Thursday, October 20, 2011

Back And Forth I Sway With The Wind

Today was one of those days where my overall mood swung back and forth with unusual force. There were moments of excitement and euphoria after completing a meaningful writing project but also a prolonged period of a downer mood after sensing that the work culture has increasingly become reactive and discouraging. The latter was emphatically punctuated by one of the most depressing meetings that I ever witnessed, work or otherwise.

In a nutshell, our team received an edict from the faceless Powers That Be that our group was expected to produce improved output while being given reduced resources than ever before. Never mind that this has been the modus operandi of the past two years. The mood at the meeting felt rancid: the words and body language of the attendees reflected anger, hopelessness, despair, and apathy. It wasn't any one particular line item which triggered the darkened clouds in my mind, but an overall feeling of an impending long, cold winter looming and glooming on the horizon. Perhaps my source of frustration today is that work doesn't have to be this way.

I noticed a huge contrast. The work committee which I participate in convene for an hour every month for a production meeting. We have a goal of organizing and distributing a tangible product which brings our workplace closer together. It's the best hour ever spent at work each month. The vibe of this group's meetings is so different than what I witnessed earlier today. We enthusiastically brainstorm without harshly judging, discuss ideas for future products, become excited about the successes of our peers, and are genuinely interested in learning and doing. The esprit de corps in the room is so contagious: all seven of us are united by our common desire to create superlative work that brings groups of people together. I feel at ease being in a room with others who push to find commonalities among people instead of putting up barriers. I feel more engaged when everyone in the room becomes excitable about the work they do while respecting each other and their ideas--this is a huge contrast from the staff meeting earlier today where participants looked detached, indifferent, and often distracted by their smartphones. I suppose it's no surprise to me that my writing triumph earlier today involved material for the stellar work committee.

I don't feel that I'm burned out at work though. I have no problems motivating myself as I hold myself accountable for performing work at a high level every day: half-assitude is not in my repertoire. I seek to make awesome (and make my customers' day) with every piece of work I engage in. I feel that the quality of my work generally speaks for itself; I don't need the validation of the Powers That Be to determine my self-worth (although periodic acknowledgement of awesome work done would be nice). However, I am starting to question whether it's worth it for me to expend my efforts in an environment where the command-and-control noose becomes tighter each day, and where my sense of SCARF (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness) shrinks over time. To invoke a Seth Godin concept, is it time for me to lean into the Dip and work through the steep struggle curve, or is it time for me to quit before playing a game where the long-term outcome is neither great nor purposeful?

Perhaps it's time for me to find an environment where I can thrive among the producers, achievers, movers, artists, and visionaries, instead of being treated like an interchangeable cog in an assembly line. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to look for a work environment where people exude a contagious joie de vivre. I've already spun some wheels in motion to explore these possibilities. Security is nice, although a sense of purpose trumps the former. Sometimes that is a scary place to think about, though.

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