I’ve come across a lot of advice aimed at making work less stressful, and I’ve tried most of it. I’ve also given a lot of advice about stress and the workplace because it’s one of my areas of research. For the record, I’ve tried my own advice, too.
For example, when I’m dealing with difficult staff or IVF patients, I recite a poem that grandmother wrote to get my perspective back: “Everything they say and do is information about them, not you.” And when someone at work micromanages me, I offer nebulous responses like “interesting," or “thanks for that,” or “I hear you,” and take their power away in my mind. And when an administrator doesn’t listen to me or respond to me, I over-communicate. I email enough updates to pave a “paper trail” and then I enjoy waiting for the moment they try to say “I didn’t know….” or “She never told me”. And when I worry about money or job security, I do a reality-check and remind myself that the U.S. Department of Labor says: “The average American will have had ten jobs between the ages of 18 and 38 and every year, about one-third of our workforce changes job in order to earn more or advance.” But none of these strategies made enough of a difference to keep me from feeling tired, tense and irritable when stressed by my job.
Then came the small change that made all the difference.
I was talking to a friend who once worked in a magazine office but is now a freelancer. She is a photographer and sells her experience and skills to clients by the hour. Because she doesn’t have a ‘boss’, she said, she now has a sense of control over her work life. If the client is difficult or critical, she said she focuses on the money they’ll be giving her instead of their personality or how they're treating her. She knows that they’ll be gone when the photos are done.
I realized that I am really a freelancer, too.
And so are we all! We have a set of skills that has value in the marketplace. We are as much our own boss as a self-employed dentist, deli owner or decorator. We are also independent contractors. Right now, we may have only one client or customer, the company we work for, but they are paying us for our skills and we are using the money to pay our bills. We can focus on the annoying aspects of the job or focus on opportunities to develop our skills so they are worth even more in the marketplace. We can continue to work with this ‘client' or look for another.
That small shift in how I saw myself had a big impact on how I felt about work. I started to feel like I was working for myself. I felt like I was on the job by choice. I felt like all the annoying aspects of the job were just part of the job. I felt like my boss became my ‘client’ and since I wanted to keep the client, I would listen to what the bossy manager wanted. But I had my sense of choice and control back, and I soon after chose to leave that company and offer my skills elsewhere.
With all this in mind, I was able to shift my mindset and create a healthier, more empowering work environment for myself. Regardless of your role, company and position, you are the architect of your career. The important thing is to not sweat the small stuff, focus on growth and take all the opportunities that come your way!