John came to talk with me because he was frustrated and wanted to quit his job. He’s smart, driven, creative, and as far as he’s concerned, doing crap work. It felt more like he was tasked with burning a budget instead of making a difference.
John: “I’m creating spreadsheets all day.”
Alli: “Not my favorite either. What are they for?”
John: “I know what I’m analyzing, but I have no idea how they’re used. I’ll bet nobody even looks at them.”
Alli: “Let’s hope that’s not the case…”
John was stuck in his perspective that the work he was doing didn’t matter. The deeper we got into it, it became clear that he thought everyone else was making a difference but him. He was bored; bordering on angry.
This weekend, my daughter reminded me of John.
We bought a new lounge chair and when we opened the box, discovered we had to put it together. My daughter decided that she wanted to help us by putting it together on her own. She dragged it out of the box, spread out all the parts and realized that it wasn’t a solo endeavor.
Fast forward thirty minutes and my husband joined the chair-making party. He read the directions, rummaged through all the parts and finally asked her to hold the back of the chair steady while he tried to attach it to the base.
She was frustrated, bored, and willing to do more. Unfortunately for her, she was stuck holding the back. However, without her, putting it all together would have been impossible. On the surface, it looked like meaningless work, but she was making a difference – a big one.
I chimed in and helped her to understand why her job mattered and how much we appreciated her help. It helped shift her perspective, and it changed her attitude; in addition to the overall experience for everyone involved.
Back to John. Nobody proactively told him how his spreadsheet made a difference and where it fits into the bigger picture. Also, just as important, nobody took the time to recognize his effort and appreciate it. He felt like his work didn’t matter because nobody told him that it did.
Wondering if You’re Making a Difference?
1) Schedule a 1×1.
Set up a time to talk about how the work is progressing but also your contribution. Share your concerns and ask about how your effort is influencing the success of the team or program.
Be brave and ask how you can expand the work that you’re doing even as a special project.
Ensure that you’re clear on the vision and overall path. When you know where you’re headed, it’s easier to understand where you fit and where you’re making a difference or just keeping busy. (PS. Most companies don’t want to simply keep employees busy.)
4) Shift your perspective.
Like John, if you’re in the mindset that nothing you do matters you’re probably angry and frustrated too. What if you had the mindset that you’re playing an important part in the overall program? How would that change your day-to-day happiness and energy at work?
It’s impossible to change the way you see your contribution and how you’re making a difference without shifting your perspective. Think of your perspective as your “way of seeing.” It’s like when you go to the eye doctor and you think your current eyeglass prescription is fine until you realize that everything’s been a little blurry. A new prescription not only makes things sharper but also brings what was previously invisible into focus.
The bottom line is that while you may not be doing the “sexy” work, you may be making a bigger difference than you think. When you can only see one piece of the puzzle, it’s impossible to see how it all fits together. However, without all of the pieces, it will never be finished successfully. Take the time to understand your piece of the puzzle and the big picture too.
BREAK THE FRAME ACTION:
Want to shift your perspective? I use several techniques with my clients to help them shift their perspectives. Here’s a quick and dirty version of one of them that will work for you.
Try this easy activity:
1) Write down your current perspective on your issue – Name it. (John’s original perspective was: “Crap work.”)
2) Take 60 seconds and jot down what it’s like to show up day after day with the perspective you’re currently holding. (John’s words were angry, uninspired, bored…)
3) Pick another perspective – an opposite perspective to your first. (John’s was “The Hub” i.e. the center of a wheel)
4) Take 60 seconds to fully step into your new (opposite) perspective and jot down what it would be like to show up day after day if it were your reality.
5) Pick a third perspective and name it.
6) Step into this perspective and jot down what it would be like to show up in this perspective.
7) Pick one and make the conscious choice to hold this as your fresh “way of seeing” and way of being. (hint: probably not the first one that’s keeping you stuck and dragging you down).
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