I Don’t Play Professional Football, so How is a Sore Knee Related to Being Happy at Work?

Every day some new body part hurts. Not a lot, but enough to get my attention. As I write this, it’s my right knee and my lower back.

I don’t why this stuff hurts; it’s probably (ugh) age-related. I don’t remember something aching every day when I was in my 20’s. Fortunately it usually feels better as the day goes by.

I think work is like this.

No matter how much you like your job, there are probably “pain points”: little aches and annoyances that get your attention but don’t really slow you down (or at least not too much). For example, I’m currently in a location where I couldn’t connect to my work’s email system using my computer and my BlackBerry only got a network connection 50% of the time. Big Fat Hassle. (Maybe this should be a blog about expectations—don’t we expect technology to work everywhere, every time, and all the time?) Amazingly, staring at the network icon on my BlackBerry did not cause it to magically connect, so after the first day of this fundamentally useless behavior, I adapted. I turned on my BlackBerry; if it had a network connection I briefly answered the urgent emails. (Seriously, who types long answers to emails on a BlackBerry?) If there’s no network connection, I gave up. Giving up eased the pain of not being able to do what I wanted to do at that minute. It’s like my aching knee; I don’t know why it hurts. I will adapt—no jogging today—and tomorrow, we’ll see. I don’t know why I don’t have a network connection 100% of the time, but I can’t change it. I can only change my behavior in response to it.

When I think back on many of the pain points of my work, I realize three things:

  • The majority of the problems were temporary, and ended within a bearable period of time.
  • I could compensate for whatever was bothering me by changing my own behavior; I didn’t need someone else to fix it for me.
  • While some days might be pain free, more often than not there would be some amount of pain every day.

Let’s be clear: I am not talking about “broken leg” pain—that would not be bearable or something I could fix myself. I’m talking about meetings that start at 7:00 AM (who does this?) or a deadline that means working late the night before.

Besides the fact that today I am fixated on my sore knee and lack of a network connection, why am I writing about this? Simply because: I have been much happier at work since I realized that I will not be happy or “pain free” every minute of every day.  I have accepted that there will always be certain annoyances that I will have to deal with, but simply by accepting this fact, my frustration has actually decreased.

Plus, think about how good it feels when the pain is gone. Like most of us, I don’t truly appreciate the absence of pain until something hurts. But here’s the good news—unlike my body, I have found that the opposite is true about work—as I get older, I can keep the pain at work in perspective and I can be happy even if something makes me temporarily miserable. I’ve learned that I don’t need to break my leg to appreciate that it’s not broken.

No network connection? Sore knee? Aching back? I get an ice bag, read a book and give it a little time. It’ll get better.

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