I’m an empath. One of those super sensitive people who picks up on the emotions of those around me. When someone is angry I feel physical pain, whether the anger is expressed at me or not. Worse even than anger is being the recipient of jealousy. It literally feels as if someone is stabbing knives into my body.
Torture for me is having to spend 8 hours a day among crowds of people who are permanently unhappy, angry, jealous or resentful. It’s so unbearable for me to constantly be exposed to this emotional cruelty that we believe is normal, that I can’t work in a big corporate environment anymore. It’s also the reason why I am so deeply passionate about the subjects I write about, mainly leadership development and organizational change.
I find it incredibly sad that so many people are spending the majority of their day wishing the hours would pass. I find it intolerable to think that one in six people on average rely on anti-depressants to get through the day, with more relying on a drink after work just to relax. The bigger part of me, however, selfishly feels angry that I’m the one that has to leave these toxic environments because people refuse to change or even admit that it is unhealthy in the first place.
What angers me more however is all the leaders and change-makers reading about solutions but doing nothing, waiting for it to happen but not willing to take any action themselves.
So here’s the thing. It’s not going to change if you don’t change. All these beautiful visions of the future of organizations means nothing if it remains words.
Knowing is not enough.
You don’t experience the exhilaration of a deep ocean dive by reading a book or watching a documentary. You experience it by jumping in the water and getting wet.
You don’t become successful by keeping your day job, passively hoping someone will discover you and offer you your dream job on a golden platter. You only experience success by putting everything into making your dream become a reality and actively taking steps towards it, however far away it might seem. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to catch up with it.
Similarly, you don’t become an inspiring leader or change maker by reading books or watching TED Talks. And it definitely doesn’t help engaging in gossip and blaming someone else for everything that keeps you from reaching your goals.
It takes doing.
1. Realize no-one is doing it to you
I fully understand why people stay in positions and places they hate. I’ve been there. It feels as if it’s not possible to break free. Even more than the impossibility, however, is the fear. What if it doesn’t work out? What if you get in trouble? How will you support yourself? What will people say?
These are all very valid fears and you should listen to it rather than jumping ship without a safety jacket, but realize that no-one is keeping you where you are. No-one is forcing you to stay. And no-one is making you unhappy.
Employment is a voluntary process. You are being suppressed and denied only as much as you allow it to happen to you.
2. Ask yourself whether it makes you happy
Everything starts with awareness. I’m always amazed at how few people can answer me when I ask them what they like about their job or what makes them happy.
The most important thing you can do to create a less toxic, more healthy workplace, is to prioritize your own personal happiness. What makes you happy? What do you like doing?
The more emphasis you place on your personal happiness, the more benefit both you and your employer will get from it.
Chances are you don’t hate your job so don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Become aware of what you like and re-evaluate and re-negotiate the parts of your job that doesn’t make you happy. Maybe it means delegating a job to someone else or getting an intern. Maybe it means automating part of your job. Maybe it means saying no to a boring meeting you hate. Maybe it means having a serious talk with your boss asking for a relocation or an extended leave.
3. Find what feels good
Awareness is not enough. Once you know what you like, every day, spend a few minutes to move more into the direction of your happiness. If it feels good, spend just 5 more minutes doing it every single day. That’s all it takes.
Don’t aim to cut out everything that makes you unhappy from your day, rather aim to increase the things that do make you happy. Slowly shift your focus and actively look for things that makes you feel good.
According to science, the ratio of good to bad should be 5:1 to change, and 3:1 to sustain happiness. Chances are that your workday is closer to a 1:10 ratio, and it’s unrealistic and unsustainable to expect yourself to suddenly feel good for the entire day when on average contains maybe 15 minutes of joy when you chat with a colleague in the kitchen.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. A step-by-step approach is guaranteed to get you to your destination. A big jump will most probably only cause injury and further delay your trip.
4. Surround yourself with happy people
You are the average of the 5 people you spend your time with. Are you spending it with people who complain about everything that is wrong or are you spending it with people excited to find solutions?
Actively search for people who have a passion they actively pursue. Join a Meetup on a subject that excites you, enroll in a class or start a new hobby. Find and make friends with people who have the same interests as you and spend more time talking about what you love than spending it at the office complaining about the things you hate.
5. Speak up
Your boss is as powerful as you allow him to be. It took one person with the courage to speak up to effectively cause an entire restructure at Uber, with more than 20 people fired.
Let me repeat that. It was one person, a normal employee, not a senior manager or executive in the company, who played the right chess piece at the right time to result in the entire leadership team being reshuffled, more than 20 people fired and even the CEO being on indefinite leave not actively running the company.
One person’s voice.
Imagine how fast the world will change if more people had the courage to speak up about the injustices at work rather than quietly gossiping about it at the coffee machine.
Blame is toxic. When you are busy blaming it means you are not taking responsibility yourself. The fewer people take responsibility, the less change can happen in the workplace.
If you want a happier, healthier more human workplace, it’s time to stop knowing and start doing. Don’t wait for anyone to make you happy. Take ownership of your own happiness and be the change that you want to see in the world. Now.
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