Do you wake in the morning and groan? Not because you can’t face another spartan breakfast of dry toast and skim milk, but because you dread your day job. All you crave is to stay home and paint, write, or work on your latest interior design.
So you get up, grumble, and stub your toe on the pile of your rolled-up canvases, novel drafts, or swatch catalogues. As you rush out the door, you scowl deeper, anticipating another awful day at work.
Such an attitude, which I too have harbored, is harmful, even damaging, to our psyche, our present job, and our future creative work. I found the remedy sitting right in front of me, inscribed on a little blue vase of dried flowers on my desk: “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
This notion may sound cliché, distasteful, or outrageous. But, as a minister’s experience, described below, and my own show, you can change how you look at your job, how you feel, and thereby what you experience—and get closer to your dream.
See Your Day Job Differently
Paul had always wanted to work for the church and someday pastor his own flock. Just out of seminary, he joyfully accepted a post in the headquarters administrative offices.
On his first day, the assistant office manager showed him to his office. Paul stepped into a badly lit cubicle with a single lamp, a desk, and a wooden chair. Stacks of letters obscured the desktop, and squeezed among them rested a large manual typewriter. Paul’s elation and ego fell flat.
The assistant manager informed Paul he was expected to answer a certain number of letters daily, and they would be reviewed by the supervisor before mailing. “Good luck.” The man left.
Paul sighed, guiltily wishing this prayer hadn’t been answered. He sat gingerly on the hard chair, poked at the typewriter, and took the top letter from the nearest pile.
And so began weeks of toil. Paul managed to produce the required number of letters, but he developed eyestrain, backache, and an unpleasant disposition. After work, he ate too much, watched too much television, and found it harder to get up each day.
One Friday, Paul’s supervisor took him aside. “I know you’re doing your best,” said Mr. Rennie, “but something is obviously bothering you.”
Paul mumbled, “I’m fulfilling my quota.”
“True,” said Mr. Rennie. “Your letters address the issues, but they’re—uninspired. And several people in the office have noticed your negativity.”
Paul looked at the floor.
Mr. Rennie suggested they meet after work to talk more. Paul agreed, feeling uncomfortable and yet slightly relieved.
In the coffee shop, Paul found himself telling this surprisingly sympathetic man about his excitement at acceptance to the headquarters. He smiled for the first time in months. Then he burst out, “But I got the most insignificant job in the whole place!”
“Oh, Paul,” said Mr. Rennie, smiling. “No. You have one of the most important jobs in the whole place.”
Paul looked bewildered.
“For so many people, you’re the very first contact with our church. Your reply determines whether they get the information, support, and comfort they need. Your responses answer their prayers!”
Paul’s eyes widened. He’d never seen his job this way.
A Change of Heart
For the entire weekend, Paul thought about Mr. Rennie’s words and prayed for long periods. And he had no desire to overeat or watch too much television.
Paul realized several things. He’d viewed his letter-writing as only menial and boring. Now, he saw, his letters gave people what they needed. Wasn’t his mission as a pastor to help, whatever the form?
The next Monday, Paul bounded out of bed, arrived early at work, smiled at everyone, and dove into the letters.
A few months later, Paul was transferred and progressed through the organization. After several years, he pastored his first congregation and went on to establish his large, successful ministry in New York City.
What was Paul’s lesson—and ours? He learned to see his job differently and then acted differently. How we act applies to all of us who feel dissatisfied, frustrated, annoyed, or downright enraged about where we are in our lives, careers, and creative pursuits. So . . .
Perform Your Day Job Differently
In an office job, I developed an attitude close to Paul’s initial one. I grumbled to a good friend about the boss, the excessive work, my constant exhaustion, and how I’d never get to write, my true passion.
My wise and spiritual friend Peggy waited until I finished complaining and said quietly, “To get out of this job, plunge into it. Give it a hundred and fifty percent.”
Peggy nodded and said nothing more.
I huffed for a few days but finally succumbed to Peggy’s advice. At the office, I concentrated only on the work and doing it well. To my shock, everything went smoother. I stopped resenting the boss and felt less spent when I got home. Most evenings I even wrote for a half hour.
Feeling better, I became friendly with office colleagues. As I told them about my writing, they asked for help with letters, announcements, children’s stories. Word got around, and I took more assignments. Eight months later, I was able to leave the office job.
What’s the Bloomin’ Lesson?
Our problem isn’t the work, tasks, circumstances, or environment. Think of prisoners of war and victims of natural disasters. How do so many rise out of their terrible conditions? They embrace a hopeful, undaunted outlook. Our attitudes influence our experiences.
How do you feel clearing a friend’s dishes after a party or your family’s, again, after dinner? Washing your water color brushes or house painting brushes? Getting wet at the pool party or on the way to the office? How can you transfer the enjoyment of one to the aggravation of the other?
When we bloom where we’re planted, we invest ourselves wholly in the work before us. As the Zen saying goes, chop wood, carry water. This means to do your work fully, positively, recognizing its value—waiting tables, washing clothes, balancing accounts, chauffeuring children. Then your attitude becomes one of giving and thinking of those who will benefit.
My little blue vase says, and Paul and I discovered, that the lesson is to see and do your detested work in a different light. When you bless others this way, the blessings will and must come back to you multiplied.
Remember that your work, whatever it is, is good work. Hold to and act on this thought. Bloom where you’re planted, and your good work will metamorphose, slowly or speedily but inevitably, into your good creative works.
©2015 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.
Book by this Author
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.
About the Author
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com