Finding Fulfillment in Ordinary Work and Not Living an Ordinary Life

I think – I don’t actually think – I know, but it’s more modest to start with “I think,” so… I think that there is a growing trend in work needing to be “inspirational” and “fun.” People, particularly young ones (don’t worry this isn’t a millennial bashing session), have a hard time forcing themselves to work on things they are not passionate about. This puts a lot of emphasis on the work and gives the work a tremendous amount of power and control over them.

Striving to be constantly inspired places us in the position of mass consumption of self-help books and Ted Talks in order to create such a deep yearning for the life we think we want. And it puts us in direct opposition with the life and work we are presently involved with. Here comes the conflict – internal and external – with nowhere to hide, folks.

But why is it that someone like Tony Robbins, who has been so incredibly successful at selling products that are supposed to make people more like him, has very few students achieving at his level? In all of his years teaching and coaching, why hasn’t he been replicated?

Why do we need to continually consume the same type of “inspirational” information if it’s supposed to give us the tools to, dare I say, live the life of our dreams?

Constant fulfillment, optimal enjoyment, instant gratification, max living, passion, inspiration, thinking out of the box, goal crushing, dream weaving

We hear these clever phrases and feel instantly optimistic, like it’s a secret language that only the chosen speak, certainly not those “unenlightened” folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan working for the local power company. And then we make them into cute text graphics that we put on Pinterest not realizing that writing them in cursive is a far cry from living that kind of life.

Now we are obsessed with only doing things that make us feel “alive.” And I understand that our parents punched the clock every day for however many years and developed the black lung in the coal mines just so we could eat Hamburger Helper on Fridays and watch the television after supper if we finished our string beans and that we do not, in any manner, want to replicate that lifestyle. I hear you. I hear us.

Now if we can’t share what we are doing for work online and make tens of thousands of people simultaneously envious of us and dependent on us, then we are not doing important work. In fact, we are pathetic and our work is meaningless.

I’m just setting the tone here.

I mentioned earlier about the desire to live like someone else and work in a field that is cool because some twerp in flip-flops driving a Maserati was quoted one time saying fuck during a meeting with venture capitalists and half the world decided in that moment that they needed to quit their jobs and become like him.

Now, I’m not a Buddhist, although I’m not not a Buddhist, but I can tell you that the second we open our phones in the morning and log onto our social accounts and start looking at all those models and travel bloggers we start feeling like we are missing out. More importantly, most importantly, our current work becomes the enemy of our freedom. We obsess over everything we don’t have and we know we have to get out of our situations so we can finally pursue the things that are really in our hearts.

Unfortunately, most of us are not going to inherent a trust from our late great Grandpa Vangarden. Nor do we have 10,000 hours of training in a particular skill that will make us the foremost authority in a certain industry and instantly and indefinitely employable. Most of us are just kind of normal. We are just kind of hoping that something magical happens and we stop feeling so effectively shitty in our daily lives.

Why can’t we just admit that this is the truth? That we feel average. Rather, deep down, we know we are average. That we wish we were Elon Musk or Kate Moss or Stephen King. That we are just trying to attach to something those people said or did for a second so we can know what it feels like for ourselves. If we could admit that this is what we do, how we feel, then we have a chance at gaining perspective over our own, actual lives. And once we have perspective we can come up with a plan to make it more meaningful.

Here’s what we can do.

It’s not about the work we are doing as much as it is about the way we work.

I can tell you this, as someone who has worked largely for himself for the last 7 years, that doing ANYTHING from 9-5 will eventually become a terrible thing. I don’t care if I am curing cancer or being the tester for the latest techniques in oral sex. Overexposure to anything takes the life out of it. And LIFE is what we are all after, right? Feeling alive in our work and in our day-to-day.

So, the stigma about inspirational work can’t be as much about the work itself as it is about the newness of the work.

The real workplace is your mind. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur or particularly analytical. The mind needs constant stimulation, constant challenge. The second the mind has figured something out it might as well be dead to it.

But that’s not news. We all know this. We’ve seen it in our relationships. If we’re really looking, we’ve seen it in everything.

But why aren’t we actually doing anything about it?

We are about to split into 10 different articles because I’m feeling the flow and I want to square us all away on all of our ailments but I have to keep this specific to finding fulfillment in ordinary work. I think that will be the title, or something close to it.

We find fulfillment in our work, and correspondingly our lives, when we learn to develop a schedule and lifestyle that works with the cyclical flow of our thoughts and feelings and simultaneously develops us as holistic humans.

Wtf does that mean, bro?

We have to consider that we are multi-dimensional people. Impossible to satiate with any one thing. It is a celebration to be so complex. And as another saying goes, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”

So, knowing that we are complex, multi-dimension creatures that are constantly seeking stimulation and easily distracted by the slightest red circle notification, we know it makes perfect sense to incorporate that information into the way we structure our work days.

Let’s forget 9-5 for a second because even saying it reminds me of an America I am ready to forget. Let’s say we are going to be active, cognitive humans from 7am – 7pm every day. That’s 12 hours dedicated to making ourselves better every day. Time for our work and time for ourselves. And in those 12 hours we are going to worry about 4 specific categories – Work, Health, Personal, and Creative.

Which can be further broken down as follows:

Work: Important Work and Boring Work

Health: Fitness and Nutrition

Personal: Relationships and Self-Development

Creative: All The Shit You Want To Do After You Watch Steve Jobs Or Read A Book About Picasso

In 12 hours it is our duty, as people actively seeking inspiration, to touch on all of these subjects.

In order to fill the time appropriately – to make sure that you are working towards something specific and not just floating in space – you need objectives, or goals, and you need them for each category. You can make goals for 5 minutes from now and you can make them for 5 years from now. Both are important. I prefer to focus on what is in front of me and let the big picture be a bit of a surprise. Meaning I only plan out 1 day in advance while loosely keeping the full week’s scope in the back of my mind. After all, I never would have guessed even remotely accurately where I would be today, 5 years ago. So I’ll leave that work up to the higher powers.

Loose goals – learn Spanish, draw a self portrait, post last 10 photoshoots on blog, get caught up on Yelp inquiries, invoice clients, settle credit card dispute, finish marketing videos for client, lose 10 pounds, drink a green smoothie every day, write proposal for Seattle, book tickets to SF, call my gd mom, etc…

Let’s say that I’ve written down my goals in each category for the next month (please be much more specific and organized than the above example). Now I can start taking those goals and plugging small steps into my every day life. Because that’s how things get done.

Here is what an average day might look like:

7:00AM – Wake up, make tea with lemon (Health)
7:15AM – Stretch for 30 minutes + listen to Spanish podcast (Health + Creative)
7:45AM – Meditate for 10-15 minutes (Personal)
8:00AM – Write in my journal for 10 minutes (Creative)
8:15AM – Make and eat breakfast. Eggs, avocado, toast (Health)

9:00AM – Refer to list of daily objectives written the night before (The Rolling 9)
9:01AM – Open laptop, edit photos (Boring Work)
10:00AM – Answer client emails, post photos on blog (Boring Work)
11:00AM – Call credit card company, bank, and AAA (Boring Work)

11:45AM – Boxing class (Health + Personal)

1:15PM – Make and eat lunch. Chicken, rice, salad, avocado (Health)

2:00PM – Run errands. UPS store, Trader Joe’s, George’s Camera (Boring Work)
4:00PM – Family photo shoot (Important Work)

5:30PM – Go out to dinner. Chill (Heath + Personal)

7:00PM – Edit photos from Family photo shoot (Boring Work)
8:00PM – Watch Narcos (Personal)
9:00PM – Take drawing lesson on Skillshare.com (Creative)
10:00PM – Drink tea. Read. Maybe stretch (Personal + Creative + Health)

11:00PM – Goodnight America.

My days are extended a little outside of the 7am-7pm time frame and yours probably will too. For me, the nighttime has a freedom attached to it that makes doing work fun. It’s also when I get a chance to work on some of my creative endeavors because that’s the type of mood I’m usually in.

I put check marks next to everything when I finish. I even give myself a check for eating breakfast 🙂 And the completion of the full list, of my “goals,” at the end of the day is more moving to me on a personal level than any one thing on there. Even my absolute favorite thing. Because I get to know that I’ve followed through on something. I’ve moved forward, definitively. And I’ve worked on things I’ve always said I wanted to as well as done all of the things I needed to, today.

Some people might argue that it isn’t enough time to get everything done. Not true. You have to give this system time to acclimate to your workload.

For the 9-5ers that are say, “Ha! Try this in my office,” I have prepared a thoughtful suggestion for you HERE.

Half of this day is shit I don’t want to do. It’s not fun, it’s not inspiring, it’s “Boring Work” and it pretty much sucks. But I do it in short bursts and I do it because anyone who has ever actually accomplished something they set out to knows you have to do a bunch of stuff that isn’t glamorous. But I can stomach it. I can almost learn to love it. Because it is a part of an ecosystem that represents all of me. And, most importantly, because I have control over how I’m spending my time and I know I am making progress as a person.

Inspiration doesn’t come from an individual act or a specific topic – it comes from being good at something, from following through, from feeling important, seen, heard, essential, and it comes from satisfying our own inner-critic, the one that thinks we’re ultimately too average to inspire ourselves.

Behind the Maserati twerp in flip flops are about a thousand coders breaking their knuckles doing the actual work that makes his world run. And ultimately, a good 10,000 + hours of coding skill in his own back pocket that got him to the place where he could wear flip flops. Although we like to only talk about the pretty stuff, we can’t neglect the fact that it’s the physical (wo)man hours – the work itself – that gives us a sense of self worth. In order to stay engaged in that type of work we have to dress up everything that is happening around it and know that the accumulation of accomplishment becomes the true inspiration.

If you are unhappy with your work it probably means that you are unhappy with your life. Instead of making your job the enemy and announcing that you have to quit and move to Bali because of a vision board workshop you attended, try taking some steps to break up your workload and make the rest of your day more fulfilling, on a health, personal, and creative level.

Take an art class in the evening instead of watching Netflix. Listen to a foreign language podcast during your commute instead of the same, tired Spotify playlist. Get to sleep earlier goddamnit. Get up early and do something personal. Don’t touch that damn phone. Sleep with it in another room. Turn it off! Wake up and feel your body and know your breath before you engage with the monsters of the world.

At some point you’re going to realize that it’s way fucking harder to work on yourself than it is to answer a customer email, and you’ll be begging for slices of the mundane to balance you out.

Kirk Hensler is the creator of ‘Organizing Inspiration – How to bring your brilliant ideas to the world,’ a course for entrepreneurs and creatives to identify their brand, create a work process, and implement an intuitive working schedule. Check out his course HERE.

Organizing Inspiration Course Trailer: How to Bring Your Brilliant Ideas to the World from kale & cigarettes on Vimeo.
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    One Comment

    1. April 7, 2017

      This was the most fucking brilliant and relevant thing I’ve read in ages. I came for the w30, but am leaving with THIS! Thanks for the needed kick to the head.

      Reply