It's been a tough time at work. There are lots of things to complain about, all of which our fearless leader knows just as well as the people working with her.
We have limited resources and big to-do lists. We have no natural light. We're in a temporary and open plan office and frequently are asked to move desks or share office space. The air conditioning is either paralyzingly cold or stuffily hot. The technology systems limit flexible work arrangements. Things are changing so much that the targets are constantly moving.
My first thought on getting home this evening naturally was: "Ugh. I do not want to go back there tomorrow.". I complained out loud to myself about a situation that feels like it makes good work challenging, too much like work and not enough like productivity.
Does that sound familiar?
And then as I was getting ready for a nice long stress-relieving run through the neighborhood, I had a thought. "What if I just focus on what impact I want to be able to make anyway, instead of what I don't have?"
What's the vision?
I have a clear vision for work I want to do. In my case, as a Career Consultant at a University, I want two big outcomes. I want every student to have an internship before they leave university (because I believe that experiential learning is critical to professional success), and I want every person leaving our school, 100% of them, to find and engage in meaningful professional work.
It's a bold vision, and it inspires me to imagine a world where this vision comes to life. Making that vision a reality is my problem, my priority, up to me, because I created it. Yes it would be nice if my work environment were more conducive to making these great things happen. Yes it would be easier to achieve those goals if the organization were so flexible it could support me in this goal instead of asking me to work according to its limits. But there are aspects of my professional life I can't control (gasp!), and if I want the chance to do something meaningful with my life, I need to be prepared to achieve my vision anyway. Despite the limitations of the system.
It's common in a situation like this for people to jump ship. "I'm going to start looking somewhere else," would be a very normal reaction to a situation where people don't feel they can do their best work. Or maybe even, "I need to find a new career path". But even if that's the decision you come to, finding a better place could take weeks, or months, so what will you do in the meantime? And what if this is the only game in town or is the best you might be able to expect? What if your vision and desire for how to do your best work outstrips EVERY other option? What if your vision for what you want and how to work is so bold that you are simply ahead of your time, and you can't find the support you want because it doesn't exist yet?
That's when you'll need to learn to bloom where planted. To do great work in spite of your conditions rather than because of them. For me, it's an added challenge to think about how I can do the important work I want and need to do in a situation that's less than ideal. Like providing excellent medical care from a tent in the desert, sometimes you need to make do.
And in a situation like that, some pretty amazing things can happen. Creativity is called upon. Solutions that you didn't think were possible can come to light. You McGyver your way through life and build what you need as you go. When you begin to ask the question, "How can I do what most needs to get done anyway?" instead of complaining about what isn't right, you find workarounds that might be even better than the original ideas of how you'll work and what you'll do.
So maybe someday I'll get to work from my sunny balcony. But tomorrow, I'm donning a blanket and heading into the bunker with headphones stuffed in my ears, fueled by thoughts of how to transform the futures of 40,000 bright young minds into productive members of a global community. And if that fails, maybe there's a bright future for me in office remodeling and HVAC systems.