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In Search of More “Great” Work

That this is my first post on this blog in more than six months is not a coincidence… it was just over six months ago that I started my current “official” job as a public servant for the state in which I reside. Yep… a government job. One that has required me to renegotiate the balance between work and play, leaving little time or inclination for creative self-expression.

Six months is enough time for me to graduate from probationary into “permanent” status as an employee. Six months is also just enough time for the newness of this opportunity to wear off, which for me can unfortunately be the kiss of death in terms of whether I decide to stick with something for the long-term, permanent status or not.

That’s a decision that a couple months ago I started thinking about a lot more than I anticipated I would this early in the job. And as much as I’d like to say I’ve found the “perfect fit,” I really can’t. Some days are better than others, but on the whole I tend to feel like I’m trying to fit a square peg into a very round hole. The money is decent and the benefits are great, but unfortunately it’s those edges that hang beyond the circle that make up more of the real “me” than the ones that manage to fill the space in the middle… and that’s the part that influences my general feeling of happiness and well-being far more than any paycheck.

The process of deciding how to proceed hasn’t been the prettiest, including more than my fair share of whining, far too much use of the word “bored,” the flaring of my tendency toward sarcasm, and more time spent brooding than I like to admit. But I’m happy to say that the last couple weeks have been more productive and I’m starting to feel like I’m approaching clarity, at least about just what it is that’s lacking in my current situation, which hopefully will lead me to figure out just what I need to do to improve it.

Some of that clarity is the product of a couple books I happened upon this week. I started reading Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love by Jonathan Fields a couple days ago and immediately related to his message. A few chapters in, though, I’ve put that on hold in order to first work through Do More Great Work: Stop the Busy Work. Start the Work That Matters. by Michael Bungay Stanier, which promises to help lay the foundation needed to get the most out of the rest of the first book.

Just two exercises, or “maps,” into Do More Great Work, I am feeling pretty optimistic. It’s already helping me to really re-clarify what kind of work I truly like doing … something about which at times I’ve been quite clear but lately have found to be more elusive and abstract. If you know me very well, the following will probably make you think… well, DUH! I know that’s how I reacted when it all came together on paper.



As I’ve been reminded, regardless of the job, pay or location, the work I’ve liked best … the kind that has made time disappear and brought a great sense of fulfillment … the kind that is my version of “great work” … has consistently included the following components:

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: The ability to do & create what I want, when I want, and at the speed I want … without having to jump through hoops to get permission, worry about whether some bigger power is going to disapprove, or abide by a pre-determined or group-selected set of rules or restrictions. Not in a rebel sort of way, but as a means of authentic individual self-expression.

CREATIVE CONTROL: Hand-in-hand with the first one, the power and opportunity to make every final creative decision without the need for defense or debate. Sometimes input it appreciated, sometimes not. A wealth of resources at my disposal from which to glean inspiration is also a plus. But in the end, the creative output is a product of my own and as such, is largely a solo project.

NEW CHALLENGES that result in a NEW PRODUCT or END RESULT: Something new to be figured out, the creation of something original and just a bit different than what’s currently out there. Something that feels like an extension of myself and which exists only because I do. Something that leaves my mark.

GENUINE INTEREST: The subject matter or topic area must be one in which I am genuinely, naturally interested.

SINGULAR FOCUS: The luxury of being able to eat, sleep and breathe what I’m working on. You might call it obsession… I prefer to call it passion.

RECOGNITION or some sort of AUDIENCE: Not necessarily a bright spotlight or loud applause, but someone with whom to share the end product who can and will offer a bit of validation.

Needless to say, my current job includes very little of the above, which as a government gig really comes as no surprise. I haven’t sorted out yet just how I’ll apply this renewed clarity to my present situation. It may mean figuring out how to do more “great work” within the context of my current job, either as part of the job itself or during my off hours. It may mean that I choose to seek a different position altogether. Or it may mean something that hasn’t occurred to me yet. Unfortunately the decisions cannot be based solely on job satisfaction and personal fulfillment… there’s those pesky little factors such as income & health insurance & such that have to be taken into consideration as well. I imagine the remainder of the book will help me work through some of these decisions.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to find myself back here with a bit more regularity, if for no other reason than to document my process and give me something to which I can refer when I start to feel out of touch.

I’d love feedback, so if you can relate or have an observation or story to share, please do so in the comments below… or if you prefer, privately by email.

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