“How’s work?”

Whenever I’m asked about how work is going these days, I usually reply “It’s great.” Maybe I’ll follow it up with “I really love my job.” Then I get the look. A mixture of surprise, bemusement, and a little dislike.

“Really?” they’ll ask.

I never used to love my job. But some important things changed.

Most of my career

For the most part, I’ve worked in large corporations, including 15 years at my current firm. I’ve had some good bosses and very bad ones. Some great teams and mediocre ones. And feelings ranging from anxiety to exhilaration to depression.

But it always felt like, well, work. Something I did to make money instead of something I genuinely wanted to do.

So, every Sunday night, I’d start dreading the week ahead. I’d hit the snooze button in the mornings. I’d buy lottery tickets.

The big difference

Changing all of that didn’t involve joining the Peace Corps or changing firms. I didn’t even change my desk.

I just stopped being afraid. Afraid of trying to accomplish something I cared about. Afraid of the consequences if it didn’t work out.

A year ago, in my first blog post, I listed 10 things I believed about work, including what motivates people at work:

“I believe that autonomy, mastery, purpose, and community are fundamental human motivators. (Daniel Pink writes of the first three in “Drive”.) We are hardwired to want control over the work we do and to get better at it. To do it for a good reason and with people we connect with.”

By learning to overcome the lizard brain (as Seth Godin would refer to it), I was able to see opportunities within my firm and go after them. That gave me a purpose - one that was self-directed so I felt in control. A purpose that inspired me to learn and build new relationships because I cared so much about it.

Tapping into the basic human motivators made all the difference in how I felt about work.

What about you?

It's possible anywhere. The psychiatrist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched people who find “flow” in all sorts of work environments and are both happier and more productive. Viktor Frankl wrote about finding meaning in a concentration camp.

For 45+ years, I ceded control of my happiness and my career to other people. That was my fault. And I’m determined not to make that mistake again.

What about you? “How’s work?”

If you don’t like the answer, what are you going to do about it?

You don't need to wait for permission or a crisis. Start learning how to work out loud, take control of your reputation, and build relationships. Invest in yourself now.