For my graduation from Indiana University with my Master’s, one of my mentors gave me a small, orange journal as a parting gift. Yeah, it wasn’t a $50 spot or a new Jaguar, but it was meaningful nonetheless. And it has that classy faux-gold leaf stitching around the edges so it looks like an ancient text. He told me that my first few weeks at my new job would be a roller-coaster — full of ups and downs — and he challenged me to take some notes in it so that I could remember how it felt to start something new.
I wrote a total of about 249 words in the journal, about one-fourth of the length of this blog post. I’ve never been much of a Doogie Howser (flashback!). But as I was reading through those 200+ words of wisdom the other day I realized I had actually written something of real value. Under the heading “What I See Will Be the Keys to Success in this Job” I penned the following:
That last one is the zinger. I didn’t realize at the time how true that statement would become.
Doing what you love doesn’t always require a dramatic move, like quitting your job in order to become a full-time pig farmer. Sometimes it does, but oftentimes it doesn’t. In fact, dramatic shifts are often more realistic for individuals who are either A) single, B) retired, or C) living on $12K a year. Granted, I made a dramatic shift when I was neither A, B, or C, but it was definitely the hard way to do it. Imagine the blow to the economy if everyone left their job to start an ice cream stand or to free-wheel through Latin America while selling e-books on the side. Sure, Latin American tourism would get a boost and e-books would be a dime a dozen, but stable jobs would disappear, the economy would crash, and a tidal wave would rise up out of nowhere to engulf the northeast and destroy the New England Patriots practice facility and football stadium — which may not be that bad after all.
I’m not in the business of shooting down dreams if your hope is to be an entrepreneur and start a money-making blog or other venture, but I am in the business of suggesting that this isn’t the best or only option for all people because we all value different things. Some people prefer stability and a steady paycheck to more freedom and an erratic paycheck, and it is often determined by other factors in your world. For those of us who need a job to support our families there is hope that we can still do what we love without a major life change, and it can be found in two little words: job crafting.
According to researchers at the University of Michigan, job crafting is the practice of redesigning your job in way that incorporates more of what you do well and that consequently leads to “engagement, resilience, and thriving at work.” In other words, job crafting is all about figuring out what comes naturally to you that you love to do and finding ways to introduce more of it in your job while still managing the core requirements of your position. Instead of looking at work as an either/or effort — I can EITHER do what I love and leave this job OR do what I hate and stick with it — it’s a both/and philosophy — I can BOTH do what is required of me at work AND do what I love. The two become one, like the Spice Girls always said.
According to these fine folks’ research, there are three ways to job craft:
1) Alter the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, changing the scope of tasks, or creating mechanisms to simplify tasks. For example, my predecessor in my previous job in Las Vegas was a prolific program developer. He loved to work behind the scenes to plan programs that others executed. I am admittedly more of a front-of-the-house kind of guy, so I took more ownership for not only creating programs but finding ways to plug myself into their facilitation.
2) Changing relationships at work by altering the nature or extent of interaction. If your position generally has little human interaction but you happen to thrive on relating to others, find ways to plug more relationship-building into what you do. For example, if you design software, create a mechanism to interact with users of the software and receive feedback in person. Or, if you are a researcher who typically works in a lab, present at a conference and network with others with whom you can build long-standing, and potentially beneficial relationships.
3) Shift how you cognitively view your work. For example, rather than looking at a task as “compiling a spreadsheet of past customers” you could see it as “searching for past connection points to amplify future business opportunities.” Suddenly you are no longer a minion completing an otherwise tedious task but rather an integral part of the marketing team, identifying past clientele that you could reach out to in order to develop relationships and increase future sales.
These principles hold real power and potential for individuals who are looking to increase job satisfaction but who may not be ready for a dramatic shift. I have used these principles (without knowing it) in my past two jobs to carve out my niche and play to my strengths. The thing to remember is that this isn’t a one time effort…you will not likely be able to shift your job overnight, nor will you suddenly feel better after you’ve molded your job to your strengths. Job crafting is a continuous process of doing more of what you love. But redefining what you do will lead not only to more joy from 9-5 but increased opportunities as people begin to recognize you for what you do well.
So give it a try. Today. Identify one of the three ways that you can begin to shift your job and make it happen. And, as always, let me know how it goes. Oh, and share this with your New England friends…just so they have ample warning should this “quit-your-job” fad gain too much traction.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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