[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
I’m writing because I’m extremely disillusioned and overwhelmed by my work. It’s really stressing me out.
Some days, it’s a struggle getting through the office doors, just knowing what awaits. My workplace environment involves me being on the receiving end of other people’s malice — people that have no shame or hesitation in using other people for their selfish gain. As long as they achieve their own agenda at all costs, they’re happy.
In your experience, how do you deal with people who aren’t in it for the “greater good?” How do you stop their ulterior motives from dragging you down? How can I enjoy my job with all these sick and twisted co-workers?
No One Gets Left Behind
Dear No One Gets Left Behind,
Most of us realize that work isn’t just there to put food on the table and pay the bills. Ideally, we realize that our work is supposed to somehow feed our souls and provide us with meaning and purpose. But if one’s work atmosphere doesn’t seem to offer that type of nourishment, one can feel like giving up, or endlessly longing for a more perfect job. Rather than quit job after job, or work in a state of perpetual anguish, we have to transform the seemingly unavoidable negative work encounters into a type of positive spiritual food. We do this using our own creative powers of interpretation, patience, and resilience. This is more than just looking at an unpleasant job as a glass-half-full situation. This is about changing your entire conception of a “day-job” and work, and realizing that all work and all activity is part of a larger opportunity to apply your experience towards life’s only great work: Learning how to be a truly good person.
We know there will most likely always be difficult — even “twisted” — people around us. And no matter where we go or what job we get, it’s almost certain that we’ll encounter other individuals and situations that bother us. Why is this? Is it purely a cosmic game of torment? Or could there be some underlying point to it all? What value can we extract? How can we take the negative aspects of our job and reshape them into positive insights we can apply towards our greatest life work?
We tend to think our job could always be easier, be better, or be more enjoyable if we only could be doing something else, if only we worked here or there, or if only we didn’t have to work with this person or that person. Then we could finally just enjoy our work. But not only are we unlikely to ever find a truly “perfect” and conflict-free type of occupation, it’s also unlikely that we’d actually truly enjoy it. Because the problem isn’t necessarily within the job or the work, but mostly within us. We are what we have to perfect, not the job or anything else. We haven’t figured out how to work because we haven’t figured out how to live. In fact, it’s the exact challenges and annoyances of work that we must use to improve our life. We are meant to go through these things. We must strive to improve ourselves using the very trials and tribulations we try to avoid. And once we do meet them head-on and overcome them, we will usually find that our job and every other area of life will improve as well. We can’t wait for the job to get better before we get better. We have to take the first step.
You have already taken the first step by writing to me with this question. Your letter is an example of using the challenges you face at work to do something self-enriching and helpful — you turned your negative feelings of frustration and disillusionment into a thoughtful and forward-moving action. What more can you do along this line of thinking?
You can start to reinterpret and reconsider everything about your work and how it makes you feel. It’s no longer just a “day job;” it is an adventure, an ordeal, a test, a challenge to see if you’re strong enough to grow. Each co-worker that upsets you is no longer an adversary or an irritation, but a challenge to see how strong you can be – to see how high you can rise. And each co-worker is also a person, just like you and me, desperately trying to figure out how to live as best as they know how.
Watch the entire work scene unfold around you — it’s like a movie. And even though it’s not actually a movie, in a way, it’s not actually real life, either. Real life is what you’re experiencing inside you, where none of this workplace drama exists — all the mind games are largely a distraction, an illusion, and you can’t allow them to cut you off from the true reality inside yourself. The annoyances and office battles are not worthy of your anger and emotional energy, but they are worthy of our intelligent interpretation.
Try to understand what people are doing and why they’re doing it, even if what they’re doing is wrong. Try to see where they are coming from, even if where they’re coming from is flawed. Have compassion for the weaknesses that inform your co-workers personalities and behaviors, even if you don’t like them or what they do. Develop empathy for their insecurities, patience for their confusions, and resilience for their cruelties.
If you want to truly challenge yourself, try to relate to them, even when you most want to distance yourself from them. Try to think of times when maybe you were difficult to work with, or when you were not at your best with others. Try to imagine the people around you as children, as you once were, and open your heart to that child in them and in you that still dictates their decision making and attitudes. Carefully examine your own motives and beliefs, be brutally honest about your own shortcomings, and use what you see in yourself and around you as a mirror, making sure you’re not behaving the same way as your antagonists in reverse.
If you really commit to a disciplined approach, you can gradually transform any work and social situation into an interesting and empowering challenge. You’ll see that none of it is there to hurt you or upset you — it is there to make you grow. You can always quit a job, but you can’t quit life until you’re no longer living. So while you are, learn to make everything count, make everything valuable, and everything part of your life’s work of self mastery. Mastering your feelings and emotions in this area will give you strengths in all other areas, and almost miraculously, you’ll find the entire world around you revealing itself to be more beautiful, and more true, because you have become so.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.