Hello readers! I’m on vacation this week, and in the spirit of taking space and making time for margaritas by the pool, I’m re-posting a previous post that I love and that many of you may not have seen yet. Enjoy, and happy Spring!
In my former life as an employee, I nearly worked myself down to my last nerve. On many Friday nights, I would have debilitating back pain and fall asleep by 7:00pm. Extra-curricular activities during the workweek were almost non-existent, and my idea of “unwinding” was limited to red wine (a good Shiraz, please) and Netflix. I was not a model of health or well-being, and I didn’t believe it would ever be any different – I assumed that was just what it took to be professionally “successful.”
I’ve heard, and I’m sure you’ve heard, a lot of stories like mine: young ambitious professional works a lot, buys into our society’s mold of success, has major personal crisis, burns out, moves to the West Coast, rejuvenates, and voila!, she is healed and works for herself now. It’s kind of a cliché at this point, but that doesn’t mean the story is simple -or that it ends there.
Having a career with ease and grace is actually very difficult. It’s difficult because many of us aren’t sure we’re allowed to have worklives that are challenging and nourishing. Many of us, consciously or unconsciously, view work as ultimately draining – something we do to pay for our hobbies, new clothes, or a trip to Europe where we can observe other people enjoying life. It’s also difficult because if you’re like me, you’ve only learned one way of working: forcefully pushing things forward, doing things you hate in the name of productivity, and going as hard as you can until you crash and have to call in sick.
When I say a “career with ease and grace,” I mean working in a way that has flow, is nourishing to yourself and others, has boundaries, and that creates something beautiful for you to share with the world.
I’m talking about a career that gives you the space to care for yourself while also pushing you to give more of the gifts within you.
Overwork and exhaustion is a real problem. The pace at which we work these days and the loads we carry are just unsustainable. That said, not everyone in my former organization was falling asleep to Orange Is The New Black at 7:00 on a Friday night. Other people had friends, they exercised, they had time to bake things – they actually enjoyed their lives! So what was the difference between us? Why did I crash, hard, while they lived healthy lives and seemed to flourish?
The first and most important difference was that I was in the wrong job.
The work itself, the way I worked, and the pace of the organization just weren’t the best use of my gifts and skills. The people who worked and lived well, on the other hand, were a good match for the organization and the jobs that they were in. There was ease and reciprocity already built into their daily work.
Bottom line: if you’re in the wrong career, you won’t be able to create a career filled with ease and grace. You can tread water for a while, but if it’s ultimately just the wrong career for you to be in, it won’t feel light and graceful. That said, it can definitely teach you what works and doesn’t work with your unique set of gifts.
The second difference between myself and those who were doing well in the organization was that they practiced some, or all, of the things I’ve listed below. If you’re in a job that you fundamentally enjoy but still feels sluggish and hard, I would encourage you to try implementing some of these tips:
Tip 1: Know your fillers and drains. I wrote a post called “A Beginner’s Guide to Energy Drains and Fillers” that covers what these actually are, but it’s essentially a matter of knowing what energizes you and what wears you out. Knowing and balancing your energy drains and fillers is foundational to building a career with ease and grace. You have to know what zaps your energy so that you can care for yourself and rejuvenate meaningfully.
Tip 2: Know what you’ll work at and what you won’t work at. Part of why I got so burnt out before was that I stressed over everything in my job. Everything was urgent and important – that is, until I got so overloaded that very few things seemed to matter, and then I wasn’t helpful to anyone. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in measured amounts, stress allows us to think clearly, move quickly, and have sharper perceptions. Our problem is that we’ve stress-vomited (that’s a professional term) over every part of our careers so that nothing feels very easy anymore.
Throughout your day today, ask yourself “Is this something I’m willing to put some sweat and stress into?” “Is this email from Larry something I’m willing to stress over?” “Is this presentation next week something I’m willing to work up a sweat for?” The things we work at in our lives should be worthy of our grit and attention, and we only have so much of those to give.
Tip 3: Keep reminders of ease and grace around you. What makes you feel like things are easy and graceful? Indulging our senses is a great way to remind us to keep things light and flow with what’s working in our lives. Make time for a lunch that tastes and smells amazing. Keep an essential oil roll-on in your desk drawer. Listen to music that you love while you work. Help your body remember that it can enjoy the process of working.
Tip 4: Surround yourself with people who live easy and graceful lives. If you’re surrounded by people who choose to live lives that are a total slog, chances are good that you’ll also feel like you’re constantly wading through a pool of shit. Choose instead to surround yourself with people who are enjoying life – even if their work is very challenging, and even if they’re going through some tough stuff. Find and cherish people who prioritize ease and grace in their lives instead of the “everything is horrible” narrative.
Tip 5: Notice resistance. Sometimes it’s necessary for us to push and prod and struggle for something until we reach our goal. I would argue, though, that many of us assume we have to push and prod and struggle for everything, which I don’t believe is the case. If there’s resistance in your worklife – if a project feels totally stuck, if a relationship with a colleague is mired in gunk, if you resist going to work every single day, then it’s time to take note.
Having a career with ease and grace built into it requires that we get good at knowing when to push and when to pull back. This isn’t an easy skill to develop, and unfortunately, it’s not one that most hiring managers are looking for. Notice what’s stuck in your career and either get rid of it so that your energy can be used elsewhere, or do something to get things moving again. In Chinese medicine, stuck or stagnant energy results in pain or disease. I believe it’s the same in our worklives: what’s stuck and gnarly = a lot of unnecessary pain.
Your career does not have to be a soul-sucking endeavor. I know, and have seen, that it’s possible to have a career that is actually soul-nourishing. I hope today that you give yourself permission to have a career that is full of ease and grace.
Know someone who needs some ease and grace in their worklife? Pass this along!