Guilt, Work & Play
What is work?
I think when you ask most people their minds go to a long day, the feeling of weariness. You picture someone hunched over a desk unhappy, or digging a hole, sweaty and exhausted. It is hard, maybe menial, it isn’t fulfilling and it is busy. Output, output, output.
I’ve been struggling with a feeling I have never really contested with at work before- guilt. Why you ask*? *(No one asked). It's because I have joined somewhere where they force you to rethink what is work. I joined Potential and I got told to ‘do less and think more’. What does that even mean!? The first time I heard it, I could feel all my muscles tense because I was thinking in a binary way. ‘Oh so you just want me to do nothing and sit in a fugue-like state?’.
What is really being said, what the point is, is that we all need space to connect to the dots. It doesn’t mean you sit there all day and do nothing. It doesn’t mean you don’t have mad sprints of meetings or projects. What it does mean is that you aren’t ‘busy’ all the time. Busyness is addictive, it makes you feel important and productive but often that is an illusion. If you are busy all the time you do not have a chance to sit and think about that project, to have the random conversations with someone where you all of a sudden go ‘Oh god, Jim would be perfect for that, we need to put him in contact with Sarah and that bottleneck is now gone!’. If you are to be an effective and capable leader you need the time and space to think strategically, to look at the bigger picture. If your nose is to the grindstone the whole time this is not possible. But thinking isn’t ‘work’ right? Well someone has to do it or, to quote a very bright person I know, you end up with a bunch of people digging holes but with no idea what for or where it’s going.
All our lives most of us are conditioned to value visible output. Can we see the effort/strain/difficulty? This in itself isn’t bad, but I believe that when you combine it with the term work, most people arrive at something that feels fairly miserable and unrewarding. Challenges, stress and effort can be incredibly satisfying in the right environment, but when we think of that what word comes to mind for most people?…Play.
I have noticed that some of my friends have jobs they just love. Generally, they are excited to do the work, not every day, but most days! They have found something they are good at and enjoy and challenges them- maybe that is in marketing, design, trading or engineering. They take to this easily and they don’t question it. Then you have others, myself included, who historically have felt like if it wasn’t a bit miserable, a bit shit and a bit hard it wasn’t work. If it didn’t feel like that I didn’t value the output.
I am still guilty of this but getting better. I have realised that when you find the right seat, large parts of your job can just feel like play and you are REALLY effective at it without even realising it. Working with Potential has been a bit of a lightbulb moment for me in that sense. It is something I am still exploring and understanding. I have no doubt my thinking and understanding of this will continue to develop and evolve.
As an example, I love speaking to people. I could do it almost all day. I find people fascinating, I want to know what makes them tick, what do they enjoy doing, what has their journey been like in life. Everything. I love meeting people and expanding my circle. Everyone is interesting when you get to really dig into it. Because of this, my network is always expanding and I am able to make helpful introductions sometimes too. What I didn’t realise for years is that some people HATE this. What is described above is their idea of hell, they find it draining and tiresome. When I get to go out and talk with people and build relationships for my job I used to (still do) feel guilty for that because it's fun for me. Like I should be chained to a desk banging keys.
Now I am not suggesting some magical world where everything feels like play. However I am asking people who read this to do a few things:
- Be kinder to yourself
- Think about areas where you feel this guilt, is it because you aren’t doing anything or is it because you aren’t valuing what you are doing.
- If it's the latter let the guilt go. It is still something I am working on. Catholicism takes deep roots… 😂
- Think about balance, its not about sitting around like a monk, but also not about running to pillar-to-post all day. You must leave time for both.
At Potential this is what we want to do, help people explore and find their seat. To shed the conditioning that most of us have had from school days and onwards is not easy, but it is important. We are all more productive, happy and effective when we embrace this.