This coming Monday is May Day, i.e. May 1st, i.e. International Workers Day, which around here means a slew of protests and the accompanying threat of violence. Or just really, really terrible traffic.
Last May Day, traffic was so awful I ended up walking the 4 miles home from our (at that time) Pioneer Square office, which took a little over an hour but was far preferable to the 3- and 4-hour slogs reported by my coworkers via Slack.
So, to avoid a sequel of that horror show, I sent out an email encouraging folks to work from home that day and letting them know I would be doing the same.
It never even occurred to me that this was unusual until I was chatting with a friend who works at a large corporation. To protect anonymity, we’ll refer to my friend as “Jessica” and her company as “Acme.”
“Wait,” Jessica said, her eyebrows high, “you’re telling me you just unilaterally decided to close the entire office? Just like that?”
“Uhhh, yeah. Is that weird?”
Jessica laughed, “Let’s just say if I pulled that shit at Acme, I would be looking for a new job.”
“Even just within your own team?”
She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. “Honey, I can’t even decide that I get to work from home on any given day, let alone anybody else.”
This news, I will admit, kind of blew my mind. I mean, obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to working in a start-up setting vs. a large company. That’s not a surprise. But I hadn’t realized until that moment just how spoiled I am in terms of having control over my own time.
You see, we’ve set it up so that everyone in the company can take personal time whenever they need it, work from home whenever they choose, and come into the office during the hours that work best for their schedule (within reason). So long as they get the work done, it matters little to us when or where they get it done. That means I can come in at 8:30 am, get all my ducks in a row by the time the majority of the engineers roll in at 10 am, and take off by 4:30 pm, getting a head-start on the afternoon rush-hour bus crunch. It also means that if I need to leave even earlier to go pick up my kid from school, or show up late because of a doctor’s appointment, or even take a week or two off to spend more time with my family, all I have to do is make note of it on a shared “time off” calendar, and I’m good to go.
That conversation with Jessica made me realize that I have taken this particular benefit for granted. And that prompted me to ask myself what else I have been taking for granted.
Because here’s the thing: every job has its advantages and disadvantages. Too often we get caught up in a grass-is-always-greener state of mind where we focus on what we don’t have that others do.
For example: I’m terribly jealous of folks who work for companies where lunch is provided daily for free. I *hate* the daily expense and annoyance of having to either pack a lunch or hunt down something decently healthy and tasty that I can actually afford downtown. I would very happily trade the freedom to set the menu for the convenience of free food. But we simply don’t have the kind of budget or numbers that would support a subsidized meal plan, so brown bag it I must.
I also envy those who have a whole network of admins within their organization to come to with questions, requests for help, or just for socializing. As an only child, so to speak, I swear I would go completely insane without networking to stay connected to the larger community.
I could go on. But the point is that there will always be benefits we aren’t getting, and focusing on them will only make us miserable. So today, I challenge you to make a list of all the benefits, both explicit and implicit, that you already have. Right now, in your current position (or lack thereof!).
Free Orca pass
Awesome health insurance plan
Working with people I genuinely like, admire, and respect
Working in an office I helped design, with furnishings I picked out (including our fancy-schmancy sit-to-stand desks, which are a godsend), fully stocked with snacks and drinks of my choosing, in a great location (one block from the Pike Place Market and one and a half blocks from the Westlake tunnel station) with a great view and plenty of natural light
Relatively painless commute
Solid salary, plus stock options
Major personal influence over office culture and near-total control over social calendar (including tea time every Wednesday and whiskey every Friday)
No red tape: all processes are of my own design and can be modified at any time
My own bathroom! (Being the office Smurfette does have its privileges)
So many whiteboards; all of the whiteboards
A computer I picked out and set up exactly as I like it
Abundant appreciation for who I am, what I do, and how I do it
Go ahead and make a list. I’ll wait.
No, seriously. Don’t just list a few things off in your head. Actually get a piece of paper and a pen and write down a list of things you love about where you’re at right now. Then take a moment to look at that list and fully appreciate each and every thing on it. Imagine how your life would be different without that thing.
It’s no secret that gratitude is powerful stuff. Ask Oprah.
A simple shift from focusing on what we wish we had to what we already have can be literally life-changing, and short mental exercises like this one are a great way to ensure an attitude of gratitude.
In fact, I highly recommend starting each day with a short gratitude meditation. This could be as simple as reflecting on something good in your life while you take your morning shower, or as involved as keeping a “gratitude journal” next to your bed in which you write 3 things you’re grateful for each day upon waking. Whatever you decide to do, do it consistently. That way it will soon become habit and you’ll find yourself slipping right into that attitude of gratitude with no brain power wasted.
In the meantime, I’d love to see your lists! Leave them in the comments, below.
Live bravely, work deliberately, and eat good chocolate.