How To Not Lose Your Job Mojo (Even if Your Career Stalls)
Many years ago, a colleague gave me some very useful piece of advice on how to be happy. I’d made the unwise decision to stay in the rural area I worked over the New Year holiday. It’s was a damp minus two degrees inside and out, the electricity supply failed for days at a time and colleagues regularly insisted I go and watch them play mahjong and incomprehensibly chat in Chinese rather then allowing me to stay in bed with a book. Over time, my attempted stoicism failed to mask my dark mood, then one day a colleague gave me two invaluable pieces of advice:
She said, “if you feel sad, sing a song, and don’t think too much”.
In brief, I tried it, and it helps. So this post is about employment and the very serious perils of thinking too much.
After 16 weeks of interning I’ve developed an aversion to it. In the grand scheme of things, 16 weeks isn’t a particularly long time. Some internships last for six months or a year, but I assume those kind of internships are the kind that have a clear pathway into employment otherwise you’d be pretty crazy to do one.
In a recent post I complained that interning can be demoralising as the lack of pay can slowing bring on the insidious feeling that your work isn’t valued, or that you’re making no contribution to the company. Interestingly, in the US, there are regulations stating that an intern must be paid if the work they’re doing contributes “immediate advantage” to the company, the implication being that unpaid interns should do a bunch of useless exercises. No remuneration and no feeling of contribution to a company. Owch.
Owch indeed, but worse still is thinking too much about it, because when you think too much about it, you can start to think that your work obviously doesn’t have value, as you clearly suck at it, and all those people we encounter on a regular basis who are clearly incompetent and/or lazy must have some secret talents that we don’t, otherwise we’d have well-paid jobs too.
It’s a slippery slope. Have you ever been to the job centre? They’re not full of lazy people, but demoralised people who have internalised the false belief that they have no job mojo. The centres should be staffed by highly trained psychologists and life coaches.
Interning can also make you feel you have no job mojo, if you think about it too much.
I was sliding but fortunately, interning didn’t extinguish my job mojo as I also work part time, and I often deal with things I’m not really qualified enough or experienced enough to do, but people happily pay me for it. It’s comfortingly illogical.
There seems to be so much luck involved in success (here’s a great speech about it), so there’s no reason to feel demoralised if your career is currently going nowhere.
Yes, easier said than done.
There are two conclusions, one is that it’s not just about the money. Sure, paying an intern helps as no one likes starvation and homelessness, but alone money isn’t the solution. After all, people don’t feel they’re getting paid enough until they are earning more than their peers, meaning that we’re hardwired to want everyone else to lose.
The second is that it is all about psychology. I used to think that needing a bit of help was just for sissy weak people, but I’ve learned that the role of coaching and mentoring cannot be undervalued. I expect that psychological counselling for the long term unemployed would probably be more fruitful that draconian and punitive measures imposed on job seekers. In fact, counselling for all who experience job dissatisfaction or feel hard done by would be ideal, but sadly the NHS can’t stretch that far.
So just try not to think too much. And sing a song.