22 January 2014

Increasing Happiness at Work: Being Enthusiastic, Honest and Smart

I had some really great feedback from last week's post about happiness in marriage, so thanks for your positive response!  This week's post is about Work, and what I learned from Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  Three is the magic number for this series, so here are the 3 Tips for Increasing Happiness in Work!

1.  Enthusiasm > Innate Ability
Enthusiasm is more important to mastering a new skill than innate ability, because the most important thing is attitude, a willingness to practice.  "Therefore, career experts argue, you're better off pursuing a profession that comes easily and that you love, because that's where you'll be more eager to practice and thereby earn a competitive advantage."  I believe there's a balance here, because on the one hand, I really think there's been too much emphasis in our generation on finding a kind of "soul satisfaction" in your career.  I have definitely given advice to friends to stay in a stable job instead of throwing it all up to go start some creative, self-employment adventure, because "sometimes you just need to make money!"  It definitely depends on your season of life...I made a series of decisions motivated by a desire for work that was fulfilling (working for Lahash) over a need for stability, comfortable money, or, y'know...health insurance...(working in politics or insurance), but I was single then.  Now that I'm married with kids, I feel certain that I could not make those same decisions, so I'm certainly glad that I pursued my enthusiasm, especially since I wouldn't have my husband or kids without having come down this path!

Feeling happy or enthusiastic about work is not a replacement for hard work, though.  In fact, I've been reading a couple of books that speak directly to that: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.  In Outliers, a book about how we understand or misunderstand success, Gladwell writes about how hard inordinately successful people have had to work to reach that level of success.  He also points out that, for example, most of the very successful New York lawyers of the last generation benefited from their parents' persistence in working menial jobs in order to give them opportunities.  In fact, a sociologist studied the generational occupations of immigrant families and found a remarkable number of families which followed this pattern: First generation (grandparents) is a tailor/garment maker in a large factory.  Second generation (parents, aunts, uncles) are garment makers, often self-employed or in a small family business, and third generation are doctors, lawyers and other educated professionals.  In How Children Succeed, Tough writes about the growing emphasis that psychologists, economists and other academics are placing on "grit," or the ability to stick with a task in the face of setbacks or disappointments.  Some say that grit is more important than intellect in determining how successful a child will be in finishing high school, finishing university, and pursuing a career.  All this together inspires me, as a parent, to demonstrate hard work and persistence even when facing setbacks, because I'm training my kids through my example.  This links back into having enthusiasm for my career and for tasks within my chosen career, even when innate ability fails me, because my attitude will increase my happiness in my work and set a good example for my children.

2.  Ask for help.
This may seem obvious, but often I find myself so invested in proving myself right or competent that I get overwhelmed or overburdened.  Sometimes this isn't about asking for help as much as it is about letting people know what I need to get something done.  Our work environment is very collaborative, even though my closest co-worker is over 300 miles away and the rest of them are 10 time zones away, so in order for us to be united in developing policies and plans, I have to be honest with them about my work load and my capacity to accomplish what's been set out for me in my job description.  I'm much happier when I have communicated my needs for feedback or guidance instead of just trying to go it alone, even if it makes me a little less Superwoman than I'd like to be perceived as.

3.  Work smart.
Since Rubin is a work-from-home mom, like me, I found her advice on working smarter really helpful.  She analyzed the way she uses her time to see if there were any wasted pockets of time, and found that she was really pretty efficient (the cultural touchstone of American work!).  What she did realize, though, was that her concept of productivity was based on a perception that it wasn't worth sitting down to write unless she could focus for three or four hours, which was difficult to arrange.  Then she realized that for her, 90 minutes was a more "optimally efficient" block of time..."long enough to get some real work done, but not so long that [she] started to goof off or lose concentration."  She completely reoriented her day around these 90 minute blocks of serious writing broken up by other tasks.  Additionally, she pushed herself to find an extra 15 minutes at some point in the day to do some stand-alone task that could be marked off the to-do list.  (This is similar to the "One Minute Rule" of boosting energy.)

Small children are pretty good disruptions to the work day, although having Adera around to interact with Wesley helps me tremendously in getting work done.  Adding a second little distraction in a few weeks will also affect my ability to get big blocks of time committed to work, but I think when I come back from maternity leave, I'll be implementing these two tips for increasing my own efficiency, and thus satisfaction and happiness, in work.

Finally, unrelated to happiness, or anything else for that matter...
My friend Karyn writes a great blog called Girl of Cardigan, and she's doing a series on fashion for mothers, and, weirdly, she interviewed me for her series!  (I'm like the anti-fashionista, just for contrast.)  The post is here: http://girlofcardigan.com/mom-jeans-notes-from-leisha/ or click the image.  Pop over there and read my thoughts on missionary mom fashion!
Mom Jeans: Notes from Leisha

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