A significant part of our roles at work is to solve problems that are specific to our expertise. We are often employed because we are able to help others solve problems within our unique niche.
If you have a clogged sink, you might need a plumber. If you called a plumber, and he came and said “Sure, we’ll just bypass it by installing a pipe right through your front door,” you’d probably get an instant hernia and then throw him out. Why is this?
The problem is solved, but not in the way you wanted it to be solved.
The reason that people pay us for our work is that it’s not easy. It’s not their expertise. They may not have the time, knowledge, or energy to figure it out. So they hire us.
1. Work is hard and requires effort, but we’re generally happy to put in effort for people who appreciate it.
Providing a service is rarely easy. We accept money in exchange for putting in the effort to solve problems in the way they want their problems solved.
In the same way that your bosses, clients, or customers don’t want to put in the effort, you sometimes don’t want to either.
But! And this is a big “but”—the reason why we don’t want to put in the effort to serve the people paying us for our work is almost never because of how hard the work actually is.
It’s almost always because of how we feel about the people paying us for our work. It’s about the relationship. Typically, we expect to feel rewarded for our work and have a positive impact on someone who actually appreciates it. Work that goes unappreciated feels like work not worth doing.
Work that is appreciated is invigorating—in fact, the harder it is the better!
The key to feeling purpose in work is the impact and the appreciation that follows. . Some people can silently save the world, but not most of us. Many of us desire to be thanked; otherwise, we burn out.
2. It is our responsibility to seek out the appreciation that we so deeply desire.
Now here’s the bad news. If you’re not being fully appreciated for your work, you’re the one who has to change things. In this situation, you typically have two options.
Option 1: Leave and find a job at a company that actually celebrates you.
Option 2: Train your bosses (as well as your teammates and customers) to appreciate you and give you the support you need to do great work.
The reality is that even if you take Option 1, you probably still have to do Option 2.
So how do you train people to appreciate you? Here are four steps:
- Step 1 (the hardest step)—Soothe your inner child and activate your inner adult.
We’ll get to that. This is the only step we’ll actually flesh out here, since the rest are outside the scope of this article I’ll lay them out anyway below.
- Step 2 (the next hardest step)—Become a psychological detective.
Find out what work will be most appreciated.In other words, figure out which problems your bosses, teammates, and customers want to be solved and the ways they want those problems solved.
- Step 3 (not as hard, but scary—Do the work that will get you most appreciated first.
Leave other stuff for later, put less effort into it, or delegate it. Hint: the tasks that are most appreciated are rarely what you think. The work that is most appreciated is often stuff that NO ONE wants to do. Conspicuously volunteering to do unwanted tasks (and crushing them) is a fantastic strategy to get people to notice you.
- Step 4 (the long, transformative game)—When someone appreciates your work, respond with disproportionate enthusiasm and point out how generous they are.
This resonates deeply as positive reinforcement. When someone goes out of their way to appreciate you, you make sure that their brain has a positive association with doing it. They’ll do it more.
3. Tending to our inner child allows us to activate our inner adult. This allows us to solve problems.
Getting back to step 1, soothing your inner child and activating your inner adult. If you don’t do step 1, you will find it almost impossible to do any of the other steps.
Soothe the child inside you. Who is this child? It’s you, when you were young. But it’s still you now. We all have an inner child, we just disguise it with adult language.
Inner children all want one thing: connection.
Connection is hard to define, but think of it as a midpoint on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is domination, or being overpowered by another person. On the other end is neglect or abandonment, or being left alone. Those are the two basic types of disconnection. Connection, on the other hand, is when you’re being neither dominated nor neglected. It’s a delicate balance.
When we were both dominated and neglected as children, we felt disconnected. We wanted connection, but we were unable to get it. As a result, we sought a poor substitute—power.
Power is the ability to dictate the terms in a relationship. The person with power can get other people to do things. That’s almost like connection, but there’s a difference. When we feel connected to another person, we want to do things for them simply because that connection allows us to know them. When we notice that another person has power, we want to do things for them because we want some of their power.
Disconnection feels like powerlessness. Someone else is either dominating or neglecting us, and that feels like they have power over us. We are powerless against them
4. What gets in the way is feeling disconnected and powerless, which makes us fall into the inner child behaviors of dominating or neglecting the people around us.
So we learned how to dominate and neglect, and that’s what we do to get feelings of power back as quickly as possible when we feel disconnected and powerless. This is the context for not wanting to do our best work for the people paying us for our work. We feel disconnected from them, and we feel powerless, so we dominate and/or neglect them to get the feeling of power back.
But this is a vicious cycle because dominating and neglecting other people triggers their feelings of powerlessness, causing them to dominate or neglect us. This triggers our feelings of powerlessness, causing us to perpetuate the cycle.
At work, this often shows up as passive aggression. (“You didn’t reply to my email, so I’m not gonna reply to yours, Brian! How does the neglect taste?!” Or “you shut down my awesome idea during our meeting, so I’m gonna, very politely, tear you a new nose hole the next time you show even the slightest bit of vulnerability.”) This is the glowing anticipation of dominance.
These strategies are the inner child’s way of getting the feeling of power back. Obviously, though, it takes away our actual power because your actual power is being able to motivate other people to do things that are mutually beneficial to us and to them. It’s not manipulation, but training—in the sense of leveling up other people to be better versions of themselves. Real power is the ability to soften a power struggle and create feelings of connection.
We gain actual power when we show up as our inner adult. The inner adult is patient and willing to take blame. When we’re in the space of our inner adult, we can look out at other people and observe them clearly. We can figure out what they really want and need, and we can show up to make it happen.
5. To activate the inner adult, we have to soothe the inner child by validating our feelings and finding our lovability. Then, we must remind ourselves of our deeper commitments.
Step 1: Identify and acknowledge the inner child’s thoughts and feelings.
Our thoughts often cloud our feelings. “That jerk-head” is a thought, covering feelings of anger, fear, sadness maybe. Listen to your thoughts, but look for the feelings they point to. Some will be obvious, others hard to detect.
Step 2: Validate and love your inner child.
Your inner child is lovable, whether you remember that or not. Your inner child wants just one thing: connection.A good place to start is by validating your feelings. “Yes, it makes sense that I’m angry. So-and-so said such-and-such, and now I feel powerless. I’m mad at them for making me feel powerless AND I choose to find love for myself even though I feel like others don’t care about my wellbeing.”
Step 3: Remind yourself of your deeper commitments.
Deeper commitments are part of your identity and what activates your inner adult.. Maybe you see yourself as a person whose mission is to live spiritually and trust the universe. That’s deeper than a momentary feeling. It’s something that guides your behavior in any situation, whenever you remember it.
After identifying your inner child’s feelings and finding even 2% of your lovability, reminding yourself of a commitment to trust the universe will enable you to be more observant of what’s going on around you.
It empowers you to say and do things to secure the results you really want, rather than going for a quick feeling of power that would come from ignoring someone who needs you, or dominating someone who will not admit that you’re right.
Please take to heart the fact that none of this is easy. Work is hard, and connection is hard. Deep commitments are hard. But remember this; You get to be alive. You get to have your beautiful life, and there’s no finish line you’re running to. You’re just here to create connection and align with your purpose.
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