I’ve been working in Corporate America (I highly doubt that’s a proper noun, but we’ll roll with it) since I was in-between my freshman and sophomore years of college, interning at a large consumer goods company not far from my parents’ old house. Recently, I thought I was going to exit Corporate America for good–I had been accepted to a graduate program in nutrition and intended to complete my master’s while also fulfilling the requirements needed to become a registered dietitian (read the full story here). However, I decided to continue working in my current field, and I actually accepted a new job in a different department at my previous employer, an e-commerce company located in the heart of Boston. Additionally, I’ve had experience working for a big four professional services and consulting firm, in which I traveled Monday – Thursday most of the time. It’s safe to say that I’ve experienced a fair amount of variety in the type of work, working environment, and specific nuances/challenges present in each of these jobs and internships. Unfortunately, it’s also safe to say that I’ve struggled with all of them.
Below are five common stumbling blocks I’ve encountered when working at large companies, as well as the strategies I’ve used (and currently use) to mitigate them. The important thing to note here is that these are more so related to corporate culture than to any specific type of job, so hopefully they are relevant to you even if you work in a completely different industry!
1 – Mindfulness
It’s all too easy for me to go through my work day simply focused on getting tasks done and worrying about what my boss thinks about me. In turn, I’ll feel compelled to stay glued to my desk, experiencing extreme guilt if I walk away to do anything other than go to a meeting. Although this sounds like discipline, it actually manifests itself as a fear-based mindset that drives my thoughts and actions if I allow it to do so. Instead, I am making a conscious effort to pause and notice these fears and negative thought patterns. My goal here is to assess how they’re affecting me without judging them. Then, I have the mental space to ask myself, what do I really need in order to be productive and joyful today? Usually that means taking a break to mindfully and slowly eat my lunch away from my computer, but it might also mean that I really need to schedule a quick meeting with my boss to ask questions about my work or solicit feedback. Either way, by consciously interrupting the unhelpful though patterns described above, I can identify exactly what I need in order to effectively move throughout my work day.
2 – The Glorification of Busyness
Ahhh. This is a fun one. We all have colleagues who love to talk about how busy they are. For some, I think this is a defense mechanism used to protect them from getting more work added to their already full plate. For others, I think they enjoy simply wearing their busyness as a badge of honor and prestige. Either way, I don’t think the glorification of busyness is doing us any favors. For one, it perpetuates a scarcity mindset–if you profess your busyness to those around you, odds are you will start subconsciously believing that you do not have enough time or energy to complete all of your work. Like an infection, this scarcity mindset can permeate into other areas of your life, forming limiting beliefs that you might not even be aware of. Additionally, the glorification of busyness creates a culture in which everyone is conditioned to feel like a chicken with the head cut off at all times, or to pretend to feel that way even when one isn’t busy, just to fit in–either option is terrible! Whenever I find myself verbalizing my busyness or even thinking with that scarcity mindset, I stop and check myself–is this really true? What are actionable steps I can take right now in order to mitigate my sense of busyness so that I can focus on producing quality work?
3 – Trying to Fit It All In
This is surely one of my fatal flaws in life. I have always been the type of person who tries to cram as much in a day as possible–moreover, when I can sense that I don’t have the energy or desire to fit something in my day that I think I should, I get kind of depressed and guilty. Not fun! I think I can safely speak for most individuals when I say that on a work day, one’s energy is limited. If there are people who happily and energetically fit a workout, 8+ hours of work, a social event, and a full nights’ sleep into a given weekday, I want to know what drugs they’re taking. Seriously, I have tried to squeeze all of the potential juice out of a given weekday, and it is really hard. Instead, my current approach is to take the pressure off and acknowledge the fact that my energy stores are like peanut butter–if I spread the same amount over a larger area, it’s ultimately going to be spread really thin. With that in mind, I typically utilize my mornings to do the stuff that lights me up and energizes me the most, which is journaling and blogging! This way, I feel like I spent my time in a high-quality manner, even if I did nothing other than work, eat and sleep the rest of the day. Additionally, I’ll typically only accept a social invitation if it involves something really really low-key, like getting dinner–we all need to eat, and quite frankly, I don’t have a ton of energy to go out on an excursion after work. And lastly, I am finally allowing myself to choose whether I have the desire to work out on a given day–previously, I used to wake up each weekday and hit the gym, regardless of how my body was feeling. Now that I hold off on the gym until later in the day (or skip it altogether), I actually have more energy throughout the day and can carve out time for the activities that are ultimately more important to myself and my values.
4 – Resting & Digesting
This might sound like an odd struggle to include in this list, but I can assure you it’s been a very real one for me. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the work day, it can be really difficult to find time to mindfully eat breakfast and/or lunch away from your computer, chewing thoroughly and giving your body the space to restfully digest your food. For a lot of us, this actually looks like the following: eating hunched over at our desks, eyes glued to the screen, answering e-mails and ultimately putting food into our bodies in a stressed state. I did this for a long time, and I am still occasionally guilty of it to this day. However, I find that it wreaks absolutely havoc on my digestion, which in turn makes me bloated/gassy/uncomfortable for the remainder of the day. All in all, it’s not worth it! These days, I am striving to walk away to eat lunch, even if I have nobody else to eat with. Or, if I am too lazy to leave my desk, I will make a point not to work on anything urgent or stressful while I’m eating–instead, I’ll skim The Wall Street Journal or MindBodyGreen, or I’ll slowly work on an analysis that I have plenty of time to get done. Regardless, it’s important to remember that we owe it to ourselves to eat mindfully to the extent that’s possible, because it affects how we feel and perform for the remainder f the day.
5 – The Comparison Trap
I struggle with comparison in all areas of life, and the workplace is no exception. I constantly find myself comparing my quality of work and my ideas to those around me, particularly my peers. I often worry whether I am generating the same level of value as my colleagues, and if I am less busy than they are (cue hurdle #2 explained above), I assume it’s because I am being trusted with fewer tasks because I am unreliable. This downward spiral of speculative thoughts serves absolutely no one. Alternatively, I am trying to interrupt these thoughts with the following affirmation: “If you feel that you’re generating value, you most likely are.” For me, I can sense in my gut when I haven’t put out good quality work–in that case, feelings of insecurity about my performance might help me to do better next time. However, that also means that if I feel like I am doing my best, I probably am. In those instances, comparison is just a manifestation of insecurity, stemming from the fact that someone else might perceive my best work as insufficient. However, in these moments, trusting in the value of my best effort is typically what allows me to exit the negative thought spiral and get back on track.
I want to know, have you experienced these same hurdles at your job? What strategies have you found helpful in overcoming them?