplish.
As much as social media proves itself to be an inspiring and engaging place for artists, brands and explorers alike, I came to discover that it also had a strong and dangerous pull for the worst. In the initial stages of the account growth, I was inspired, motivated and searching for ways to improve myself. There were new opportunities popping up for me and the possibilities seemed endless. Having room for expansion in this area of my life filled me with optimism and confidence. But, with every blessing comes the ability to abuse it. Despite the fact that my hard work was reaping results, I reached a point where I was becoming too engaged with the online world than was necessary. In short, I became obsessed. My world could not extend beyond the narrow tunnel of of “likes” and “follows” and I felt attached to my phone in a way that did not feel comfortable.
Being addicted to the online world is no joke. Symptoms for Internet addiction fall into two types of behaviors:
- An increasing need to engage with the object of the addiction
- A bad feeling when not getting enough of it.
Both of these behaviours applied to me in different ways. I had shut down in personal relationships, spiritual growth and failed to see beyond my small world. I compared myself to others, and through that, managed to rob myself of the simple joys of life. The scary thing is… according to several recent brain imaging studies, severely effected internet addicts show structural and functional brain abnormalities similar to those found in people with substance abuse problems. Other research has shown that internet addiction frequently coexists with depression, anxiety or an addiction to substances. We often perceive obsession in a romanticized light, especially in novels and hollywood films. However, having an obsessive tendency is anything but attractive, or romantic for that matter. In fact, in can be downright scary and harmful.
In the end, I realized I had become deeply unhappy. Social Media became less about sharing beautiful scenery and experiences and more about the follower count and the idea of growing bigger and better. Despite the fact that my follower count was growing, the sensations of success and victory had come to a standstill. I felt less fulfilled than when I first started out and more anxious than ever. There was little to no inspiration flowing, and I used the internet as a soother to make me feel better when things weren’t going well in reality.
Ultimately, I was back where I started, with little to no understanding about the things I wanted for my own future. I suppose that’s the case for most twenty-somethings, we don’t really know what we want… it’s a decade of exploration for us. We get in and out of relationships, we experience the work place, visit new cultures and try new foods. It’s a time for learning and progression, but it also comes with hard lessons and heightened anxiety. To add to the struggle, this world we live in is saturated with options, and surprisingly, it hinders many of us from understanding what we want to work towards. Contrary to what the media says, having an endless streams of choices does not make it easier to differentiate between thoughtful and foolish decisions. Think about it, we are faced with options on a daily basis in countless areas of our lives. It can range from what brand of mayonnaise to buy at the supermarket, the type of gas we want to fill up with or the particular shade of blue you want for your bedroom walls. We can now chose from an enormous online library of films, search multiple news sites and be subjected to an endless realm of thoughts and opinions. Relationships are shorter than the length a school semester and marriages crumble from various forms of discontentment and uncertainty. Patience and investment have become some of the hardest lessons for the younger generation to learn and as a result, contentment falls just short of our grasp. We could have hundreds of options in front of us, but without a clear idea of what we want to arrive at, those options mean nothing, leaving us more confused and uncertain about where we are going.
Thankfully, that particular stage in my life was short lived. After forcing myself to take a break from all forms of social media for a week (yes, that’s all it took), I was able to wean myself off that incessant need to constantly engage with the online world and I committed to confronting my issues head on. I stopped worrying about the numbers and focused instead on figuring something else out. How could I provide something of value to others? Immediately I had a goal and a renewed sense of purpose, so I began to work towards that.
As a result, I found myself in the somewhat daunting position of recognizing that there were other things in life that weren’t serving me well. It ranged from my personal relationships, finances, the messy environment I was living in and then finally, my job.
I wasn’t happy.
But why? I had a great job in advertising & graphic design, I was creating flyers and taking product photos and immersing myself in exactly the kind of work I would have wanted to when I was exploring options in high school. It didn’t make much sense to me. Wasn’t this my “passion”? Wasn’t this what my career advisor had suggested? Soon it occurred to me that I was following the same pattern as I did with social media. I was receiving the benefits, depositing the cheques and ultimately not investing in my work at all. I’d forgotten the purpose of what I was doing and the resources I could supply to others. So as I mulled this over, I came to the conclusion that I had two options. Change my perspective, or quit.
So I decided to change my whole approach to work.
I’m certain we could all agree that investment is vital for the development and betterment of not only relationships, but finance, career advancement and even our own health. Ultimately, investing is a vulnerable action of commitment, it’s consciously taking a piece of us whether material or emotional… and putting it someplace else so it can grow into something of value. Life isn’t perfect, sometimes our investments fail, and that sucks. But failure is a great method of eliminating the options that don’t work. It’s a weird concept to process, but once you see failure as an answer to a question instead of a personal rejection of character, suddenly it doesn’t feel so difficult to stand back up and try again. So I asked myself how I could invest in my work more. With every flyer I randomly selected a new colour scheme, an interesting graphic or a theme to work around. It wasn’t a groundbreaking change by any means, I like colourful ads… so I started with a small change. Instantly, the work started to get done quickly, and the quality wasn’t subpar anymore. I started to feel inspired about the way the next one would look like, I applied strategies from my social media experience to accumulate more traffic on my advertisements, and felt victorious when the company had a good sales month. I felt like I was part of a team again, aiming for a goal. It’s odd to think about in all honesty, because what occurred to me during that time period was that it’s not really hard to be happy in a job that doesn’t fire up your passions or interests in an extreme way. The main problem lay in my perspective of my circumstances, and how I was rewarding myself. Once that changed and once I figured out what kind of an impact I had on my environment, my productivity increased dramatically and I was genuinely enjoying my work.
Had I listened to the advice of others, I would have quit my job. Without a doubt, I would have handed in my resignation, picked up my stuff and abandoned all responsibility. I would have opted instead for a magical, idealistic life of travel and adventure. All while probably living behind my phone screen with no clear direction in life and borrowing money off my parents. I would have abandoned my secure income and business connections to pursue “passion”.
I struggle with that term a lot, Passion. It’s a great word, but it seems to be misused in modern society. Pursuing a career based on passion, or at least, solely on passion, seemed like a gamble with no ultimate aim. For instance, I have a passion for food. Every time I travel with my older cousins, our priority list goes as follows. What are we going to eat? What are we going to look at while we digest what we just ate? When can we eat next? Will I have room for more eating in the next hour?. I love trying new food and understanding how its made and where its origin lies, but I can’t cook fancy food worth beans. Not only that but i’m impatient and get stressed out easily. Choosing a career path in that line of work would kill my passion for food…and the stress would probably kill me too.
Perhaps this is an unorthodox viewpoint compared to the typical “quit your job and pursue your passion” mantra. But as Terri Trespicio outlined in her hard hitting TEDX talk on the subject, passions are fleeting. Passions are exactly what they are defined to be, strong and barely controllable emotions. We certainly don’t live “passionately” during every second of the day. We have SURGES of passion, and they come and go. Sometimes we spend years exploring them, and sometimes in an instant, we lose interest. I used to be passionate about saving the whales when I was 5. Now i’m terrified to even step foot in the big blue ocean. I’m certainly not suggesting that you engage in a career that you have no interest in and pursue a degree that bores you to tears, but rather, I would encourage you to broaden the perspective of your desires and interests into something more far reaching.
What we need to have is purpose. A reason for doing what we do. The sensation of self achievement, mastering a skill or giving something of value to those around us.
For instance, very often I hear this statment;
“I left my full time job to pursue my passion in travel and adventure”,
Now, consider this statement and note how it now contains a goal;
“I left my full time job to pursue a lifetime goal of educating and informing others about travel and culture”
Which of the two carries more weight? It’s a slight difference, but as I found out.. it has a lasting impact on my productivity and gave me a reason to get out of bed each morning.
When you find purpose in your work, or a reason to carry on a friendship, relationship or diet, you subconsciously choose to invest. The simple action of creating a reason WHY you want to do something makes it much easier to accomplish that dream and in turn, change your outlook. What I realized was that at the start of my IG account, my purpose was to get feedback to improve the quality of my work ..but once I had the feedback I was looking for, I felt lost. What I didn’t know, was that a new purpose needed to be established at that point. When we know what we want and WHY we want it, decision making becomes simplistic and our spectrum of choices becomes more concentrated. Contentment isn’t a goal, rather, its an after effect of gratitude, hard work, and giving. Happiness is derived from the acceptance of our present circumstances, and alternatively, passion is a foundation in finding purpose. In the process of seeking out a better job, a more pleasant home, a richer lifestyle or more material things… often we overlook the wonderful stability and goodness that life already afforded to us. By seeking bigger and better, we pass over the fact that we could be happy with what we have if we just invested in it a little bit more.
As english philosopher, Bernard Williams so eloquently said, “We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory”. So by all means, pursue your passions.. pursue them to the greatest extent, let them fill you with unmeasurable joy and adventure. Or don’t, maybe you like your secure 9-5 office job, maybe routine is your thing and maybe you enjoy your passions as quiet, secret hobbies. But wherever you are and whatever you are doing, remember that its not the external circumstances that dictate your happiness. Whether you are climbing a mountain in Nepal, or creating spreadsheets for your next meeting, fulfilment will be hard to seek out if you don’t have a deep-rooted purpose for what you do. Just as success is nothing if not rooted in self achievement, passion and hard work are not enough without firm direction. So make the most of the precious time left on this earth, search out your purpose, and dare to change your perspective.
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing. -Thomas A. Edison
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