Your Job is Like Cake

Do you like cake?

I love cake.  Give me a piece of cake, and I’m happy.

A good job is kind of like cake.  One piece is excellent.  Two pieces are good.  But if you eat a whole cake, you’re going to stop liking cake.

A lot of people are burned out at work.   We’ve seen the Gallup numbers, over half the workforce is disengaged.  Much of the widespread disengagement is traced to lack of autonomy and purpose.

There’s also a third issue at play: fatigue.  It’s why many people who used to like work, now hate it.  They’re exhausted from an overdose of something they used to enjoy.

It’s like cake, 24/7.  You wake up, there’s coconut cake by your bed.  You get served up a big slice of chocolate cake at 10 a.m., there’s angel food for lunch.  Afternoon brings raspberry with cream cheese frosting, on your way home fluffy white cupcakes pop up on your cell phone, there’s a big heaping of red velvet waiting for you on the kitchen counter, and after dinner, the people on the west coast give you three big slices of carrot cake to eat before bed.

By the end of the day, you hate cake.  By the end of the week even the thought of cake makes you nauseous.  You’re in cake prison.  Everywhere you look is more cake.

I recently got an email from a colleague apologizing for a three-day response time. “Apologies for the lag in responding,” she wrote. “The joy and pain of escaping to an island is often because the things we take for granted are unavailable.   In this case of course, it simply forced me to unplug.”

I wasn’t annoyed; I was cheering for her.   When was the last time you fully unplugged?

My colleague accurately described her escape as “joy and pain.”  When you’re in the hyper-connected wheel of productivity, moving away from it, even for a day feels uncomfortable.  How long can you go without your phone before your fingers start twitching?

I’m old enough to remember a time before email.  When people went on vacation, they were unavailable.  My father said, in banking people were required to take two consecutive weeks of vacation each year.  The thinking was if someone was doing anything illegal or sneaky, it would show up in the second week.

The unintended consequence was my father and his colleagues all had the chance to completely unplug for two weeks a year.  Flash forward a few decades, we’re in a culture where people apologize for a three-day response time.

I confess; I’m a person who tends to overindulge.  When I was a ten I went to a church cake party.  I was so excited, I dreamt about it for weeks.  There was a table for every month of the year, and on every table were cakes representing that month.  You could eat as much as you wanted.  And the best part?  I was going with friends, not my mom, so there was no one to reign me in.

I ate so much cake I was sick for days.  It was a full year before I even wanted to look at cake again.

I learned my lesson on cake at age 10.  It’s taken a few decades longer for me to learn the same lesson about work.  If you run around eating everything on the table, it’s only a matter of time before you loathe the thing you used to love.