You arrive at work tired from a restless night worrying about a “must-win” proposal or how to ask for a well-needed raise. Just a glance at your full inbox and your phone’s message button blinking a menacing shade of red makes your pulse quicken with anxiety. It’s been months since you’ve had a chance to let off steam at the gym. What would it be like, you wonder, to look ahead this year knowing you’ll have a chance to use the thirty some-odd vacation days you’ve accrued over the past two years? Or to have a job that offered flexibility, respect and empowerment?
With the morning’s first meeting starting in just a few minutes, there’s no time to linger on that daydream. Instead, you bang out emails that begin, “Sorry for the delayed response but I’ve been crazy busy.” It’s barely 8 a.m. but already you’re overwhelmed and your entire body burns with fatigue.
Do You Suffer From “Work Sickness?” What It Is and How to Beat It
If so, you may be suffering from a condition I call Work Sickness.
Work Sickness arises when, infected by fears about job security and money, we work without full engagement or real passion. Driven by angst about not having enough, we make the pursuit of wealth and status our life’s mission even when we’re not passionate about the process. We work more, play less and neglect the very reason for our existence: to experience the joy in life.
In addition to feeling anxious, fatigued and overwhelmed, the symptoms of Work Sickness include frustration and despair. The deadline for that “must-win” proposal looms; it seems that getting there will leave you utterly drained. A difficult conversation with a colleague leaves you seething and wishing you could flee. All the while, your inbox just keeps getting fuller. You feel as if you’re treading water at a furious pace yet barely staying afloat.
Needless to say, this takes a toll — one that’s far more profound than meets the eye. Work Sickness, which stems from fear and from focusing on all the things we don’t want to have happen in life — has a negative impact on the body while also delving deep into the human psyche and creating a division between mind and soul. It disrupts our balance, saps creativity and energy, and impedes the pursuit of personal passions. Work Sickness affects productivity, morale and even the manner in which we interact with one another while robbing us of time and happiness. It eclipses the joy of working with a sense of obligation, self-sacrifice and a lack of control.
I once suffered from Work Sickness. As the VP of product management at a digital media delivery provider, I often felt that the long hours I plugged felt pointless: the goal of getting more people to watch TV on their smartphones contradicted my most fundamental values about the importance of face-to-face human connections. The environment was toxic yet I was on the grid round the clock fighting for the job security I craved and believed I needed since my income and my lifestyle — my creature comforts — went hand in hand. I ached to devote my time to something I felt more viscerally passionate about.
Over time, I lost my filter and stopped refraining from throwing up my hands in disgust or coming right out and telling people I wasn’t happy. Ultimately, my attitude caught up with me and I was laid off.
Losing the job forced me to develop a whole new perspective: out in the world with nothing I was a blank slate. In seeking where to turn next, I began seeing a career coach who helped me focus on what my innate gifts are, what I do well and what I love doing. It was scary to be on my own, but once I decided to help others find their passion as a career coach myself, my business and client network started taking on a life of their own and growing fast through word of mouth alone.
In the trenches of the corporate world it’s hard to see past where you are — the little valley you are in. You have to confront your fears and actually go out and search both the outside world and your soul to find your Professional Purpose. Professional Purpose is the place where you bring to bear your unique set of talents, skills, passions and experience into the world while finding fulfillment, fun and financial reward.
Without it, we are all vulnerable to Work Sickness.
The following are four practical steps to discover and live your Professional Purpose:
Tap Your Inner-Knowing
Ask questions instead of coming to conclusions. Questions lead to growth and expansion, conclusions lead to dead-ends. For example: What am I thinking? What else is possible? Would I love this? And simply: Why?
Design a Passion Plan
Surf the web and create a Passion plan comprised of three buckets: Companies that pique your interest, Job descriptions that sound like fun and Specific functions you would enjoy from job descriptions. Once you have your lists, you can determine where to look, what additional training you might need, companies to contact and people to add to your network.
Do the 40/20
Structure your time so that you work your 40 hours but budget 20 additional hours outside of your job to:
Assemble your passion list
Develop & refine your messaging (your LinkedIn profile, resume, etc.)
Network and talk to everyone: Take bold actions like making the calls you’ve always feared and developing ways to stand out from the crowd!
See the Big Picture
Look for patterns and themes in your life. What have they prepared you to do? What do others come to you for advice? What comes as easily to you as breathing but is a struggle for others?
Most importantly, make life about always being true to who you are and not who or what family, friends, teachers and society tell you you ‘should’ be and you will discover your purpose. The more aligned your thoughts and beliefs are to your purpose and passions, the easier it becomes to make decisions, set and achieve goals, and keep Work Sickness from infecting your life — both professional, personal and at the many places where the two intersect.