An elderly gentleman was asked by a traveler on the road to describe the nature of the people living in the village just ahead. He answered the stranger’s question with a question of his own: “What kind of people lived in the area you have just left?”
“The townspeople of the village I left were lazy and stupid,” the traveler said. “That’s why I’m moving on.”
“Keep going,” the older man replied, “for you’ll find these village people also to be lazy and stupid.”
The next day, approached by another stranger making the same inquiry, the townsman again inquired in kind, “Of what type were the citizenry of the town you just left?”
“They were kind-hearted folk, quick to lend a hand or an opportunity,” the stranger replied.
“Ah, you’ll find those same people in my village,” the old man advised. “I’ll lead you there myself.”
What’s to be learned from this parable? The more dissatisfied you were with your last job, the more intense the honeymoon rush likely will feel after starting a new job, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. Then, after about a six-month honeymoon period, we settle in, work becomes routine, and we realize our niche or role in the new organization. Too often, we then see the same workplace environment ahead of us that we last saw in the rear-view mirror.
Want to break the honeymoon-to-hangover cycle? Armed with a determination to enjoy rather than endure a workday, and a few insights, we can better design our own workplace village. Here’s how:
1. Feeling under-employed? Set goals. Redefine your present job as a steppingstone to the job you want and then go after it with gusto. Identify what you need to get out of this opportunity before moving on, and then tease out all of the training, networking opportunities (colleagues, vendors and customers), and potential references this job could possibly provide. Make the company work for you while you work for the company.
2. Is the glass half empty or half full? In almost any circumstance, you choose whether to be contented or disgruntled, and a conscious change in perception is the quickest way to change both behavior and attitude. We used to think that attitude always had to change before behavior could be tackled, but behavioral psychologists now understand that change can also happen in reverse: If you ACT like you like your job, you actually can LEARN to like your job. Go to work every day as if going to your dream job. Fake it ‘til you make it, in other words.
3. Answer the hard questions. How does your job experience relate to your life experience? Do you typically stay in a house, a relationship, or another personal situation for too long? Or have you realized benefit from hanging in there and trying even harder? Knowing yourself, and what you might expect from increased effort (or staying too long after the lights are off) can help steer you toward either a mental resolution or a physical separation.
4. If you truly feel that you are wasting your talents in a job, know when to fold. Every hour lost to resentment is an hour you cannot get back in your life. Is job satisfaction having a steady paycheck or respectable title — or is it living life with a purpose? Jeff Gargon, host of VoiceAmerica’s “Career Contentment Radio” advises, “Career is the pursuit of contentment derived from meaningful work, not just the pursuit of the transient satisfactions that keep you dependent on employers.” But he also notes, “…satisfaction is an either/or proposition.
In other words, you may have a good job and are well paid with great benefits and working conditions, but if your boss is a jerk, your entire job begins to sour and you think you need a new one. What’s missing is an understanding of the acceptable middle ground. Once you understand this, your world takes on a whole new appearance and some of the dissatisfactions become a bit more tolerable. This is a strength we can all use more often.