My 14 year-old daughter Annie and I have a running joke. It started one day (a few years ago) while I was folding laundry (yes, you read that correctly). Annie asked me why I like doing laundry so much
“Excuse me,” I asked, astonished at the question, and laughing at the absurdity of me actually LIKING to do the laundry.
“You don’t do the laundry because you like doing it?” she clarified.
“Ha! Not even close, Annie. I do it because it needs to be done,” I replied.
“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows furrowed with this new piece of information.
The running joke, now, is that I love doing laundry. Annie will say, “Well, Dad, I would help you, but I know how much you love to do the laundry and I wouldn’t want to take away all that joy you get.” Or, she will say, “Dad, why don’t you let someone else do the laundry for a change?” Annie makes me laugh.
It has given us occasion, too, to talk about the nature of work. We’ve talked about how work is hard, and often takes a lot more energy and time than we had imagined. She’s asked me why some people get to do what they love and others do not. We’ve even talked about the fact that some very hard-working and determined folks cannot find a job. Or don’t get paid enough to take care of life’s essentials.
The Good Book refers to these as “thorns and thistles” and explains that it’s “by the sweat of your brow” that we do our work. That’s what we are talking about—the reality that often, our work is hard. Time conspires against us. Problems creep up, miscommunication causes confusion even among the best team. Thorns and thistles.
So, when the thorns and thistles abound, here are a few strategies for rediscovering the deeper purpose in your work:
- Build the team. When we’re slogging through work, take some time to focus on making the team stronger. In research comparing high and poor performing teams, communication, it turns out, is a controlling variable (Pentland, HBR, April 2012). So, whether you are the leader of the team or not, initiate an activity that gets people talking—together and more often, and even better, about meaningful topics for discussion.
- Learn something new. The best companies know that a culture of learning is key to long-term corporate success. When obstacles arise, consider challenging them through proactive learning actions. Look for an online class, a workshop, conference, or series of books on a certain topic.
- Unplug. Sometimes, when the thorns and thistles abound, unplugging is the best action of all. Stepping back from the problem creates a new perspective, restarts tired thinking patterns, and refreshes your energy to take another run at the challenge. The act of unplugging also gives you margin to see better, and that often has the effect of re-ordering priorities.
What strategies do you employ to deal with the things in your work that you don’t necessarily love to do—like laundry?!