Let’s take some time to discuss how we got here. How did your relationship with work get so messed up?
Actually, this is an easy question to answer. Society did not prepare you to have a good relationship with work. In other words, you were not set up for success.
While society emphasizes the need for education as preparation for entering the workplace, little to no emphasis is given to one’s relationship with work. You can find volumes on the value of education, but there is scant knowledge about how to develop a healthy and sound relationship with work.
You weren’t given this information. And without this information, how could you be expected to have a healthy relationship with work?
This is the gap we have in today’s workplace. Rarely do we get the needed insight and preparatory tools for the “relationship” aspect of work.? I want to spend a few minutes reviewing two critical aspects that get missed in our preparation to enter the workplace and which lead and contribute to our messed-up relationship with work.
First and foremost – did anyone explain to you the True Nature of Work before you started your career? Did anyone tell you what you should expect from work (besides a paycheck and benefits)?
Here is a list of facts you should have been told at the outset:
- The purpose of work is twofold:
- It provides you with an avenue to give your gifts and talents.
- You receive fulfillment, inspiration, and joy from work.
- Work should serve you rather than you serving it.
- It is your birthright to experience the True Nature of Work.
Lastly, although, this falls a bit outside the topic of the True Nature of Work, you should have been told that you always, always, always have the power and ability to change your professional circumstances in order to experience the True Nature of Work.
If you look at the above and are saying to yourself “nobody told me this,” then it is no surprise that your relationship with work has gone awry.
The second aspect of preparation for the workplace that gets missed is this: rarely are we even told that we will have a relationship with work. Talk about a miss.
We know that we will have various relationships throughout our life: friends, family, spouses, partners, and even coworkers. We prepare for these relationships by watching how others handle/pursue these relationships. We have models, for better or worse, for familial relationships, romantic relationships, friendships, etc. And if we are lucky enough, we have received sage advice from our models as well.
But who is modeling and/or advising you on a relationship with work? Anyone?
As a result of this void, we haven’t prepared ourselves for the relationship. I can ask any client, friend, associate about what they want in a romantic relationship. Most of us have a list. We want a mate who is honest, loving, compassionate, etc.
We have that list because we are familiar with romantic relationships. We prepare for that relationship either consciously (actively thinking about your desires, needs, and boundaries for that relationship) or unconsciously (modeling behavior you have seen). Due to this preparation, we are, to varying degrees, ready for the relationship when it comes.
But what about our relationship with work? If we don’t even know to expect it, how can we prepare for it? How can we ask ourselves the right questions to identify our desires and needs and the boundaries we need in our relationship with work?
Simple. We don’t. We haven’t been told. No one has prepared us. As a result, we enter into the relationship with work unprepared for it and therefore, we are truly at its mercy. You can see how the relationship with work goes awry right from the start.
We didn’t have the information we needed to be set up for success. As a result, our relationship with work started out messed up.
Shame and Blame
When we start thinking about what was missed or what we didn’t get at the beginning of our career, we can slip into feelings of shame and blame. We can feel embarrassed by the state of our relationship with work or begin to blame ourselves for not being prepared. STOP. Don’t go there.
Shame and blame are, unfortunately, key players in society and in our relationship with work. They are perfect weapons. Each has its specific targets. Society shames us for experiencing a painful relationship with work. Then we inflict blame upon ourselves for experiencing a painful relationship with work. Because these feelings are all too common, I want to break them down so you can understand where they are coming from as well as the inherent falsehood of these feelings.
Let’s take a look at shame first. When it comes to your relationship with work, society uses shame as a smokescreen so we don’t have to look at our pain. We shame each other into silence.
Why? The workplace depends on and feeds off our silence. If we all opened up and looked at our own pain, if we had deep-reaching and fearlessly honest conversations about what work is doing to us, if we put it all on the table, the repercussions to the workplace would be extraordinary. The cat would be out of the bag, and the dirty little secret that work hurts would be exposed. Can you imagine the transformation that would ensue? Society can’t risk that. Employers can’t risk that. They require order. They require production. They require your obedient participation.
We shame each other by buying into workplace myths, falsehoods about work and success. We create slogans for these myths, such as “No pain, no gain”. We believe the myth that those who work the hardest gain the most from work. So we honor the people who work “hard,” the ones that come in first and leave last. We promote the myth that working huge numbers of hours is a sign of success. We tell young employees that they’ve got to put their nose to the grindstone so that they can get ahead. We promote the myth that “getting ahead” is the Holy Grail that leads to happiness. Did you notice that within these myths there is no reference to key the ingredients of the True Nature of Work such as joy and fulfillment?
These are just a few of our modern-day myths of the workplace. If you don’t buy into them, or if the promises of the myths don’t come true for you, you are shamed. People look at you askance. They wonder why you can’t get with the program. They will offer you suggestions so you can fit into the mold, so you can be more like everyone else.
Why does this happen? Because no one really wants to hear the truth. They prefer not to know about your painful relationship with work. Not because they’re selfish, not because they can’t be bothered, but because if Sally talks about her pain to Jane, then Jane ends up having to look at her own pain. And I can tell you from many years of working with clients, people would rather do just about anything else than look at their pain. It hurts too much. So, instead of hearing about Sally’s pain, Jane will shame Sally into silence. It’s easy to do. Rarely does this act come from a place of malice. Rather, it’s a form of self-preservation.
The shaming goes something like this:
Sally: I am feeling unhappy at work. Work is so uninspiring. I think I might be feeling a bit depressed over it.
Jane: Everyone feels like that now and then. But honestly, Sally? What do you have to complain about? You make good money. You work with nice people, and your employer likes your performance. Do you know how many people would love to have your job? In these times, you are truly lucky just to have a job. You should be grateful.
And like an expert swordswoman, Jane has just slashed Sally to ribbons with shame. Although Jane thought she was giving Sally a pep talk, between the lines, Jane just told Sally that her feelings were unwarranted. She just told Sally that her feelings had no value. And this is how we go about shaming each other into silence. In roundabout ways we tell each other to be quiet, to keep the silence, so “I don’t have to hear about your pain because I don’t want to look my pain.” Tell me, after being shamed by Jane, do you think Sally is going risk voicing her feelings to someone else?
To be shamed is to be told that someone believes something you are doing or something you are saying or even something about you is wrong. The human species has a very intense reaction to shame. We retreat into ourselves to escape it. We take the aspect about us that is being shamed and hide it so we never risk feeling the shame again.
Now that we have been shamed for our feelings about work, here’s where the blame part of the shame and blame arsenal comes into play.
Here’s the bad news about blame. Often, it’s a self-inflicted wound. The good news is that we can stop doing it.
Since we tend to judge others based on the external view (the “face” they present), we assume that the workplace myths are true for other people. We assume that the people with the nose to the grindstone, those people who are working very late, are feeling fulfilled and successful. And if we’re not feeling successful, if we’re not feeling happy, if we’re not feeling fulfilled, we must be doing something wrong. We see others day in and day out at the office, and they seem okay. So, therefore, it must be me. Something is wrong with me. Maybe I’m not smart enough. Maybe I don’t play the politics game as well as other people do. Maybe if I were younger or more experienced or more of a kiss-ass. Look, you can put whatever verb or adjective you want into that sentence. But the bottom line is that you’re blaming yourself for something that is not true, nor is it real.
There is nothing to blame yourself for. You have done nothing wrong. It is time to stop blaming yourself for your misperceived faults and see the truth in the moment. The simple truth is your relationship with work is hurtful to you at this time. Contrary to the beliefs of society, there is nothing shameful in that truth nor is there anything blameworthy in that truth.