Photo by Leighann Renee on Unsplash
A client asked me “How would I figure out if I loved my working life?” It’s a great question, and within it there is a lot of instinct, in some respects you just know if you do or don’t love your working life. But what about the part that isn’t instinctual, the part that has you wondering what does love of your working life look like? It’s about what motivates you.
As an example, a healthy attachment to your working life is one where you can give your time, effort, expertise and even your affection for your working life without having to worry that your employer will take advantage of you, close up shop (leaving you without a job) or fail to meet the commitments they made to you (i.e. they accurately pay you on time, support your ongoing development, etc.). There is a consistent and complimentary flow of needs and wants that you and your employer provide to each other, and going in to work is usually a pleasant experience. There are good days and bad, but they balance out and your well-being is well supported through your work. You are motivated by the positive impact your work has on yourself and others.
An unhealthy attachment to your working life is one where you are trying to appease your employer (or your loved ones…or yourself) by going in to work because it provides something you feel you desperately need but in isolation of what else may be needed (an income, social status, belonging, etc.). Unhealthy attachment doesn’t offer the complimentary flow of needs you see in a healthy working relationship, it is one-sided. This can be for a variety of reasons, it could be that you’ve over-extended yourself in a bid to find security at work (always being available, always saying “yes”) and your employer has come to expect this as the “status quo”, not recognizing it for the heroic effort it actually is. It could be the need to appease family expectations by remaining in a job or a workplace that isn’t challenging you or is burning you out (perhaps because the salary allows you to best meet family obligations). Your employer may not be ethical in it’s employment or business practices…the examples of what an unhealthy workplace can look like are legion. With unhealthy attachment the motivation to continue the working relationship is one of desperation, based on fear or anxiety (trying to hang on to what you have), or because of a need for your work to define you.
Unhealthy attachment can make us do some very bizarre things; as an example I became so attached to the idea of putting my education to good use that I took a job with a 1.5 hour commute to work (60+ km’s)…one way. It was great work experience, but completely unsustainable. The impact to my well-being was felt for almost a full year after I left that role, which of course I was only able to see in retrospect. My family, on the other hand, lived it daily. We will convince ourselves, for many well intentioned reasons, that what we are doing is right; when we are in the throws of attachment we do not have access to objectivity…or options. We cannot see “the forest for the trees” so to speak and get lost in tightly holding on to what we think we have or need. It’s important to note that healthy working lives have both balance and flow; there is no selfishness present (on your part, or that of your employer). You are open to new things (i.e. change), and comfortable with the fact that no employer is perfect. Your employer is also well intentioned, invested in helping you to learn and grow in your role, and all of this takes place in a sustainable way. No punishing commitments, unethical behaviour or ridiculous hours (or commutes).
Take a look at what is motivating you to head in to work each day, and look at it with as much objectivity as you can (ask yourself what it is you are attached to) to see if your working life is something you can love (and loves you back). Healthy attachment means you can have the working life you both want and need, giving to yourself and others effortlessly.
If you’d like to learn more on this topic, here is an article on attachment you may find useful (within the context of interpersonal relationships): https://www.powerofpositivity.com/3-differences-love-attached/