I don’t believe in fairies. I don’t believe in magic. I do however love reading of wizards and so on, just like I love reading science fiction books depicting large scale fleet battles. It’s a thing I do, so shush. The point of all this is you don’t have to believe it to enjoy it. Likewise, I made myself adopt or remember any piece of good advice or explanation regardless of who said it or why. So don’t be intrigued by the fact I’m quoting religious texts when I’m a rather shy atheist, or movies, or books, or whatever fictional characters somehow managed to pass through my bullshit detector. I take whatever I can, wherever and whenever I can get it. I’m not ashamed of such a behavior since in the end, it’s my well-being I’m looking after. There may have been a few occasions you probably thought to yourself “this guy’s nuts”, especially when reading whatever I write on the “work” area. I may be nuts though, that one’s debatable since to be firing an odd number of cylinders requires knowing the right number of cylinders – a comparison to what is thought of as “sane”. Put me inside an insane asylum and I’m the odd one. Put me with the Mormons and I’m the crazy fellow with the green moustache and blue beard. But you might even take my assertions at face value – I can’t see myself not working. I’d find my two functional neurons short out within a month. What I’m actually suggesting is … balance. Work and live my life. I love challenges, I love squeezing the last drop of neural juice when facing difficult problems to solve. I love it when it’s hard – because the harder it is, the less uncertainty I face.
I find myself at odds with the common view of life, the socially accepted and politically correct views being taught in classrooms and today’s corporations. I think fear is not a feeling we should be embracing, whether it’s fear of losing one’s job or fear for not being adequate enough. I don’t like the feeling I get when the only choices I can make are between freezing to death this winter or starving next summer. That’s not a choice, it’s a bullshit situation but it’s something some might recognize as their reality. I don’t like what most think I should like, I don’t adhere to most of their principles or demands. I don’t like people telling me what I should choose, what I should do or what I should think. It’s exactly that crap I took for granted and it almost ruined me. Work is nothing in itself – it’s a means to an end, it’s not an identity, it’s not what defines me – because if I were to think about why I’m happy now, it’s not what I do. Add a crappy boss and some stupid coworkers and my happiness could be misery. Who I choose to work for makes or breaks for professional happiness. This is what most people don’t get – they aren’t happy at work so they want to do something else, they fantasize of pursuing whatever passions or dreams they think they have while simmering like a pressure-cooker. Only they aren’t happy because of other people’s behavior not the intrinsic characteristics of their work. It’s the people who make us miserable, not what we do. There’s no shame in washing toilets. There’s no shame in walking dogs. There’s no shame in wiping poop from disabled people who can’t do that for themselves. Work is work, there’s nothing shameful about it. But if you let others laugh at you, demean you or push you around when you’re working, you’ll let them do that to you when you’re pursuing your dreams. Bottom line is this: the people might change but you didn’t. All your failures, all your shitty days, all your failed relationships have one thing in common – you. Unless you change, they won’t stop.
One thing I’ve seen for myself when I was working my way across the financial district – the worse of the worse, the biggest human misery was in the sales or marketing department. Below the manager level, everybody was miserable and nobody was happy. I don’t think I can tell you more except for the fact all my dreams began with my resignation. I was dreaming of getting out, every damn day for a very long time. Eventually, it happened. But let me tell you this: nothing, not money, not bonuses, not cars, nothing can come close of balancing the fear, dread and anxiety I was feeling. It wasn’t what I did – it was who I did it for and who was around me. My managers, my clients, my fellow coworkers, everybody was in it and the rule of the day was do or die. Do or you lose your job. Fear for breakfast, fear for lunch and fear for dinner. Sleep? Yea, like that one’s gonna happen without “liquid aid”… I might not have what it takes for that kind of work but my point is – why is it like that? My last 3 years have been paradise compared to those memories. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t happy at work – and not because of what I did or how much I worked. I used to be a manager and my peers might be laughing their asses off if they ever saw me now, only I only know of one fellow who managed to keep managing – the others are all off the grid. I don’t keep the same company as I did then. But I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Ever. I must be crazy, right? I could use some more challenges, some new fields to test my will against, though. But I can’t ever imagine going back. Is that wrong? Should I want something else? No, I don’t believe so. You might, though, but in that case ask yourself this – what do you want? No, don’t read from the corporate “social responsibility” manifesto, use them neurons for once. What is it that you want? Is your life complete now? Are you ok?
If I’m not happy, I tend to surround myself with unhappy characters. If I’m happy, I tend to be around happy characters. It’s a validation of my choices, of sorts. Everybody does it. Now what happens if I’m suddenly going from not happy to happy? Those around me, those who were like me, won’t enjoy this – because I’m no longer in sync with their view of the world. If I’m happy, then the fact that they aren’t could mean they made the wrong choices so they try, sometimes without thinking, to bring you back to their level. If you’re happy, they’ll try to make you unhappy. If you’re unhappy, they try to make you happy. They won’t accept somebody who doesn’t mirror them. But that’s not the worse of it. If you’re happy and they’re not, they might even sabotage your life. If you’re losing weight and they’re not, they’ll ask questions like “are you sick?”, or “wow, that’s not healthy”, or “you don’t look so good now”. It’s not an objective opinion, you have to remember that, it’s their identity asserting itself. They identify to the group, they identify as “fat”, as “unhappy”, or whatever. If you change, their identity is challenged so you’re labeled as a threat. As something to fix, to remove, to put down. If you want to change, if you ever want to succeed at that, surround yourself with the right people. And this isn’t only aplicable in relationships, it’s something to strive for in your professional life. You have absolutely no idea what toxic coworkers can achieve if you let them. It’s not what you do, it’s who you do it for or with. Passions can be hobbies. My passion is math, lately, for instance. You can do that in your free time. You can learn to play guitar. But work is work, it has nothing to do with passion and everything to do with the people.
I’m not a people person, I’m sure you got that by now. I’m not a people person by choice, though. I don’t feel confortable around a couple of traits people have, stupidity being at the very top. Next one in line is the herd behavior, conformity. The other one in my top 3 is narcisism. I avoid those three any way I can, I’ve been kicked around too much by them. Unfortunately, they’re way too common. Working for or with somebody with such traits can be quite toxic because they aren’t thinking of you at all except when they consider you a threat. You don’t matter, unless you’re showing skills they don’t have and if you do, you’re a target. People make or break everything, they are the literal difference between a happy or unhappy experience. If you let them.
I’ve been quite happy working with unskilled workers and I’ve been quite miserable working with self-centered specialists who’d do everything in their power to avoid work and stick the blame on me. I can’t evolve in a toxic environment because every moment of free time is spent dodging bullets. I can’t be happy unless my work is the only thing being evaluated, not my choice of clothes manufacturers, not my lack of expensive gadgets and certainly not my adherence to group beliefs.
There is no passion involved in happiness. I’ve heard that a million times – follow your passion, do what you love doing, and so on. It’s wrong. Passion, interest, love, those things are good for hobbies, not work. I work for money and experience. I don’t dare confuse those with the things I love, never. The second I think I love money, I’m in deep trouble. One of the first things I managed to learn over the years is love and passion belong in my personal life, not in my professional one. They belong at home. They are your true wealth. They are my true wealth. Love is about control, about self control, it’s about giving and receiving, about sharing. Your work isn’t. Your employer isn’t. Your coworkers aren’t. Love isn’t a business transaction, within the limits of contracts and due dilligence. If you confuse feelings with choices you’re on the wrong side of the equation, feelings aren’t something you can control. They are on the opposite of reason or logic. Work is quantifiable, even if it’s not about building a house. There are metrics for tracking quality or customer satisfaction. There are no metrics for your feelings. Work is what you do for others, not for yourself. It’s ok to take pride in your work, it’s ok to build your self-esteem on the quality of your work, but never, not for one second, believe you work in order to feel. If you believe you do, either you have no idea what feelings are or there’s something wrong with your head. You aren’t an asset, you’re a liability, an expense. Your employer doesn’t own you, they owe you for services rendered. After all, they pay you, right?
So take my advice – work hard but work for the right people. Work with the right people. I’d rather have those around me try to cheer me up when I’m sad than have them depress me when I’m happy. Think of your work as a source of pride, a way to discover your limits by overcoming challenges and also a way to experience and learn new things. Know your value and your price and demand it. Work is a great way to improve yourself, so use it. Your employer pays you for your work, make sure you do it well. But other than that, the only one responsible for your life is you.