I am sitting at a picnic table in Waterton National Park. It is a pleasant, warm day. The view across the valley is what I have been needing to recharge my being; it transfixes my gaze. In the right moments the sun catches the southern face of Mount Galway causing the oxidized iron in the exposed argillite on its lower flanks to flare a brilliant red. As I stare at the mountain, I soak up its beauty, its lines and I imagine the route I would take to the summit. Every mountain that catches my eye undergoes the same analysis. For me one of the joys of climbing comes in the challenge. The greater the challenge the greater the joy.
Why is this? I believe in the quote by Theodore Roosevelt “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”
That really does sum up a mountain climb. Additionally, (or unfortunately depending on your point of view) as my experience and skills progress what was once difficult is now easy. I find myself seeking greater challenges in order to stay interested in climbing and continue to feel a sense of accomplishment.
I feel the same way about work. “Work” however is the wrong word for what I do. To me “work” has negative connotation. “Work” is something you have to do as opposed to the professional purpose you can have in the “work” that you do. My professional purpose or my “work” is leading teams: marketing teams, sales teams, executive teams, project teams. With these teams I set goals and like mountains the greater the challenge the greater the joy. Reaching a goal with a team is an accomplishment that brings joy. That said, to do this there is a lot of work required to get there and that is where the joy can disappear.
Compared to climbing, the joy of work is harder to obtain. With a mountain you have a clear objective and every choice you make has an immediate impact and consequence. At work your purpose and ability to see your impact can easily get lost in the day to day administrivia of the business world. Sometimes I come home at night feeling like I have gotten nothing done. If a bunch of days like this get piled together I could see a person dreading going to work, because there is no connection to a goal, to a team, to a sense of accomplishment…no joy.
You may be reading this thinking; Steve that is my day to day at work, I am bogged down in mundane tasks getting no real joy. Fair enough I feel this way as well from time to time. In order to shake this feeling and make every task matter and connect it to a clear objective, I have learned I need to do/identify with/create the following to experience joy at work.
- First and foremost, you and your team need to have a goal/purpose. Not only do you need the common goal (Revenue goal) or purpose (customer satisfaction or quality control) that you are all working towards, you need to connect your day to day tasks to that goal. So a mundane QC audit or spreadsheet is connected to the bigger goal/purpose. This keeps you motivated because you know your task has meaning.
- You need to measure your progress. In the mountains you know how things are going, you are either getting higher or you are not; it is quite clear. Noting where you are on a mountain keeps you moving (either up or down). In the business world it is easy to lose track of how you are doing. I believe if you cannot see progress you can get a “stuck on the fly wheel” feeling. So daily, weekly, monthly (step by step) you need to measure your progress whether it is percent complete or improvement versus the previous year.
- You need to communicate your progress. Forcing communication on your progress does several things. First it creates accountability to yourself and your team. Second by regularly reporting on your progress you are reinforcing where you are going and why you are doing it.
- Identify with the goal/purpose: Arguably, all of the above steps will not matter unless you have engaged in the process. So when your team is creating goals, participate in the creation. Loudly if needed, but tempered by consensus building and commitment to the purpose of the team. In simple terms, own the goal or purpose, make it yours, if you do not you are simply just doing something because someone told you to as opposed to you wanting to make a difference.
- Celebrate your successes: Every summit I reach I hug my team and high five. After we get down we celebrate the climb. At work you should do the same, reflect and rejoice on a job well done. Congratulate yourself and your teammates. Doing this helps to build excitement for the next project and reinforces that the work has meaning.
Work is a big part of our lives. Try these steps to bring joy to this part of your life. I believe it is not easy to do, but anything worth doing is never easy.