Learning to Love Life’s Work

If you’ve not enjoyed the magical site that is ZenPencils, you’re really missing out on some delightful illustrations of some of the most profound statements and concepts of our or any time. Most recently he did one from Kahlil Gibran’s chapter on work:

“Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy”

Now, before you think this is some kind of “Do what you love!” post, I swear, it’s not! I already said my last word on that subject.

No, this is exactly the opposite. It’s “Love what you do. Or else.

Or else what? Gibran tells a parable warnings about poisoning the bread and wine, but he’s actually not far off: chronic stress is much like revving your car engine at high rpms constantly, with the “stress hormone” cortisol only the tip of the iceberg. It’s a sad phenomenon I’ve seen in some of my friends: they pay very close attention to what they eat, how they exercise, whether or not there’s second-hand smoke around – and yet they also spend so much time worrying about these kinds of “hazards” that they are stressed all the time.

Of course they go to the internet to find forums of like-minded people who can commiserate – wait, is that someone with a difference of opinion? Outrage! The only thing faster than the flamewar typed on their keyboard is the way their blood pressure rises. It kind of defeats the purpose of all that other healthy living, in my opinion.

Work-related Stress Has Serious Consequences.
click for larger version…which makes the stats SCARIER!

But let’s assume that you are only dealing with the “usual” amount of stress in your life – not adding to it for the narcissistic thrill of “healthier-than-thou.” And let’s assume that you are stuck with a job (or occupation or life situation) that you cannot just up and change. Have I just added to the stress level, by showing how essential it is that you start to love the things that you have to do day in and day out?

Gee, thanks, Gray. How are you going to learn to love something that you don’t actually have a passion for?

It’s Simple. But It Ain’t Easy.

I’m not going to pretend to be able to answer that question. I’m not you. But…I do know the formula for changing anything, anywhere, anytime. It’s a simple formula, but it’s not easy.

Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.

Here’s the thing: you can’t be passionate about everything – but you can be passionate about something. Maybe you like bowties, and you start wearing one to work. Maybe you decide that you’re going to make yourself gourmet desserts for lunch every day. Maybe you’re going to buy a weird rainbow hat to wear through the snowstorm, and if anyone comments on it you will simply smile enigmatically.

Do these things seem inconsequential? They are. Completely. Your hat is not going to make a difference in your job. But you’ve already said that your job is not something you can change – which means that number three, Do what you can, rules that out. You can, however, choose your hat. Or how loudly you walk. Or what hand you use to drink your coffee.

Make changes. Control those parts of your life that you can control and make them a little better.

Phase 2: World Conquest

The interesting part of that three-step plan is that once you start doing it, you discover that you have far more resources and opportunities than you expected. For example: you decide that your workplace is too serious and negative. Can you make people smile? Let’s set a concrete goal for “number of responsive smiles” that you can put on other people’s faces during that day. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be in a good mood – you are just trying to make people smile.

Use what you have. As it happens, you have more than just your own grin. What you have is eons of conditioned simian response, mirror neurons and simple human psychology that will make most people smile automatically when you grin. If they don’t – if, say, they back away nervously – that may mean that you need to work on your own smile. But that’s ok – you’ve still gathered information, and that means you have more to use.

Of course, you also are changing your own brain chemistry by smiling more, but that’s simply a side effect. It’s a strange idea, I know, that a workplace with happier people actually feels like a happier workplace…but it’s true.

And that’s just one example. Where are you, and what can you do with what you have? What kind of micro-changes can you make in your world? Tell us in the comments!

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