Why do you do what you do?
And by that I don’t just mean what you do for work, though that is a big part of the question. I also mean, why do you spend your leisure time doing whatever it is you do. Why do you choose to respond to that facebook post but not that other one?
We only have this moment, this one life, that we know of. Even if there is another beyond, it doesn’t make these seconds ticking by any less precious. Are you content with how you are spending this most precious and finite of resources?
Sometimes the best way to spend a moment is doing nothing. Is lounging on the sofa staring at the TV, hand grasping a beer, the other one in a bag of crisps. But other times, that is an enormous waste. And a bigger waste are the moments we will spend feeling guilty about having done it, feeling bad about ourselves, berating or punishing ourselves.
So if we want to have less of those accidental wasted moments, we need to try and be a little bit more deliberate about life. Think about what we want to spend our moments on, and why.
Another waste is when we spend our working lives doing something we hate. Something we don’t enjoy, or aren’t very good at, or with people we don’t like or get along with, or which makes us unwell and unable to enjoy they rest of the moments in our lives. And yet so many of us spend years like that.
I know I have. I spent decades in a job that was terrible for me. Don’t get me wrong. It was a good job. I enjoyed most of the work. I was good at it. It paid relatively well. It kept me fed and with a roof over my head, and promised a pension which will make life a little easier if I live to receive it. But it made me ill. It was stressful. There were toxic relationships on all sides, at all levels. The culture of the organisation was unpleasant. It was restrictive and we were undervalued and constantly targeted in different ways. I spent hours crying in toilets, my sleep was destroyed, I had panic attacks, palpitations – I went through cycles of depression and hypomania, I self harmed, I had problematic eating, I drank waaaay too much. I made a total mess of my life. Not all of this was to do with work but the poison of that job seeped through everything – like you see in films where something spreads through a character’s system making all their veins stand out black under the skin.
When I studied counselling I was introduced to the idea of congruence. Where one is living in line with ones inner values and beliefs. Able to express oneself honestly. If for whatever reason we can’t do this, and we are in a state of incongruence – because for instance our parents have different beliefs from us, or we disagree with how our employer acts, or we have to do something in our professional life we would not do if we were acting in a personal capacity – it is jarring. It feels uncomfortable, It is damaging, it eats away at us. It makes us feel at odds with everything around us and fearful of being found out and ejected. (As an aside this is one reason I really strongly disagree with workplace policies which restrict personal social media use – one way to diffuse incongruence is freedom of expression. With limits obviously – but if you are worried about an employee damaging your reputation by talking honestly about their experiences, you are missing the point. Make sure their experiences enhance your reputation.)
On the other hand – if we are congruent – if we can build a life which is in line with our values – and also make use of our strengths, and the things we enjoy – then we blossom, we thrive. We know we are doing good, we are meeting our expectations of our selves, we are serving a purpose. And that makes us feel safe and contented in our place in society.
So. Are you congruent? What are your values? What do you believe your life should be for?
I do what I do (now) – because I believe strongly and passionately that we all deserve to enjoy good mental health and that in order to do that we need to understand it – and other people need to understand it and how we can help each other. Employers need to understand it so they can structure their expectations of people healthily and provide support for wellbeing. We need to build understanding of mental health and what influences into every stage of our education system so we can try to a) avoid problems in the first place, b) spot signs of issues emerging as early as possible, c) feel ok about acknowledging that in ourselves and those we love and d) get help to those who need it. I strongly believe that the vast majority of us would be able to return to wellbeing if we are able to access the right supports – and that if we were able to do that it would free up resources and research to help find ways to make a difference for those with more severe and enduring mental health issues which may be harder to treat or help. We could radically transform our world if we got this right.
I try to contribute to this by helping people understand mental health and have the courage and confidence to offer support. I help employers to see the point, the human, legal, ethical and business case behind supporting wellbeing at work. I help individuals understand their own situations and needs and believe they deserve to live a happier, healthier life, and that they have the power to make that happen.
And through doing that – I make it happen for myself.
Not overnight. There are things I still don’t like, aspects of my working life that jar, and rub – and that tells me I need to investigate, and ask why, and adjust. Pain is where the work needs to be done.
How about you. Why do you do what you do? Do you spend your moments on something that is worth your time? Or are you at odds? Could you change that?
Ask yourself – what matters to you? What do you value? Is that reflected in how you live your life? Could it be?
There are lots of tools and questionnaires out there which help you explore this topic – it’s never too late to make a change. Maybe you can’t do it overnight. But if you know you aren’t happy with where you are – this can help you figure out where you want to be, which is the very first step in getting there.