Monday, October 1, 2012

Making Work Positive

Last Friday I attended a one-day conference where we discussed better ways for the juvenile law system to respond to the needs of children and families. Not surprisingly, it got me thinking about community again, and what a great opportunity conferences are. But something else struck me as well at this conference; they can also be breeding grounds for negativity.

This conference was not that, but there were moments of complaining about how things are today. There were moments of distrust between people who work in different aspects of the system. Overall, the conference was a look at the future and how we can create better systems but those moments made me realize that even when we try to be positive, sometimes negativity pushes its way in.

Those few moments of negativity amidst this amazing coming together got me thinking about how we can breed negativity amongst ourselves, especially in the workplace. While I have lauded the idea of community, I began to realize that being around people who are negative can have a negative impact on us as well. Both Confucius and Harvey MacKay have been attributed with saying, “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The point of this quote is that when we truly love what we are doing, it never feels like work.

But we are fighting some pretty heavy odds. In the modern world, there seems to be an underlying notion that work is difficult and stressful and just something we do to get enough money to pay the bills, or buy the nice house and nice car, or buy the yoga mats and yoga clothes. But work is not supposed to be something we do for love. Even when we love what we do, we are bombarded with a culture that believes work is not supposed to make us happy. Lawyers, I think, get this more than others, particularly in BigLaw. I see it less in the government sector, and even small practices. But the societal notions about work remain prevalent regardless of how you earn a paycheck.

But what are the implications of that?

How many people spend time complaining about their jobs? How many people find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning because they dread the thought of another day at the office? How many people sit at their desks all day staring at the clock just waiting for it to be time to go home? How many people notice everything wrong with where they work but have no desire to make it better? Are you one of those people? And if this does not describe you, do you work with someone like this?

I have never worked in such an environment. I have certainly had my days, even at jobs I have loved, but I have been incredibly lucky to never have a job I absolutely dread, and for the most part, I have always enjoyed the people with whom I have worked. But I have still noticed the effects of negativity, whether I am having a bad day/week, or someone else just likes to complain a lot. What I notice is that negativity eats away at my ability to block it out. And as it creeps in, it begins to consume. And negativity can manifest as pain, insomnia, or even dis-ease. I do not remember where I read them, but I know I have read several studies about the health benefits of companies having a positive working environment. We are healthier when we are happier.

So what do we do when we feel this negativity beginning to affect us? What do we do when it has entered our being so deeply that we begin to live it? Some people love affirmations. For whatever reason, the thought of doing affirmations has never really resonated with me. But yoga and meditation have given me a lot of other tools to let the negativity slip away.

First, asanas are a great reminder that no matter how difficult something may seem today, tomorrow it may be simple. When I started yoga, I could barely touch my knees in a forward fold. I remember the first time I did Downward Facing Dog and thinking I was going to die. Over time, both of those poses became relaxing and deep. And this is a lesson for off the mat as well. When negativity strikes, we can simply remember that tomorrow, it may not be there, and we will learn to work through it and let it roll off our shoulders.

Second, meditation is a great way to just allow the negativity to release. Many people think the “goal” of meditation is to have an empty mind. While some days I think that would be lovely, what I really think we need to gain from meditation is the ability to watch our thoughts and let them go. Whether we are thinking about how beautiful the sunrise was or how much we hate our situation, a thought is just a thought, and we can let it go. It is much easier to let the negativity go if we notice it and acknowledge it rather than pretend that it does not exist. Plus, in meditation, we may notice how it affects our being, and we can see the benefit of letting it go.

Finally, we simply do not have to buy into the mindset that work is supposed to be a downer. Sometimes getting rid of negativity is as “simple” as looking at a difficult situation as an interesting challenge. And we can also be grateful over and over again for all the little joys that happen at work, whether your coworker filled the candy bowl (or the hummus dish) or a client said thank you. And we can remember that whatever the latest television show is saying about how much we are supposed to dread our jobs, we actually are allowed to enjoy what we do.

At the conference, we talked a lot about how to make the system in which we work even better. We could have focused only on all the current problems. But where would that have gotten us? Instead, we looked past the negativity and worked on creating solutions. And that is only possible when we are healthy and happy. How do you see your job? Is it work, or do you jump out of bed every morning excited for the day ahead?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved. 

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