Do you wake up groaning in the morning? Dreading not another spartan breakfast of dry toast and skim milk and showing up at your day job? All you crave is to stay home and paint, write, or work on your latest interior design or gown sketches.
You get up, grumble, and stub your toe on the pile of rolled-up canvases, novel drafts, or swatch catalogues. You rush out the door and scowl deeper, anticipating another awful day at work.
This attitude is harmful, even damaging, to our psyche, our present job, and our future creative work. When, during a day job, my scowls deepened to ditches, I found the remedy on my desk staring right at me. It was inscribed on a little blue vase of dried flowers:
“Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
This maxim may sound cliché, distasteful, or outrageous. But we can change our feelings and what we experience and get closer to our dream job or profession.
Paul’s Day Job: Unimportant, He Thought
Paul had always wanted to work for the church and someday pastor his own flock. Newly graduated from seminary, he prayed for a significant post. When the offer came from the headquarters administrative offices, he happily accepted.
On Paul’s first day, the assistant manager led him into a large room. Winding through an aisle with cubicles on both sides, the manager stopped at one. Badly lit, the cubicle had a single lamp, a desk, and a wooden chair. Stacks of letters obscured the desktop, and squeezed among them rested a large electronic typewriter that looked like a garage sale leftover. Paul’s elation and ego plummeted.
The assistant manager informed Paul that his job was to answer a certain number of letters daily that came in from church members. The letters would be reviewed by the supervisor before going to the mailroom. “Good luck.” The man left.
Paul sighed, guiltily wishing that this particular prayer hadn’t been answered. He sat down gingerly on the hard chair, switched on the typewriter, which seemed to cough before powering up, 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 every morning.
One Friday before lunch, Paul’s supervisor took him aside. “I’ve been reading your letters, Paul,” said Mr. Rennie, “and I know you’re doing your best, 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, well, uninspired. And several people in the office have noticed your negativity.”
Paul looked at the floor.
Mr. Rennie suggested they meet at the end of the day to talk more. Paul agreed, feeling uncomfortable but slightly relieved.
Later, in the coffee shop, Paul found himself telling this sympathetic man about his excitement at acceptance to the headquarters and his joy anticipating the position. Then he burst out, “But I’ve got the most insignificant job in the whole place!”
Paul’s Day Job: Momentous, He Found
“Oh, Paul,” said Mr. Rennie, smiling. “You have one of the most important jobs in the whole place.”
Paul looked bewildered.
The supervisor continued, “Don’t you see? For so many people who write in, you’re the very first contact with our church. Your reply determines whether they get the information, support, and comfort they need, nd where they can go for more. Your responses answer their prayers!”
Paul’s eyes widened. He’d never seen his job this way.
For the entire weekend, Paul thought about Mr. Rennie’s words and prayed for long periods. For the first time in months, he had no desire to overeat or watch too much television.
Paul had 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, wherever the place?
On Monday, Paul bounded out of bed, arrived early at work, greeted everyone cheerfully, and dove into the letters.
A few months later, Paul was transferred. He progressed through the organization and after several years in various administrative posts was assigned his first congregation. Later, he went on to establish his large, very successful ministry in New York City. Paul and his ministry helped thousands of people.
My Lesson, Like Paul’s
Paul’s early reaction and experience reminded me of my own. In an office job in which I had secretarial duties, I grumbled daily 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 150 percent.”
Peggy nodded and said nothing more.
I huffed for a few days but finally succumbed to Peggy’s advice. Forcing myself at the office, I concentrated only on the work and doing it well. I even made myself reflect on how I was contributing to the company—taking the boss’s dictation and keeping his files in good order so he could then do his job better.
To my shock, everything went smoother. I stopped resenting my boss, he seemed more reasonable, and I felt less depleted when I got home. Most evenings, to my shock, I even wrote for half an hour.
Feeling better, I became friendly with office colleagues. As I told them about my writing, they asked for help with letters, announcements, their long-neglected children’s stories. Word got around, and I took more assignments. Eight months later, I was able to leave the office job and devote more time to writing.
The Lesson of Paul’s Letters: Perform Your Day Job Differently
When we feel dissatisfied, frustrated, annoyed, or downright enraged about what we’re doing at the moment, we’re producing more of the same. We’re pushing away what we really want in our lives, careers, and creative pursuits. When Paul’s supervisor pointed out how important his letters were, Paul saw his job differently. He infused it with a new meaning and acted differently. Then his experiences changed and he developed passion.
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.
The lesson: Our attitudes influence our experiences. How do you feel clearing a friend’s dishes after a party or your family’s after dinner? Washing your watercolor brushes or house painting brushes? Getting wet at the pool party or soaked from a driver’s screeching brakes in the rain? How can you substitute the enjoyment for the aggravation?
The answer is by blooming rather than wilting where we’re planted. This means, as my friend Peggy advised, that we recognize what our work does for others and invest ourselves wholly in it. Realize its contribution, probably more than you imagine. You may have known a so-called menial worker—a janitor or nurse’s aide, for example—who did his or her work with joy and made you feel good just being near. Your work, whatever it is and whatever stage you’re at, is good work.
So do your work fully, positively, gratefully, and with passion—waiting tables, washing clothes, balancing accounts, chauffeuring children. Think of those who benefit, and your attitude becomes one of giving.
When you give more than 100 percent, you may actually come to enjoy the work. You will certainly feel better, create more harmony with those around you, and, like Paul and I did, attract opportunities that are closer to your passion.
I think again of my little blue vase. When we bloom where we’re planted, we see and do our formerly detested work in a different and more expansive light. As you bloom where you’re planted, your good work will metamorphose, slowly or speedily but inevitably, into your good and greater creative works.
Noelle Sterne, Ph.D., is an author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, with over 250 pieces in print and online venues and a current column in Coffeehouse for Writers. For over 28 years she has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations. Her book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, re-label their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her new book-in-progress, a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook specifically for dissertation writers, is titled Grad U: Complete Your Dissertation—Finally and Ease the Trip for Yourself and Everyone Who Has to Live With You. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com