I overheard an interesting conversation on the train a few days ago. I don’t normally eavesdrop private conversations on public transport, however on that day my headphones were buried deep in my bag and this girl had a particularly penetrating voice. Then she made a startling proclamation that stopped my attempts to ignore her – I simply had to know more!
‘My job is soooooo boring’ she moaned, in a tone of voice that carried with it an implication that she regarded the primary business of her employer as maintaining her amusement at a level just this side of unbridled ecstasy. My mind wandered to her employer and their perception of their role in what sounded like a terminal case of under-stimulation. I also wondered what was preventing her from leaving her clearly imbecilic employer, who was clearly failing every day to appreciate her multitudinous talents, in order to become the leader of a troupe of chainsaw-juggling trapeze artists.
I don’t deny there are jobs that involve a few repetitive tasks that require very little creative input in their performance – I fear that some politicians see their speech-writers in this category – but, I wondered to myself, are jobs boring or are the people that fill them simply unimaginative?
I smiled as I thought of that well-known saying, often attributed to a Zen master:
Watch your thoughts, for they will become your words;
Choose your words, for they will become your actions;
Understand your actions, for they will become your habits;
Study your habits, for they will become your character;
Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny.
I don’t presume to know much about this young lady based on a brief, and somewhat one-sided, conversation but ask yourself this – how do you think someone who thinks her job is boring and says her job is boring might act in the workplace? Would that person be a dynamo, seeking out opportunities for learning and development wherever they could be found, or would they most likely be slumped at a desk counting down the seconds until the company recognises the enormity of their error and begs them to take on the role of CEO, if they could spare the time.
I sometimes speak about Employment Arbitrage – the difference between the value you place on yourself and the value your employer does. I’m sure we’ve all encountered people who perform the bare minimum of work simply as proof of brainstem activity and who are steadfast in their determination to maintain that approach until such time as the company pays them what they themselves believe they are worth or gives them the best, most exciting, highest-profile job in the company with nothing to recommend them other than their own mental PR reel. I hate to break it to you, but if you’re one of them, don’t hold your breath waiting. In fact, just as a matter of interest, how has that approach worked so far? I know, I know – it’s not your fault. There’s nothing you can do about it, you poor thing. It’s up to the managers to make your job exciting enough for you to even consider firing up another cylinder, let alone all four (or 6, or even 8 if you see yourself as being on the executive fast track).
Attitude is infectious
An enthusiastic motorcyclist in the past, I dutifully attended the UK’s annual Bike Show every year more out of habit than necessity. This was always, for some peculiar reason, scheduled for the middle of winter which in the UK is an experience best viewed from behind glass rather than from behind a motorcycle fairing. Despite this I persevered, mainly due to the fact that hordes of beautiful women – promotional models hired for the event – would endeavour to sell me, well, just about anything to do with bikes yet on this occasion one stall caught my attention – a mixed group of university students earning some holiday cash by promoting a brand of waterproofing wax with not a bikini or mini-skirt in sight – this in itself was a unique approach, I thought. Most were going absentmindedly through the motions of selling a product that they could barely remember the name of, yet one of them stood out in stark contrast to the rest. The energy he projected as he went through the same pitch over and over again with a never-ending stream of potential clients was magnetic. I can still, almost fifteen years later, remember the enthusiasm in his voice as he treated my boots and told me all about this product and how it would change my life. I ended up buying a very simple concoction of beeswax and silicon, and all because of the way one young man showed up in life, with energy, enthusiasm and a hunger for opportunity, not to mention the determination to grasp it when it came.
That young man had made the decision to see every job he took as a student, regardless of what it was, as a series of opportunities for learning. That job, spending several days on his knees rubbing wax into peoples boots, taught him things like how to initiate a conversation with a sceptical potential client, what that potential client’s needs might be and how to determine the best way to pitch a product so that the client was convinced that it met those needs. It also taught him something else – humility, and the honour there is in making an honest living by your own hand rather than waiting for someone else to do it for you or hand it to you. I have no idea what that young man is doing with his life now, but I’m certain he’s no longer on his knees rubbing wax into peoples boots.