Does Your Job Make You Better? Or Worse?

Does your work make you a better person?  Or does your job make you a worse person?

Your answer could determine the trajectory of your entire life. No joke.

We’re all sadly familiar with the TV version of soul-sucking work. Someone, usually Dad, drags in the door at night, after a long day of meaningless drivel, constant anxiety and being pushed around by the boss.  He grumbles hello to his family, has three (or six) beers to forget the day, and falls asleep in front of the TV, only to rise the next day for a rinse and repeat.

It beats digging ditches, but it’s not much of a way to live.

Fortunately, work isn’t awful for everyone.  For many people, work is a venue with a positive impact on their lives.  Many of our clients tell us the mindsets, skills, and discipline they learn at work help them become better partners and parents.

So what’s the difference between work that steals your life, and work that animates your life?  In my experience it comes down to two things:

1. Emotional Impact
You may not check your email at the dinner table, but the thoughts and emotions you experience at work show up in your personal life. If your workday is filled with anxiety and stress, it’s going to take everything you’ve got to shake that off each day.

Executive Leadership coach Henna Inam says, “We live in a VUCA world.” VUCA is a managerial acronym short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.  Inman describes the conditiions, “People work on virtual teams with people all over the world, they get a new boss every 16 months, the competition is constantly changing, and they often don’t know if they’ll be restructured out of a job.  Not being in control brings us all kinds of fears.”

With the pace of change increasing, Inam suggests, “Leaders can grow the capacity of people to survive and thrive in change.” Employees who feel powerless against the winds of change, go home exhausted.People with the skills to claim a sense of personal agency, go home tired, yet satisfied.There’s a big difference.

2. Learning
An easy job does not create a life of bliss. Often, the opposite is true. Boring work turns you into a boring person. Inam says,  “Job experiences are a great way to stretch you. All learning happens when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone.”

I personally credit a decade of leadership development in my twenties with helping me succeed in the ultimate stretch assignment: parenting. Improving my strategic thinking, communication skills and conflict management techniques had a ripple effect on my personal life.

Inam, the founder of Transformational Leadership, Inc.says, “When you equip people with greater great capacity and skillsets, they become more valuable as family members.”

Any rewarding job is going to be challenging. There are going to be days when all you want to do is come home, cocoon yourself in your bedroom and watch Netflix. But if your work is consistently causing you to be short-tempered and exhausted, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I have the capacity to shape my emotional environment?
  2. Am I learning skills I can bring to the rest of my life?

If the answer to both questions is no, your work is probably having a chilling impact on everything else. If the answer is yes, congratulations!  You win. Your work is making you a better person.