The Clock Test

You walk into a conference room at work that you use often, look up, and notice that the clock has the wrong time. It’s working, but it's off by more than 20 minutes. A week later, you’re in the same room and notice that the time is still wrong. What do you do?

  1. Nothing.
  2. Complain that the time is wrong.
  3. Notify someone that the clock needs to be fixed.
  4. Try and change the time yourself.

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Now imagine the clock in your kitchen has the wrong time. Would you answer differently?

My own results

If you’re like me, you would fix the time in your home right away. But at work, your answer would be different.

I was able to take a version of this test quite recently when I was in the gym in my building and noticed the time was wrong. I was slightly annoyed, and wished that someone would fix it. I thought of telling the handyman, but it was too much effort for such a small issue.

A week later, the time was still wrong, and the same thoughts ran through my head. Then it hit me: I could fix it myself. So I walked up to the clock, lifted it off the wall (it was just hanging on a screw as many clocks do), and set the time.

This one trivial act made me feel a bit more empowered. It also made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner.

Control and motivation

It's a small example of the link between control and motivation that Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit) wrote about in his latest book, Smarter, Faster, Better.

“Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self-determination that gets us going."

Certain environments systematically rob people of their motivation by removing the opportunities to make even simple choices.

“In some workplaces, for example, control is embedded in a process and even the smallest actions require approval from someone else. Or, possibly worse, there’s ambiguity about who can decide what, and decision-making is negatively reinforced as people ask “Who gave you authority to do that?”

A feeling of learned helplessness spreads throughout the organization. People start to believe their “locus of control” is external instead of internal, It’s “they” and “them” who are responsible for decisions, and never “I” or “me.””

At home, it’s clear that I can make certain decisions and take actions. But at work? More than ever, we need people who will “Fix the clock” but we create corporate environments that tell us otherwise.

Did you give different answers to The Clock Test depending on where the clock was located? What made you decide to take action in one environment but not the other? What would it take for that to change?

“Their motivation was completely gone.”

At first, the doctors had no idea what could have caused the changes. Their families said they had become different people.

“It was as if the part of their brain where motivation lives had completely disappeared…They hadn’t become less intelligent or less aware of the world. Their old personalities were still inside, but there was a total absence of drive or momentum. Their motivation was completely gone.”

After years of research, they finally discovered the cause, and it points to how we can improve effectiveness and engagement at work.

When your striatum goes dark

The quote above was from Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg. A neurologist was describing patients who had blood vessels burst near their striatum, a part of the brain that coordinates a range of cognitive functions, including decision-making and motivation.

Though patients were normal in all other regards, they seemed markedly less interested in things. They would respond to instructions but wouldn’t take any initiative. For example, a man who had been known for his strong work ethic told his doctor, “I just lack spirit…I have no go. I must force myself to wake up in the morning.”

Sure ways to inhibit motivation

Over the past few decades, Duhigg cited a wide range of research that made the connection between decision-making and motivation.

“Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self-determination that gets us going…
‘The need for control is a biological imperative,’ a group of Columbia University psychologists wrote in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences in 2010. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster…One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. “Each choice - no matter how small - reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy., the Columbia researchers wrote.”

When you lose the ability to make decisions, you lose your sense of control and motivation. It happens when certain parts of your brain are damaged. It also happens when workplaces rob you of a sense of autonomy. 

The zombie apocalypse at work

Recently, I was talking with an executive about employee engagement at his firm and I was struck by the language he used. 

“They’re like zombies. You pass them in the lobby, going from meeting to meeting. There’s no eye contact. There’s no spark.”

In some workplaces, for example, control is embedded in a process and even the smallest actions require approval from someone else. Or, possibly worse, there’s ambiguity about who can decide what, and decision-making is negatively reinforced as people ask “Who gave you authority to do that?” Your work day is driven by systemic interruptions and your time largely scheduled by others.

A feeling of learned helplessness spreads throughout the organization. People start to believe their “locus of control” is external instead of internal, It’s “they” and “them” who are responsible for decisions, and never “I” or “me.”

The remedy

The treatment that was effective for some patients with striatal damage can also serve as a remedy for apathy at work: you help people develop the habit of making decisions and feeling in control. Here’s a quote from Carol Dweck, the researcher noted for her work on growth mindsets, who spoke to Duhigg for his book:

“‘Internal locus of control is a learned skill…training is helpful, because if you put people in situations where they can practice feeling in control, where that internal locus of control is reawakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel like they’re in charge of their own lives - and the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.”

The choices people make are even more powerful when linked to purpose: “They convince us we’re in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning."

It’s why Working Out Loud circles focus so much on autonomy and purpose, on taking small steps over the course of 12 weeks till you develop a habit that makes you feel in control. You experience earning your own access to people, knowledge, and possibilities.

Helping people develop an internal locus of control is relevant to any organization. In an extreme example, Duhigg cites the Marines general who revamped their basic training. The program that was famous for breaking down recruits and instilling strict discipline evolved “to force trainees to take control of their own choices…teaching a ‘bias toward action’…We’re trying to teach them that you can’t just obey orders.”

As human beings, the feeling of control is “a biological imperative,” and we need to practice developing it. The modern workplace needs us to practice too. Work requires more than people who just sit and await instructions. It needs people to feel more fully alive and motivated, with a bias toward action and meaning.

We don’t have to accept work the way it is. We have choices, and we have to practice making them.

 

 

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

The quote is from Dan Pink’s TED talk, “The puzzle of motivation.” It’s from August, 2009. He later went on to publish an excellent book on the topic, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

The more I research how to make work more effective and fulfilling, the more it’s clear that “science knows.” We hit management with study after study after study, and business doesn’t budge.

Science knows that psychological safety is the most important factor for successful teams, yet we work in environments that are designed for internal competition, hierarchical control, and fear.

Science knows we need focus and attention to do meaningful work, yet we work in environments designed for interruptions, where people check their email 36 times an hour

Even intuitively, we know. Parodies of the modern workplace go viral. The mismatch is funny because it’s true. ("A conference call in real-life" has 13 million views.) We shake our heads and laugh, but we're left with a tragic waste of human and organizational potential.

Here’s an extended excerpt from Dan Pink’s clear and compelling talk. What do you think it would take to “repair the mismatch”? Working Out Loud is one kind of change program that can help fix organizations. It will take more. What’s one other thing that might help?

“What worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. And if we really want to get out of this economic mess, if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things, to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.
The good news is that the scientists who've been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It's built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, they're interesting, or part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses…
Here is what science knows. One: Those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. Two: Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity. Three: The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive-- the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter…
The science confirms what we know in our hearts. So, if we repair this mismatch between science and business, if we bring our motivation, notions of motivation into the 21st century, if we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks, we can strengthen our businesses…maybe, maybe -- we can change the world.”

What millenials want at work

The quotation marks in the Wall Street Journal article seemed to drip sarcasm.

“Millenial experts.” If there was any doubt about the author’s attitude towards them, the word “upstart” made it clear, as did citing the ages of the distinctly non-millenial people offering highly-paid advice. A few weeks later, the NY Times followed up with a similar article, “Corporate America Chases the Mythical Millennial.” 

But whether millenials are different or not misses the bigger questions. What does anyone of any age want at work? And how do we give it to them?

Data on what works

The People Analytics team at Google have been analyzing what makes for a more effective team, and they published some of their findings in November. In short, they found that “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.” They identified five things that set successful teams apart.

Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
Psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics we found -- it’s the underpinning of the other four. How could that be? Taking a risk around your team members seems simple. But remember the last time you were working on a project. Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?”

What we all want

Laszlo Bock, the head of People Operations at Google and author of the excellent book, Work Rules!, talked about the research on what millennials want.

“We measure this sort of thing closely, and if you look at what their underlying needs and aspirations are, there’s no difference at all between this new generation of workers and my generation and my father’s generation.”

What will make a difference in an organization isn’t divining the needs and wants of any particular demographic, it’s figuring out how to get the universal basics in place, as Bock describes them in the same article.

“Every single human being wants the same thing in the workplace — we want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.”

If you can make $20,000 an hour talking about what millenials want and need in the workplaces of the future, that’s great.

If you can actually spread the behaviors that create those workplaces, that’s priceless.

I wish someone had told me this secret to being smart 

A smart kidIn my elementary school, each grade was split into three groups based on ability - essentially smart, medium, and dumb. I was happy when my teachers and parents labeled me smart. Looking back, I wish they hadn’t.

How did they know?

Certainly, hearing someone tell me I was smart was better than hearing I was stupid. But one problem with this system is that those labels become self-fulfilling prophecies. The kids in the stupid class think they're stupid and tend not to try hard. Their teachers also tend not to try as hard.

Salman Khan, who’s on a mission to change education which Khan Academy, described how these labels for kids are only relevant when applied to certain subjects at certain times.

There’s a group of kids who’ve raced ahead and there’s a group of kids who are a little bit slower. And in a traditional model, if you did a snapshot assessment, you said “these are the gifted kids,” “these are the slow kids” … But when you let every student work at their own pace - and we see it over and over and over again - you see students who took a little bit extra time on one concept or the other, but once they get through that concept, they race ahead. And so the same kids you thought were slow, you now would think they’re gifted. 

So the labels are often wrong, but they can lead to a mindset that shapes your life.

Fixed and growth mindsets

In the 1990s, researchers Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller from Columbia University worked with fifth-graders to understand the effects of different kinds of praise on motivation. After an easy set of problems, some students were praised for their ability (”You must be really smart!”) and some were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard!”). After a second set of problems, though, all the students were told they hadn’t scored  well.

The researchers aimed to measure whether the different kinds of praise would affect how the children dealt with challenges. Would their performance vary on the third set? Given a choice, would they choose easier problems? Would they view themselves differently?

The results showed a dramatic difference in performance. After receiving a poor score, children praised for being smart did 25% worse on the next set of problems. Children praised for working hard performed 25% better. Even more fascinating were the other differences they found. The children praised for intelligence equated their performance with their ability. So they did all they could to maximize their performance relative to other children. They chose easier problems, asked about the performance of others, and even “misrepresented” their scores more than the other children. They described intelligence as a fixed trait.

Children praised for their effort, however, equated their performance with how hard they worked. So they did all they could to maximize their learning. They chose problems that were harder. They were more interested in strategies for solving the problems than in the scores of others. They believed intelligence was something they could improve.

The secret

For me, the advantages of being labelled smart faded as soon as I got my big break and entered a high school where everyone was labeled as smart. Though I worked harder than ever, I optimized on the grades, not on the learning. I’d cram for the test and would even write the occasional formula on the palm of my hand. In college, I dropped courses that were too difficult. Like the fifth-graders in Carol Dweck’s research, I was desperately trying to validate my label and the story I’d been telling myself. And I limited my possibilities as a result.

It was only decades later that I realized the secret to being smart - and to accomplishment in almost any field - is having a growth mindset. It’s more effective and fulfilling to focus on getting better over being good. Instead of relying on some inborn gift, you rely on effort and feedback. You view setbacks as learning opportunities. You persist.

Next week, I’ll write about a school that creates a growth mindset in children, and produces the smartest kids in the world as a result. We’ve known for a long time there’s a better way to identify and develop talented people. And organizations of all kinds have a lot to learn from such a school.

Solving the recognition paradox

No Thank YouEvery year, we send out employee surveys and, every year, we discover employees aren’t as engaged as we’d like. And yet every year we neglect to do one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective things we can do to improve employee engagement: appreciate what people do.

Why?

More than sex and money

Harvard Business Review routinely publishes articles on employee motivation and engagement. One of the most famous is from Frederick Herzberg who, in 1968, wrote “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” In that article (which for a long time had more reprints purchased than any other from HBR), Herzberg dismissed ham-fisted attempts by managers to motivate employees and urged them instead to focus on job enrichment and "motivator factors".

“The growth or motivator factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement. The dissatisfaction-avoidance or hygiene factors that are extrinsic to the job include: company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security.”

Herzberg’s surveys put recognition as the second most important factor in employee satisfaction.

This week, 45 years after Herzberg’s article, HBR published “The Two Most Important Words”. It’s a personal story from former Mattel CEO, Robert Eckert, on the power of saying “thank you” at work. To make his point more memorable, he quotes another CEO, cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash:

“There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

In the decades in between those two articles, there have been countless studies showing that recognition and praise increase engagement, decrease turnover, and lead to to many other very specific business benefits. So why don’t we see more of it?

Praise paralysis

Just this week, in a meeting where people were lamenting all the issues contributing to employee dissatisfaction, someone suggested we should recognize employees more. Another person agreed, saying that even though there wasn’t budget for events and the like, we should try to be creative.

“How about saying thank you?”, I asked. And an awkward silence fell upon the room.

It was as if “recognition” was something that only came packaged in awards programs. As if we have forgotten the simple, powerful, human gestures of sending a hand-written note or publicly recognizing someone’s work (something that's become easer than ever to do using our social platform).

That meeting wasn’t an aberration. Research “revealed just one in five workers believe a boss at work has ever publicly recognized them. And fewer than half of employees have received even one personal thank-you from their boss.”

Barriers to praise

For many, the potential downsides of rewarding employees - that praise and recognition can be misused, misunderstood, or even bring about negative results - is enough to lead to inaction.

In “Why We Do What We Do”, the psychologist Edward Deci cautions that “rewards can be used as a way to express appreciation, but the more they are used as motivators...the more likely it is that they will have negative effects.”

Too often, managers rely on bonus money or other prizes to reward people. But, as Deci points out, “the results of the studies cast further doubt on the efficacy of these pay-for-performance practices.” Results tend to be short-term and “will likely encourage shortcuts and undermine intrinsic motivation. They will draw people’s attention away from the job itself, towards the rewards it can yield, and that without doubt will result in less effective, less creative problem solving.”

A safe way to start

So what do you do if crude carrots and sticks don’t work? You can get ideas for  comprehensive recognition programs from books like “The Carrot Principle”. They provide useful tools to help you decide on everything from budgets to specific types of rewards for different kinds of achievements.

To start, though, some of the best advice is also the easiest to follow: begin with a genuine, personal “thank you.” Robert Eckert put it well in “The Two Most Important Words”:

“Wherever I show my thanks, these tips work well for me:

  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work.
  • Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Punish in private; praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific.”

I was thinking about this as I was walking to an appointment yesterday. I noticed a landscaper in Battery Park City pruning back some very tall grasses. It was clearly very physical work and the results were stunning. As I walked by, I thought “I should really say thank you.” Yet, in that moment, I was just like every manager at work. I knew what to do but was too busy with other things to act on it.

This time, though, I turned back, approached the landscaper, and thanked her for making our neighborhood look so wonderful. She looked at me, surprised. Then she wiped her brow and smiled. “Thank you for appreciating it.”

That moment made my day. And for the landscaper, she knew that at least one person valued her hard work and admired her achievement. That moment, multiplied by thousands - by millions - is what the Robert Eckert had in mind when he encouraged readers and their firms to “Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance.”

It is a game changer. And it could all start with a “thank you.”

Solving the recognition paradox

No Thank YouEvery year, we send out employee surveys and, every year, we discover employees aren’t as engaged as we’d like. And yet every year we neglect to do one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective things we can do to improve employee engagement: appreciate what people do.

Why?

More than sex and money

Harvard Business Review routinely publishes articles on employee motivation and engagement. One of the most famous is from Frederick Herzberg who, in 1968, wrote “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” In that article (which for a long time had more reprints purchased than any other from HBR), Herzberg dismissed ham-fisted attempts by managers to motivate employees and urged them instead to focus on job enrichment and "motivator factors".

“The growth or motivator factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement. The dissatisfaction-avoidance or hygiene factors that are extrinsic to the job include: company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security.”

Herzberg’s surveys put recognition as the second most important factor in employee satisfaction.

This week, 45 years after Herzberg’s article, HBR published “The Two Most Important Words”. It’s a personal story from former Mattel CEO, Robert Eckert, on the power of saying “thank you” at work. To make his point more memorable, he quotes another CEO, cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash:

“There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

In the decades in between those two articles, there have been countless studies showing that recognition and praise increase engagement, decrease turnover, and lead to to many other very specific business benefits. So why don’t we see more of it?

Praise paralysis

Just this week, in a meeting where people were lamenting all the issues contributing to employee dissatisfaction, someone suggested we should recognize employees more. Another person agreed, saying that even though there wasn’t budget for events and the like, we should try to be creative.

“How about saying thank you?”, I asked. And an awkward silence fell upon the room.

It was as if “recognition” was something that only came packaged in awards programs. As if we have forgotten the simple, powerful, human gestures of sending a hand-written note or publicly recognizing someone’s work (something that's become easer than ever to do using our social platform).

That meeting wasn’t an aberration. Research “revealed just one in five workers believe a boss at work has ever publicly recognized them. And fewer than half of employees have received even one personal thank-you from their boss.”

Barriers to praise

For many, the potential downsides of rewarding employees - that praise and recognition can be misused, misunderstood, or even bring about negative results - is enough to lead to inaction.

In “Why We Do What We Do”, the psychologist Edward Deci cautions that “rewards can be used as a way to express appreciation, but the more they are used as motivators...the more likely it is that they will have negative effects.”

Too often, managers rely on bonus money or other prizes to reward people. But, as Deci points out, “the results of the studies cast further doubt on the efficacy of these pay-for-performance practices.” Results tend to be short-term and “will likely encourage shortcuts and undermine intrinsic motivation. They will draw people’s attention away from the job itself, towards the rewards it can yield, and that without doubt will result in less effective, less creative problem solving.”

A safe way to start

So what do you do if crude carrots and sticks don’t work? You can get ideas for  comprehensive recognition programs from books like “The Carrot Principle”. They provide useful tools to help you decide on everything from budgets to specific types of rewards for different kinds of achievements.

To start, though, some of the best advice is also the easiest to follow: begin with a genuine, personal “thank you.” Robert Eckert put it well in “The Two Most Important Words”:

“Wherever I show my thanks, these tips work well for me:

  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work.
  • Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Punish in private; praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific.”

I was thinking about this as I was walking to an appointment yesterday. I noticed a landscaper in Battery Park City pruning back some very tall grasses. It was clearly very physical work and the results were stunning. As I walked by, I thought “I should really say thank you.” Yet, in that moment, I was just like every manager at work. I knew what to do but was too busy with other things to act on it.

This time, though, I turned back, approached the landscaper, and thanked her for making our neighborhood look so wonderful. She looked at me, surprised. Then she wiped her brow and smiled. “Thank you for appreciating it.”

That moment made my day. And for the landscaper, she knew that at least one person valued her hard work and admired her achievement. That moment, multiplied by thousands - by millions - is what the Robert Eckert had in mind when he encouraged readers and their firms to “Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance.”

It is a game changer. And it could all start with a “thank you.”

“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.

“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.