“I’m not adjusting well to life after college.”
That’s the title of a reddit post that caught my eye last week. And it didn’t take much digging to find hundreds more just like it. Every author and commenter was saying some version of that line: “I’m having trouble adjusting—what’s wrong with me?”
The reality is there’s nothing wrong with any of these people. It’s unfair to assume everyone will naturally “adjust” to a 9-5 job.
For most, that’s because the current 40-hour work week—broken up into eight-hour days—is misaligned with the way they actually get work done most effectively. It’s a relic from a time when physical labor was the norm. Today’s knowledge workers can’t sit at a desk for eight hours and be productive the entire time.
And yet, everyone who is struggling still feels the problem is with themselves. They think, “All my coworkers seem to be doing it. Why can’t I?” But everyone else isn’t doing it. Even the people who seem to be perfectly fine with working a nine-to-five struggle. It’s just that no one talks about it.
That culture of silence means that individuals try to force themselves to adjust. Which, predictably, leads to feelings of resentment, bitterness, and burnout.
So let’s talk about it. If you’re in a working environment that makes you feel restless, unproductive, or forceful, here are five steps you can take to avoid “adjusting” and instead make your work life more bearable—even fulfilling.
Here’s how it starts:
1.Recognition. Recognize that this isn’t a problem of adjustment. Don’t blame yourself.
If you try to adjust to an impossible situation, you’re going to end up resenting every moment you spend at work. Instead, recognize that you have some control over your work environment. In the next steps, I’ll outline ways that allow you to align your job with the way you work.
2.Perspective. In Creative Confidence, IDEO co-founders David Kelley and Tom Kelley devote a portion of one chapter to the power of perspective.
As an example, they use Tom’s wife, Yumiko, who worked as an international flight attendant in the 1990s. Being a flight attendant wasn’t her dream job, but being able to help people and solve problems was. Yumiko could have looked at her job as a never-ending list of tasks, like getting people drinks and checking seat belts. But she chose a different perspective.
She knew her calling was to be of service, and she recognized she could take control of her environment by perceiving the daily routine of a flight attendant as a way to fulfill that calling.
The Kelleys write:
“…she saw herself as a caregiver in the air, helping her passengers have a rewarding flight experience… What others might see strictly as a job, full of routines and hassles, Yumi viewed as a way to positively impact the lives of others.”
Developing a sense of perspective about your job, and how you can be productive and mindful is one of the most important steps you can take towards satisfaction with your work. Is there something within your job—an aspect that you can view in a new light—that will change your relationship to your work?
3.Understanding Yourself. Step three is figuring out what you need to feel more aligned in your role.
What will actually change the way you approach your job and the way you work? For example, after David Kelley survived a bout with cancer, he emerged with a new perspective on life. But that didn’t mean he automatically knew what he needed to do to make the most of his second chance.
So, he decided to begin “scoring” each day in terms of how much fun he had. After a few weeks of rating his days, he went back through the data to find similarities in the days with the highest scores. He was trying to figure out which activities drove the scores upwards, so that he could incorporate them into his days more often.
You can do the same thing for yourself at work. When you have good days, what were you doing? Is there a way to do those things more often?
4.Building Habits. Once you know what you need to do each day, then you’re ready for the fourth step—building good habits.
Small things, like going to bed on time or short daily workouts can make huge differences in your life if you make them into habits. Try the Pomodoro technique, a time management method that involves working in lots of short, concentrated bursts. The frequent breaks keep you from burning out during a long day.
Consider a day where you do a quick home workout before showering and heading to work. You probably have more energy. You feel sharper mentally. Then you translate that into following the Pomodoro method closely throughout the day. At lunch, you eat a little faster than normal, and then go on a walk with a colleague. The day suddenly feels much more productive and fulfilling than it would have.
Small changes, especially once you turn them into daily habits, can make a huge difference in whether you accomplish what you set out to each day.
5.Evolution. Your last step is knowing when to move on.
If you’ve followed the first four steps—you have a healthy perspective and you’re consistently practicing good habits—then you’ll begin to understand where and when you work your best. And ultimately, your perspective and your habits will lead you towards new opportunities where you’re able to find meaning and work in a way that aligns with you.
Maybe by following these steps you actually find alignment at your current job. Maybe you won’t, but at least you’ll recognize that you need to leave and are in a headspace that gives you the energy to move on.
More people are beginning to understand that our current societal constructs regarding work are at best unnecessary, and at worst, deeply unhealthy. And I promise there are many companies that are working hard to align their environments with the ways their people work best.
If you’d like to explore companies that align with you, feel free to schedule a chat with Edvo or message me directly.
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