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The Meaning is in the Details

By Dan King

work life balanceIn every workday, there are rituals that set the tone
— the morning coffee, the daily news, the commute — and how you choose to experience these routines can shape your outlook, determining whether you have a good day or a bad day.  Take yesterday, for example:

I’m standing on a crowded subway platform awaiting a delayed train at North Station in Boston.  I have checked my phone twice (nothing new there) and have started tuning in to the conversations within the crush of humanity that surrounds me.  On my left two guys are bragging about last night’s exploits, one outdoing the other, the stories clearly enhanced for maximum effect.  I doubt much of what I’m hearing.

Over the PA system, a disheartened transit authority employee murmurs something indecipherable, followed by an disingenuous apology for the inconvenience.   On my right, a well-dressed couple buried in shared sections of the Boston Globe, shake their heads and look at their watches.  He sighs and mumbles “this freakin’ train”  This prompts me to recount how many train songs I know — Takin’ the “A” Train, Blue Train, Peace Train, Love Train, Midnight Train to Georgia ……I’m on a roll.

But my attention gets diverted by a perky ringtone behind me followed by one-half of a conversation between a young woman and her alleged friend.  The gist of the conversation is “I’m like so not there … Seriously?  OMG, that’s totally awesome …. then he goes …. and so I goes, duh…. and he’s like, not cool.”  I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about, but I am completed entertained ….. like, totally!

I marvel at this theatre that surrounds me.  These slice-of- life moments can either annoy or amuse, depending on how I choose to process them.  So I choose to record my whimsical observations for this blog post.   My point:

If you look for the humor in everyday life, you’ll find it.  If you look for the annoyances, you’ll find them too.

Every minute of every workday doesn’t have to be meaningful, but if we look for the novelty in the routine of our day, we make ourselves happier.  And happiness leads to a more meaningful worklife.

Certainly there are aspects of your day-to-day job that can easily trigger an underlying irritation that festers throughout the day, up to and including your return home.  And your prickly mood can become even more amplified when exposed to the stress inherent in the incivility of your daily commute.

By the time you get home, you’re spent.  You just want to whine about your day to a sympathetic ear.  But that ear is attached to someone you care about — a spouse, a partner, a friend — onto whom you unload the residue of your lousy day. The significant other, trying to help, gives input which tends to ignite the situation.  Face it, you don’t want input, you just want to whine.  Now your bad workday spirals into a bad evening as you transfer your irritation onto those who most care about you.  Nice going!

Many years ago, my wife and I established a “whine and wine” policy for times like these.  If one of us has a bad day, we can declare a “whine and wine, ” which allows up to one hour of whining about the day.  The other has to listen (or pretend to listen) without judgment — but they get to drink wine.  I’ve learned to savor the evenings when I’m the “whinee” — and of course, the wine makes for a better evening all around.  Try it.  It works.

Your work is but one strand in a complex web that includes your personal life, your family life, your spiritual life and so on.

If something is not right with your work, it’s natural to take it home with you, just as if something is not right at home, you take it to work with you.  You can’t compartmentalize your worklife and lead a happy personal life.  They are intricately linked — as are the day-to-details that comprise them.  You need to find meaning in the disparate roles and rhythms that weave your experiences together into a full life.  Because if you try to create meaningful work in a vacuum, you may get blindsided when it sucks the life out of you.  That’s what vacuums do.

Let’s see there’s Hoover, Bissell, Shop-Vac …… Yep, I’m definitely on a roll.


MeaningfulCareers.com was created by Mark Guterman and Dan King, two guys
with a shared commitment to the power of meaningful work. They help
professionals find greater meaning in their careers, lead happier, more
satisfying lives, and instill lasting value through their work. For more
information and resources visit: http://www.meaningfulcareers.com


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