When we start our quest to live an awesome life, there are so many little things that will shift and change as we go along. It’s all a wonderful process of exploration, right?
But as we go along our journeys, it’s tough to really see how much progress we’ve made and how to take the next step.
Sometimes, the only way to see things for what they really are is to compare.
Let me paint you a picture…
2008: I’m straight out of college, working at a non-profit — my first real job. I wake up at 6:30am and leave the house by 7:10am. I drive for an hour and jam to music in the car, wishing I’d never arrive at my destination, but I do. I sit behind my computer in a dark room, working on our organization’s website. I hope nobody walks into my office or calls my phone to send “work” my way. My tasks aren’t terrible, and I have a good amount of freedom, but my heart isn’t in it. I’m bored out of my mind.
2013: I’ve set up my own company, which is comfortable enough to be labeled a “success.” I stroll out of bed at 7am and walk to the computer. Thanks to my keyboard, I don’t need to brush my teeth before communicating, but I do anyway. I’m a clean typer. I sit and read and tweet and reach out and create for hours upon hours. I come up for air when I need a workout, food, or a hug. My father-in-law asks me:
“Don’t you ever get bored of clickity-clacking on your keyboard?”
But I don’t know what that word means anymore. Bored? For as long as I’ve been working on my own projects, I haven’t felt bored once.
How did I get from the feeling bored working at a non-profit to feeling exhilarated working for myself? I’ll tell you.
How did I transition to serve the right people that inspire me to do my best work? I’m still working on it, but I’ll tell you that, too.
Let’s walk through each element, guided by video games. Yes, video games.
The Boredom Test
If you haven’t heard of Jane McGonigal, you’re about to fall in love with her.
Some of the most popular games in existence, like Tetris, never allow the player to win. Instead, the game is programmed to offer a level of play that is in perfect accordance with the player’s skill level, keeping the player incredibly engaged and enthusiastic.
Games can be a pleasantly challenging treadmill, becoming more difficult as you improve.
When you’re playing Tetris and you lose, all you want to do is play again. McGonigal explains:
“All good gameplay is hard work. It’s hard work that we enjoy and choose for ourselves. And when we do hard work that we care about, we are priming our minds for happiness.”
But does that describe our day-to-day lives?
According to McGonigal, there are four elements that must be present in our lives and work in order to prime our minds for happiness:
- Work that we enjoy
- Work that we choose the work for ourselves
- Work that we care about
- Work that is difficult
Most of us have been hearing about #1 – 3 for the past few years with the whole “follow your passion” movement — but what’s with #4? Why do we need difficult work to be happy?
So many people dream about retiring to a white, sandy beach but do you know how boring that would get after the first week?
According to McGonigal’s research, doing work that is difficult and matched with our skill level is the best kind of work — we’re always stretching to improve without feeling too overwhelmed.
We’re optimistic that we can achieve it, but it’s no walk in the park.
That’s why I work hard to surround myself with people that provide me challenges, that push me to improve, that never let me rest on my laurels.
Enjoyable, hard work that we choose and care about is by definition never boring.
When I was at the non-profit, I was missing most of those elements. Now, I’ve incorporated each into my life and work.
But what about you — are you bored?
Why Boredom Matters
Some of us are bored in our lives because the work we do is missing one of the important elements — but it’s important to ask yourself a few things:
- Which one am I missing?
- Why or why not?
- What can I do to change that?
If you’re not enjoying your job, why is that? If you can’t choose your work for yourself, what could you do to change that? If you don’t care about your work, what do you care about? If you’re doing work that’s not difficult enough or too difficult, should you get better or find a different task?
As McGonigal says:
“Being really good at something is less fun than being not quite good enough — yet.”
Ask yourself the right questions, dig deep, and figure out what you can do to get excited instead of bored.
“When the source of positive emotion is yourself, it is renewable.” — Sonja Lyubormirsky
At first, I wasn’t convinced that this was the right approach because it’s scary to make certain jumps to start doing work that’s exciting. My first jump was quitting my job, my second jump was restructuring my entire company, and I’m in the middle of my third jump right now, switching the types of clients I work with.
This last jump is risky, but do you know what sealed the deal in my heart?
Working with a long-lost friend who dreamed of turning her online presence into something awesome.
After we finished working together, she had this to say about me, which shocked me:
“Marcella has the heart, passion & fluidity of a creative, while having the execution skills, vision & pragmatism of a CEO.”
Clearly, I did something right — but it’s not what you think it is.
I provided good service, sure, but the most important thing I did right was choose to serve the right people.
When I work with people I enjoy serving, my approach is different — kind and invested in their success. My friend even said I have “the wisdom, patience & guidance of a coach.” But my corporate clients probably see a different side of me — a colder, efficient, transactional side of me.
I found myself looking forward to meetings with one and dragging my feet to meetings with another. I found myself going down fun rabbit holes with one and counting down minutes with another.
The difference between the two is simple: one is an entrepreneur wanting to improve the world, the other is a company wanting to increase profits.
There’s nothing wrong with corporate clients, except they don’t inspire me — and I’m in this to do the best work of my life.
This is how I feel for figuring this out:
Are you with me?
Boredom is a living purgatory. Follow your spark of excitement to serve the right people.
PS. I have a secret to tell you. I’ve been working on a small redesign of this site to match all the stuff I’ve been figuring out over the past fifteen days. I can’t wait to show you next week.