Earlier this week I wrote about our lack of control at work and asked, “When you have to ask for permission at work for the simplest of things, how does that make you feel?” You might relate to some of the responses:
“I feel powerless, unappreciated. Like I'm a child asking for a second helping.”
“Like a fool.”
“It undermines trust and confidence.”
I described how the very companies striving to be more innovative and agile are often the ones that systematically rob employees of control. I told a story of how I was upbraided for not seeking permission, and how I felt humiliated.
And yet there’s someone at work who places more limits on you than your boss, or any policy or process.
The truth is that you have much more authority over your work and how you do it than you might care to admit. Every day you have some control over who you interact with and what you do. And every day you have complete control over how you interact with others and how you approach the work you need to do.
It took me decades to realize this. And I’m still learning that when you react to negativity with negativity, for example, you’re making a choice. When you say yes to pointless meetings, complain about how busy you are, and never schedule an hour for your own development, you’re making a choice.
I remember reading a post titled, “Do you need a permit?” by Seth Godin. It was in 2010.
“Where, precisely, do you go in order to get permission to make a dent in the universe?
The accepted state is to be a cog. The preferred career is to follow the well-worn path, to read the instructions, to do what we're told. It's safer that way. Less responsibility. More people to blame.
If you think there's a chance you can make a dent, GO.
Now. Hurry. You have my permission. Not that you needed it.”
It inspired me to be more ambitious, to try and make a bigger contribution without having to be told to do so. But you don’t need to wait for inspiration or a new job to make a difference. In The Art of Happiness at Work, the Dalai Lama said,
“Somebody may work on an assembly line with little variation in how to do their tasks, but they still have other kinds of choices in terms of their attitudes, how they interact with their co-workers, whether they utilize certain inner qualities or spiritual strengths to change their attitude at work.”
Starting right now, you can choose to be a kinder, more generous person at work. You can choose to learn and explore more, to actively look for the purpose and meaning in what you do. You can be a leader in one of the most important ways possible - through your example.
Every email, every meeting, even every ride in the elevator is a chance to make work better for yourself and those around you. Will you give yourself permission?