~ Guest Writer, Dr. Elvira G. Aletta, PhD. ~
“All worthwhile endeavors are 90% work and 10% love
and only the love should show.”
– Chuck Jones
When I was six, maybe seven years old, I got an ice cream sundae. It was the real thing: whipped cream, chocolate sauce, nuts and a cherry on top. Mindfully eating that sundae I remember every little thing, even what I was thinking and I was thinking that when I grow up I’m going to have ice cream sundaes every day! Every. Single. Day. Because I thought, I would be a grown-up and I could do whatever I wanted to do.
I’m still sort of getting over my disappointment that life doesn’t work that way. Just because you love your work, and I do, you’re not going to love every aspect of doing the work all the time. There are tasks that are necessary but are hard, annoying or worse, brain-numbing. People can sometimes be a pain. Hiring is a crapshoot. Regulations and laws seem to block you at every turn. But if you love your work, there is also joy, pride, those moments when it loves you back.
So how can we nurture the love?
3 tips on how to
Keep Loving Your Work
1. Be a Good Boss.
If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can learn how to be the best leader to your people that you can be. A good boss gives adequate time off, respects boundaries, compliments easily and offers feedback quickly, directly and helpfully.
In my work, it’s not uncommon to talk with lawyers, doctors, middle managers, young people, middle-aged, older… who lost their work mojo. Often it had to do with sour work culture, fuelled by a bad boss. These were almost uniformly people who went into the work because they loved it, the idea of it, the ideal of it. Then all it took was a toxic boss and their love was crushed nearly to death by disrespect, pettiness, meaningless tasks, abuse. When efforts to change the work environment doesn’t change anything, you have a choice to make. Stay and find another source for happiness apart from the job (not recommended) or leave and take the risk of finding a way to reconnect with the love of work elsewhere.
And that goes double with how you treat yourself. Entrepreneurs, anyone who owns their own business, decision-makers, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve had to ask myself many times what kind of boss am I? What kind of example am I setting? Because when I was working 12 hour days, skipping lunch or eating dreck at the desk, stressing out over every email, phone call, text, I felt like I had a mean boss.
When I was deciding what mental health professional degree to go for, I went for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. I knew I wanted to be more than a clinician. I wanted to be a boss and the doctorate would give me the street cred to go after that goal. Over the last 10 years I built my practice, brick by brick, from a one woman shop, to a holistic, comprehensive business with two locations and a wellness studio that I opened last fall. I have ten qualified psychotherapists, psychologists, masters level clinical social workers and mental health counselors working at my practice. I have three yoga instructors and a personal trainer, sensitive to trauma informed care, experts in guiding vulnerable people through gentle, yet challenging, physical movement. The Explore What’s Next brand is recognized for quality of service with responsible, evidence-based innovation. And we’re growing.
In becoming a boss myself I learned that it wasn’t easy to be friendly but not a friend, kind but not enabling, direct but not cruel. And to make it even harder, I had to learn how to be a good boss to myself.
2. Nurture Work/Life Harmony
The concept of work-life “balance” is so last century! Can we all agree that to separate the two is absurd? Kind of like saying the mind can function without the body or vice versa, it just ain’t so. That’s why “harmony” is so much better at describing the intertwining of the work and personal aspects of our lives.
American’s relationship to work in general is pretty clear. We value hard work. We admire the “hard-working” person. We define ourselves as “hard-workers” with pride. That probably comes from cultural principles that range from the immigrant Puritans to our immigrant parents or grandparents who came here precisely because they’d be free to work hard for themselves instead of for Da Man.
Now we know that hard work does not stand alone. It takes relationships, family, friends, spouses. It takes a whole-hearted embrace of all that life offers, your kid’s lacrosse games, school concerts, candlelight dinners, days at the beach or hiking. It takes church, temple, community action and volunteer work. Love of work comes easier to those who live a full life.
3. You are your instrument. Love yourself.
My love for my work originated with the fascination I had of my father’s work. He was a psychoanalyst, old school, Neo-Freudian. He loved his work and he shared what he could but you can’t very easily bring your daughter to work when you’re seeing patients for psychotherapy. So his work remained a little mysterious. Regardless, he made it clear how much he loved it. He helped people be happier in their lives, with themselves. How cool was that?
My dad was also a physician and made no mystery of wishing his kids would go to medical school. I tried, I really did, but pre-med organic chemistry kicked my ass. I did not have the motivation to work hard at the pre-med courses. I wasn’t “called” to be a medical doctor. I remember telling my somewhat disappointed Dad that I was quitting pre-med to apply to grad schools in clinical psychology because, “I’d be a so-so physician, but I could be a good psychologist.” I knew this in my heart. Love was taking root.
In honoring my work I’ve had ups and downs. Last year I had a bad depressive episode. I knew it was bad when I woke up and realized I didn’t want to go to work. The joy of work was gone and had been for some time. My light had burned out. It scared the shit out of me.
RELATED: “The Freedom of NO” —by Elvira G. Aletta PhD.
Somewhere along the way, we learn to feel guilty saying no. And that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Yes is so positive! So powerful! I was saying yes to everything and for me, it wasn’t good.
Circumstances tried to stop me, us, you. But we persevered! When I was at my lowest, thinking that maybe I should call it quits, I did what I usually do when I’m not sure. I seek stillness, quiet, and wait. I wait for the Truth to come through the noise of fear. The Voice deep inside me that is the Universe, God, the Divine Spirit telling me what she wants me to do. And she says, “You’re OK. Stay the course. I want you to do this. Just this. You may need to make adjustments, take a break. That’s OK. Just don’t quit. You’re good.” That’s love.
So I got to work, practiced radical self-care, upped my exercise and meditation practice, made real changes in what I did and how I did it. Hired an assistant!!! All these changes cleared the stage so that Love could reveal itself again.
If you love the work, nurture it, care for it. You are your work so it makes sense that you need to care for yourself, nurture yourself. You are your instrument. Treat yourself like a rare, precious Stradivarius.
Later today, when I run into the surprise-annoying-challenge du jour, I may not be as connected to the happiness, but the love will still be there. I still love ice cream sundaes. Maybe I love them more because I don’t have them everyday.
Elvira G. Aletta, PhD.
Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. is a wife, mom to two adults and one horse, psychologist and writer who lives in Western New York where it’s cool to wear a cape and tall boots every day.
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