Career Advice: Coaching By Cath

Why You Shouldn't Believe Everything You Were Told About Happiness And Success At Work
22/08/2011 None

The Four Hour Work Week is basically the result of dissolving every common assumption that people have been making about when, where and how you should work. People have been saying for years and years that your thoughts create your reality, so you need to identify and dissolve your limiting thoughts and beliefs if you want to be successful and happy at work, but few people actually take the time to discover what they're believing about work, and to challenge assumptions about what it takes to be happy and successful at work in the way that Tim did.

Nick Williams, author of The Work We Were Born To Do, says there are a few core beliefs about work that most of us have been socialized into in the Western world - beliefs that serve to really squash our spirits at work, and hold us back from creating work that we love or loving the work that we're doing.

When I read Nick's list of spirit-squashing beliefs, I was particularly struck by two of them. They're not obvious assumptions that people talk about, but they're extremely widespread beliefs that are deeply ingrained for many of us at a very unconscious level. And when I thought about it, I realized that, at the times when I'm stressed about my work, these beliefs are almost always sitting there, under the surface, driving my stress.

Our Purpose In Work Is To Get Approval And Acceptance
From an early age, in our families, and then at school, we're taught to be good and we learn that we're rewarded for certain behaviors and ignored or punished for other behaviors. We learn to pay attention to what other people think of us and to try to please other people. Schools, religious institutions and most other organizations are set up to encourage compliance through reward and punishment systems, and so with all the focus on rewards and punishments, we learn to value outer rewards more than inner rewards, and to be more concerned with the rewards or punishments that we'll get than with the work itself.

We're so used to having our performance assessed and measured and judged, and then rewarded or punished, that we've come to believe that the purpose of work is to perform and then have your performance judged as "good" by other people and to receive approval and acceptance from other people as a result.

Everything That's Important Is Outside Of Us
Another result of the focus on measuring and assessing performance and applying rewards or punishment, is that we've become so used to focusing on those tangible outer rewards that are used to motivate us, that we've lost touch with the intrinsic rewards of the good feelings we get when we do work we love.

Companies measure tangible outputs in the numbers and statistics, rather than focusing on quality, because quality, values, and attitudes are difficult to measure. And so we learn that things that we can't measure aren't important.

The Problem With Believing These Lies
When we believe that the purpose of work is to get approval and acceptance, we lose the intrinsic pleasure of doing the work itself. We come out of the now and focus on other people's past or potential future reactions to our work, and we judge and criticize our own work, stopping up our creativity. We focus on trying to figure out what we "should" do rather than doing what we want to do, and those rules and restrictions further limit our creativity and joy in our work. Of course, it also means that, if you have a manager or boss who doesn't acknowledge and praise your work, or if you don't get some other form of approval such as awards then you're going to start to have trouble valuing your own work and feeling good about it.

This is also particularly important for anyone who's work involves leading and pioneering a new way of being, because the people who've really had a positive impact and changed the world have always been rejected and criticized by the status quo and often the value of their work is only truly appreciated by other people after they're dead and gone.

When we believe that everything that's important is outside of us, we stop looking inside at what feels good, and so we stop following that inner voice, and all our attention is placed on what's outside of us, and trying to follow and fit in with what's outside of us. We try to develop external power through position, wealth and achievements that can be measured and we only value what can be earned, deserved or competed for, so we miss out on valuing and enjoying a lot of the most important aspects of our work - the stuff that can't be measured or competed for.

So consider for a moment then, how would you know if these assumptions about work weren't true? What have you already experienced that let's you know that work can have a greater purpose beyond getting approval and acceptance? What have you noticed that affirms the idea that what's outside of us is perhaps the least important of all things (and the last place you should look for approval and security)? If these assumptions about work weren't true, what beliefs and assumptions about work would be more true for you, and liberate you to love the work you do?

Author: Cath Duncan

Cath DuncanCath Duncan is a life and leadership coach and CareerJunction's resident Career Coach. Through one-to-one coaching and projects like the Bottom-line Bookclub, Cath helps people learn the Agile Living Strategies for thriving at work in this high-change era.

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