You Got What You Wanted...Now What?

This post is in response to a reader’s request and is part two of two. If you have topics that you want to read about, you can always ask! We love hearing from readers like you.

What's your relationship with your work like?

Last week I wrote about how to ask for what you want from a place of intentionality instead of desperation. Let's say you’ve received the gift (the job, the promotion, the opportunity, etc.) that you were asking for - what do you do now? How do you nurture it so that it flourishes and doesn’t wither away? What do you do if it turns out that you asked for the wrong thing?

Oftentimes, we’re so focused on getting to the end, on reaching the goal, that we 1) miss the entire journey, and 2) don’t think about what we’ll do once we arrive. In fact, the wisest teachers I’ve learned from have encouraged me to let go of this idea that we “arrive” anywhere, ever - our lives are one long, rhythmic journey that can include goals, but those goals are never the end of the story. So if you’ve received something you wanted, take time to be grateful for it, bask in the feelings of glee or relief, and prepare to keep walking.

David Whyte talks a lot about the need to develop a relationship - he refers to it as a marriage - with our work. This idea was lost on me at first, but I’m beginning to understand what he means. For better or worse, we are in a relationship with our work, whether it's work that we love or work that drains us. For the purposes of this post, I’ll be talking about what to do when you’re in a relationship with work that you love, but I think the principles here can be re-framed and useful even if you’re in an arrangement that’s not working for you.

So what does being in a healthy, enriching relationship with our work look like? What do we do once we’ve started a journey we’re excited about? Here are some nuggets that I’m learning and re-learning every day:

First, remember that you’re in this for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build something beautiful, so let go of the pressure to have the most amazing, lucrative career ever today. Settle in, start laying the foundation, and be patient - it's all coming together.

Second, get Mama Bear-ish about your work. Protect it. No one is going to hand you the keys to a beautiful, quiet office where you can just do the work you love all day without worrying about dirty laundry, doctor’s visits, or getting your oil changed. Trust me, I’ve thought really hard about how to make that happen. If you’re committed to this work, you’ll have to decide what else in your life needs to go in order to make room for it. When you make your work a priority and create the space for it - even if it's a small space at first - it can flourish.

Third, keep the conversation going. Get in the habit of regularly checking in with your work - are you enjoying the day to day tasks? Do you still feel like this is the best use of your gifts? Are you comfortable with how much of your “life” is taken up by the work? If not, what needs to shift? Relationships with people - the healthy ones - require that we be open to talking about what’s working or not working for each person involved, and I’d argue that it’s the same in our relationship to work.

Fourth, nourish it. Paradoxically, our work is often most nourished when we do things other than work. This lesson is the hardest for me to learn. My default assumption is that the work will only get better if I work more, which to a certain extent is true, but it’s not the whole story. My work, and I know this is true for many others, is better and more meaningful when I take the time to nourish my body and my spirit. My interactions with clients are exponentially better when I’m well-rested, eat healthy meals, take breaks throughout the day, and make time to meditate in the morning.

Finally, loosen up a bit. Your relationship to the work is going to change over time, and the work itself is going to change. "The only constant is change," right? That's not a bad thing. Of course you have to commit to and protect your work, but don’t put it in a cage. Let it flit about and explore and transform. Start getting comfortable with the idea that the work you do today might look completely different in 10 years. If we focus too narrowly on what we believe we "should be doing," we stay small and confined, when our work can be expansive and deep and transformational.

I write this for you just as much as I write it for myself. These are hard lessons to learn. I hope you feel encouraged to really honor what you’re putting out into the world, because we (“the world”) need it. We need you to be committed to the work that lights you up.