Hate your life? Hate your job? Know yourself.

Since I wrote Hi, it’s me. The Iceberg. I have challenged myself to see things a bit differently. Writing that article was something of an exercise in self-assessment, and for the first time in a long time I was forced to consider what actually makes me happy. The relationships I described in that article bring meaning, purpose, and positivity to my life. Taking time to analyze and qualify the characteristics of those relationships helped me realize that it’s possible to do that with other parts of my life as well, and maybe even healthy to do so.

I got a lot of positive feedback on that article, positive not just in the form of praise, but positive in the form of encouragement. Encouragement not just to keep writing, but encouragement to continue thinking in a way that’s both liberating and productive.

In Mark Manson’s book, he posits that our days are basically 24-hour periods of problem solving. The problems you (and I) have to solve each day are the challenges provided by our individual circumstances (job, relationships, financial situation, etc.) As I said last time though, not all problems are bad and there’s a reason for the expression “that’s a good problem to have.” The question to ask yourself then becomes, how many of my problems are good problems and how many are bad? Furthermore, how many of these problems did I create for myself? How many of these problems are inherently part of my circumstances? I think then, every problem you face will fundamentally satisfy one of the following criteria:

problem-punnett

Obviously the green squares are problems we are happy to face, whether they have been invited (by us) into our lives or are necessarily part of it. They are not problems in the sense that they are cumbersome or unfortunate. They are problems in that they are the things we have to (and enjoy) finding solutions for. It’s the bad problems we want to do something about eliminating or minimizing. The bad invited ones specifically, are the least desirable since they are both negative and unnecessary. So how do we take care of those bad, invited problems?

Well, they are most likely part of our daily lives because we committed the most cardinal sin of all. We said yes to someone else, while saying no to ourselves. Choose a component of your life and see how many problems specific to that component fit into each of those four squares. Try it with your relationship, your job, or your finances.

When was the last time you accidentally invited someone to something? You probably can’t think of one. Nobody passively invites problems into any component of their lives. You may have invited them by BEING passive, but nobody made you be passive. They become part of your problem punnett because you said “YES” at the wrong time. In saying yes to someone or something else, you most likely said “NO” to yourself. The invited quadrants are the controllable parts of your problem punnett and in my line of work we spend a lot of time preaching the importance of things you can control.

So how do you begin to gain control? Saying no won’t always make you the most popular person in the world, but there is a time and a place where it is fair to say. The operative word in that sentence is fair. Fairness in this case, is predicated on your values. If your values are aligned with the objectives of your career, finances, or relationships then it won’t be a problem. If they are misaligned however, then you will quickly lose popularity points when you turn down requests to do your part.

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For example: “Can you stay late tonight, and work on Sunday?”

Maybe your values are hard work, money, and your career. In that case, this is a Good Inherent andGood Invited problem. Working overtime satisfies all of your values, and as weird as it sounds that person will feel good saying yes to that question. If you’ve ever watched a TV show, that person is the high roller businessman with next year’s Mercedes, a multi-million dollar home, a wife who’s hooking up with her trainer, and the kids who call the nanny “mom.”

Businessman about to set fire to a pile of documents

If your values are: work-life balance, interpersonal relationships, and your passion projects or hobbies that you like to spend your free time on, you will obviously categorize this as a Bad Inherent or a Bad Invited problem.

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You need to ask yourself then, is this an Bad Inherent or a Bad Invited problem? At the first level of analysis this may be considered inherent because your job dictates that you should expect that request during certain times of the year. At the second level of analysis you may consider this invited, because you chose to pursue that profession in the first place. At which level do you get to say yes or no? Which one can you justify and defend? Are your values aligned or misaligned with your pursuit?

Maybe your next consideration becomes a matter of how often you encounter problems that conflict with your ideals, and in what component of your life do they keep occurring? To stick with the theme, maybe you only encounter Bad Invited problems at your job. In this case, you keep making things harder for yourself by telling everyone yes. You rework your schedule over and over again in order to be able to accommodate other people’s agendas. A simple solution to this problem could be as simple as offering a reasonable alternative, or if it’s something that’s not my job,” maybe you can find a way that person or those people can do it themselves and you provide them the resources.

On the other hand, maybe you only and continuously encounter Bad Inherent problems at work. In this case, you need to do some soul searching. Maybe you’ve chosen the wrong job. Face it, it’s possible. You’ve carefully considered the issues that you keep having, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say “it’s part of the job.” Then what the hell are you still doing there? Maybe you want a promotion, maybe one day you hope to climb the ladder to the point that you can be the person with the dubious task of asking other people to stay and work late or come in on Sunday.

Look at the step ahead of you, who is your boss? Who is your boss’ boss? Indulge yourself in imagining the realities of those people’s day to day lives. Do you want that? If the answer is yes, maybe you keep plugging. Do the stuff you don’t want to now, so you can do their job later. If the answer is no (you don’t want their job) then maybe you just need to change gears and do something different. Don’t worry, I can hear you:

  1. I can’t afford to give up my job right now
  2. I don’t have the credentials to change jobs, I’ll have to go back to school
  3. It’s too late to start over again, I’d be back to square one
  4. I’ve pigeon-holed myself into a specific skill set
  5. I made the first promotion, and it’s not as good as I thought
  6. The last 20 years have been a colossal waste of time

I wonder how many people hit a point where they arrive at conclusion #5 or 6. Maybe that’s what a mid-life crisis is? How many of those people will arrive at a point where they realize they never pursued their dreams due to one unexpected change or another. Maybe an unplanned child, major financial loss, or simply following dreams that weren’t theirs to begin with. Maybe they’ve had their course set out by someone else, or had a realignment of values since they first started out. Whatever the reason, their problems no longer (or never did) align with their values, and as a result they’re filled with regret about the past and doubt about the future.

So what am I proposing as a potential solution? Get in touch with yourself, whoever that is right now. Do you have any questions about where your Bad problems are coming from? Can you identify where your Good problems are coming from? It sounds a bit selfish, but you hear it time and time again, you need to get YOUR situation sorted out before you can involve other people in it. It’s likely, after all, that you’ve encountered a situation where you simply don’t know. Is my relationship right? Is my job right? Well, I think the answer lies more so in the answer to the question: do you actually know who you are? If your values are sorted, well founded, and chosen with conviction, then your answers should fall into place. It’s probably a lot more likely that you will optimize the other components of your life simply by organizing your own.

Figure out what your values are, and ask yourself – is this component of my life stable? Does it (your relationship, your job, your financial situation, your family life) add meaning and purpose to your life, or does it tear you down and make you feel like you need to make a change?

I wonder (like last time) if I’m just hitting the age where you should start to consider these things a bit more seriously (or maybe I’m even late to the party.) Lately it’s been very helpful for me though, to take appraisals of my situations’ circumstances and begin work on optimizing each area of it. Maybe it’s that I’ve read a lot of books lately that have actually inspired me to critically look at my past, audit my present, and plan my future. In any case, trying to put it into words helps me navigate the landscape and may even incidentally help others who happen to come across it.