By Noelle Sterne
When we work fully and positively, recognizing its value, our attitude then becomes one of giving and thinking of those who will benefit.
Do you wake in the morning and groan? Not because you can’t face another spartan breakfast of dry toast and skim milk, but because you dread your day job? All you crave is to stay home and paint, write, work on your latest interior design, or binge-watch Baywatch reruns.
But you force yourself to get up, grumbling, and stub your toe on the pile of your rolled-up canvases, novel drafts, swatch catalogues, or last night’s popcorn kernels. As you rush out the door, you scowl deeper, anticipating another awful day at work.
Such an attitude, which I too have harbored, is harmful, even damaging, to our psyche, our present job, and our future creative work. The remedy smacked me in the face right at my desk. Inscribed on my little blue vase of dried flowers to the left of my computer screen was this message: “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
This notion may sound cliché, distasteful, or outrageous. But, as a minister’s experience, described below, and my own show, you can change how you look at your distasteful job, how you feel, and thereby what you experience—and get closer to the dream of what you know is your “real” job.
Your Terrible Day Job
Paul had always wanted to work for the church and someday pastor his own flock. Just out of seminary, he joyfully accepted a post at the headquarters administrative offices.
On his first day, the assistant office manager showed him to his office. Paul stepped into a badly lit cubicle with a single lamp, a desk, and a worn wooden chair. Stacks of letters obscured the desktop, and squeezed among them rested a large, almost vintage electronic typewriter. Paul’s elation and ego fell flat.
The assistant manager informed Paul he was expected to answer a certain number of letters daily, and they would be reviewed by the supervisor before mailing. “Good luck.” The man left.
Paul sighed, guiltily wishing this prayer hadn’t been answered. He sat gingerly on the hard chair, poked at the typewriter, and took the top letter from the nearest pile.
And so began weeks of toil. Paul managed to produce the required number of letters, but he developed eyestrain, backache, and an unpleasant disposition. After work, he ate too much, watched too much television, and found it harder to get up each day.
One Friday, Paul’s supervisor took him aside. “I know you’re doing your best,” said Mr. Rennie, “but something is obviously bothering you.”
Eyes down, Paul mumbled, “I’m fulfilling my quota.”
“True,” said Mr. Rennie. “Your letters address the issues, but they’re”—he raised his hands as if looking for the right word—“uninspired. And several people in the office have noticed your negativity.”
Paul squirmed. Needing this job, he didn’t want to admit his dissatisfactions.
Mr. Rennie, a kindly man who saw Paul’s distress, suggested they meet after work the coming Friday at the local coffee shop to talk more. Paul agreed, feeling still uncomfortable but slightly relieved.
In the coffee shop, Paul found himself telling this surprisingly sympathetic man about his excitement at acceptance to the headquarters. He smiled for the first time in months. Then he burst out, “But I got the most insignificant job in the whole place!”
“Oh, Paul,” said Mr. Rennie, smiling. “No. You have one of the most important jobs in the whole place.”
Paul looked bewildered.
“For so many people, you’re the very first contact with our church. Your reply determines whether they get the information, support, and comfort they need. Your responses answer their prayers!”
Paul’s eyes widened. He’d never seen his job this way.
See Your Day Job Differently
For the entire weekend, Paul thought about Mr. Rennie’s words and prayed for long periods. And he had no desire to overeat or watch too much television.
By Sunday night, Paul realized several things. He had viewed his letter-writing as only menial and boring. Now, he saw, his letters gave people what they needed. Wasn’t his mission as a pastor to help, whatever the form?
On Monday, Paul bounded out of bed, arrived early at work, smiled at everyone, and dove into the letters.
A few months later, Paul was transferred to another position and progressed through the organization. After several years, he pastored his first congregation and went on to establish his large, successful ministry in New York City.
What was Paul’s lesson—and ours? He learned to see his job differently and then acted differently. How we act applies to all of us who feel dissatisfied, frustrated, annoyed, or downright enraged about where we are in our lives, careers, and creative pursuits.
Perform Your Day Job Differently
When I had an office job, my attitude was much like Paul’s first one. I constantly complained to my friend Peggy about the boss, the excessive work, my constant exhaustion, and how I’d never get to write, my true passion.
Peggy, so wise and spiritual, waited until I finished grousing and said quietly, “To get out of this job, plunge into it. Give it a hundred and fifty percent.”
She nodded and said nothing more.
I huffed for a few days but finally succumbed to Peggy’s advice. At the office, I concentrated only on the work and doing it well. To my shock, everything went smoother. I stopped resenting the boss and felt less spent when I got home. Most evenings I even wrote for a half hour.
Feeling better, I became friendly with office colleagues. As I told them about my writing, they asked for help with letters, announcements, children’s stories. Word got around, and I took more assignments. Eight months later, I was able to leave the office job.
What’s the Bloomin’ Lesson?
Our problem isn’t the work, tasks, circumstances, or environment. Think of prisoners of war and victims of natural disasters. How do so many rise out of their terrible conditions? They embrace a hopeful, undaunted outlook.
And here’s the big lesson: Our attitudes influence our experiences.
How do you feel clearing a friend’s dishes after a party or your family’s nightly after dinner? Washing your watercolor brushes or the house painting brushes? Getting wet at the pool party or in the rain on the way to the office? How can you transfer the enjoyment of one to the aggravation of the other?
When we bloom where we’re planted, we invest ourselves wholly in the work before us, whatever it is, however we may have judged it. As the Zen saying goes, chop wood, carry water. This statement means to do your work fully and positively, recognizing its value—waiting tables, washing clothes, balancing accounts, chauffeuring children, writing poems. Your attitude then becomes one of giving and thinking of those who will benefit.
My little blue vase reminds us, as both Paul and I discovered, that the lesson is to see and do your initially detested work in a different light. When you bless others this way, the blessings will and must come back to you multiplied.
Remember that your work, whatever it is, is good work. Every job matters and contributes. Hold to and act on these thoughts. Bloom where you’re planted, and your good work will metamorphose, slowly or speedily but inevitably, into your good creative works.
Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. (Columbia University), author, mainstream and academic editor, writing coach, workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, has published over 400 writing craft and spiritual pieces, personal and academic essays, poems, and fiction in print and online periodicals and blog sites. Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, New Age Journal, Ruminate, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Magazine, Textbook and Academic Authors Association B log, Two Drops of Ink, Unity Magazine, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. In Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go Aft er Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), Noelle helps readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. In Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) she helps doctoral candidates complete their degrees. Noelle is finally rounding the completion corner of her first novel. For more, see Noelle’s website: http://www.trustyourlifenow.com.
Noelle’s webinar on writing appears in the Writing Gym of Textbook and Academic Authors Association: ”Get Started, Continue Your Draft , and Finish!”