Is your job making you sick?
Every time I have occasion to visit my family doctor, I think about how much it would suck to have the job of a GP. All day, every day, they see humanity at their lowest. We go to them when we are sick, injured, or broken – literally. The primary tools they have available to help us include either referring us to another doctor or prescribing drugs. It must feel helpless. When my doctor enters the examination room and meets me with her glassy stare, I wonder if she can even remember why she chose the profession in the first place. I suppose it’s presumptuous of me to assume what it’s like for her, but I know I would not thrive in a situation like that. I fear I would lose my faith in the innate well-being of humanity.
Interestingly, when I reflect upon my own profession, I am aware that people also come see me when they are at a low point in their life. More often than not, they are also sick. Sick of their jobs, that is. Most complain their job is “sucking the life out of them”. For some, though, the situation has progressed to affect their physical health. Some suffer with adrenal fatigue or depression. Others live with chronic conditions such as paralysis, pain, or cancer. Many have taken stress leave to cope or are relying on long-term disability to survive. Now, I’m not saying their jobs have caused the sickness, but I can’t help to see a correlation.
Most people I see are sick – sick of their jobs.
Before we get to the stage of being sick of our jobs, often there are early indicators of malaise. The symptoms are subtle at first. We might get restless, disinterested, or bored with our job. If nothing changes, it could progress to dissatisfaction, building to resentment. If we carry on with the status quo, our distress can escalate to frustration. If we internalize our anguish, it can subvert into harmful behaviours such as rage or sabotage. If we don’t heed the warnings when it’s time to make a change, we might be forced to leave through illness.
Why we get sick
One of the predominant conditions reported to me by those who are “sick of their job” is that they have had to deny parts of who they are to do it. They have had to sever pieces of themselves just to fit into the prescribed “box” of the job or organization they work within. I see this present itself in many different ways. They tell me stories of having to:
- Hide aspects of who they are so as to fit in with the company culture
- Put on a happy face meanwhile suppressing the struggle they feel inside
- Compromise their values out of fear of losing their job
- Force themselves to perform tasks they have no interest in doing
- Stifle their voice because their ideas are too “out there”
- Deaden their dreams because they’ve been shamed for being “out of reality”
- Pursue conventional employment solely for the money, when in their hearts, there is nothing conventional about the life they want to live
To deny who we are in any aspect of our life, including our work, is a painful experience. It goes against the laws of nature, which is why it is so agonizing. We are contradicting our own existence. If the painful situation is prolonged, eventually we will shut down to mitigate our suffering. However, the problem is, in doing so we also cut ourselves off from receiving our life-force energy.
Denying who we are disallows the flow of our life-force energy.
One of the other qualities I notice in many who are sick is that they have a hyper-responsibility to being in service to others, often doing so to the detriment of their own well-being. When we give away more energy than we allow ourselves to receive, the inevitable result is depletion. The problem is that most people with this disposition usually have such strength of character that they will often “tough out” a bad situation for longer than may be healthy.
So why do we put ourselves in these situations? Why do we deplete ourselves to the point that we can barely get out of bed in the morning? Because we’ve been taught that’s what work is. That suffering is “normal” and that we have to be good worker bees and sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of the greater good. We have been taught that “work is a necessary evil” and “hard work is the path to success” and other such nonsense. All of these beliefs just act to further divide us from our natural state of well-being.
So what can we do to bring ourselves back into vitality? We create work that allows us to be all of who we are.
Bringing ourselves back to life
Throughout my early 20s, I was often reprimanded at my jobs. Not for my performance, however. What my employers didn’t like was that I wouldn’t abide by the limitations imposed on me by the job. I am forever wanting to learn and grow. This was not always supported.
At one company, I was in an organizational role in the production department. The job was rather rote for me as I can streamline processes like nobody’s business. However, there was another position within the company that intrigued me and I wanted to learn more about it. My colleague in that role was happy to share her knowledge. During the moments when I wasn’t busy with my own assigned tasks, I would peer over her shoulder and ask her questions about her work. The owner of the company did not approve. Finally, one day he strolled out of his office, came to stand over us, and ordered me to go back to my desk and “not leave it again for any reason”. For a short time, I did try to obey, but every day, a small piece of me died being chained to that desk. Eventually, I stopped acquiescing. I decided I was not going to allow another person to dictate my life. You might not be surprised when I tell you I got fired from that job shortly thereafter. In the end, it was for the best. The notion that some other person could have that kind of control over my future did not sit well in my stomach. It was the very last time I ever put myself in an employment situation. I’ve been self-employed since.
It might sound like I’m suggesting that all bosses are unsupportive or the only way you can have job satisfaction is by starting your own business. That’s not so. Some of the people I have helped over the years have taken what they have learned about themselves and either successfully found roles that were well-suited to who they are or recreated their current role within their organization. For the majority, however, their journey did involve creating their own work. Whether people choose to be employed or self-employed, the key to their thriving is that they create work in alignment with who they are and allows them to express their whole being.
The key to thriving is to create work in alignment with who you are that allows you to express the fullness of your being.
Our life-force energy is our source of well being. It is what replenishes our vitality, our abundance, our creativity and joy. Our work can either serve to choke that stream of energy or become a vessel for its flow. To experience the latter, we must align what we do in the world with who we are within. This congruency between our inner being and outer selves helps us to release resistance and open to receive our energy. To be able to create work like this requires us to know ourselves inside and out.
Unfortunately, most traditional schools don’t provide the opportunity to do the deep inner exploratory work necessary to discover who we are and what we have to offer. We just get thrown into the workforce at a young age without any real personal insight. In addition, most conventional work environments don’t offer us opportunities to grow and evolve. We are expected to fit neatly into the box of a job description and to stay there. If we stagnate there too long, we will waste away. It is usually when our energy stream has been reduced to a dried-up creek, that we finally seek out an alternative.
A healthy expression of work
Each of us was born into this world with unique attributes – a distinctive perspective, specific abilities, and a specialized set of gifts. So, why would it be that we are not supposed to be that person in our work? That’s absurd. Yet, that’s what conventional thinking would have us believe. Somewhere along the way, someone convinced us that we are supposed to contort ourselves to fit into the system. It’s no wonder we get sick. There is a healthier way.
It might sound overly simplistic to say that the solution is just to be yourself, but I have learned this is far from easy. We all carry wounding from our childhood that created overlays that makes it difficult for us to see ourselves, let alone be ourselves. It takes some deep inner work to break through the limitations of that old patterning. But we must, because it was that old patterning that got us into those jobs that were not aligned with who we are to begin with. We have to create new patterns that are more supportive of our true selves.
This is the value of what I call inspired work. It is the integration of both our inner and outer work. It is the journey that helps us become who we truly are while at the same time providing a platform to share our wonder with the world. Your inspired work is such a true expression of who you are, that it is beyond limitation. It grows with you as you grow. It evolves with you as you evolve. You can throw away the box.
How to create work that is the truest expression of you:
- Focus on those beliefs about yourself and your work that feel good
- Write the story of the work you want to live
- Connect with your own inner guidance – and learn to trust it, it knows the way
- Clarify your guiding principles – decide who are you here to be, why are you here, and what you want to bring into the world
- Welcome all aspects of yourself by integrating your previous life experiences into your work
- Identify your unique set of strengths, gifts, and talents – and find ways to use them!
- Permit yourself to dream big dreams – they are the seeds of all new potentials for your work
- Embrace your role as a creator – you have the power to create whatever it is you are dreaming
- Invest your time and energy into bringing your work to life
- Make a whole-hearted commitment to yourself that you will never deny who you are again
So, while it’s true that many show up to my office depleted both in spirit and physicality, I always operate with abiding faith in their absolute thriving. My prescription is for them to do whatever it takes to be exactly who they are. I support them with every resource I have at hand and I won’t stop until I see their eyes beaming with the light of their soul. When they truly embrace themselves and create their work as a reflection of that self-love, they move through the world with a new vibrancy that can be felt by all. I’m not saying their work is responsible for their well-being, but I can’t help to see a correlation.