WHAT TO DO WITH WORK WHEN LIFE IS HARD

by Trevor Lee

When life outside of work gets hard there are two common responses. One is to compartmentalize whatever is going on–creating a wall between work and the rest of life. The other is to have your work totally derailed. Neither of these is tenable.

Compartmentalizing serious issues in your life to keep them out of your work sounds like a good idea on the surface. After all, your failing marriage, loss of a loved one, crippling debt, struggling child, or medical diagnosis have nothing to do with your work. Except they do. The idea that your life can be broken up into pieces and walled off from each other just isn’t true. While you may be able to stuff your emotions and focus on your job, the subconscious is far too strong to make real separation possible. Your pain in life will start to leak out eventually, whether that’s in treating co-workers poorly, producing subpar work, or finding ways to medicate.

Your pain in life will start to leak out eventually, whether that’s in treating co-workers poorly, producing subpar work, or finding ways to medicate.

On the other hand, having your work totally derailed by problems outside the office isn’t an option either. You have a job to do. There are people who are counting on you. If you’re not able to continue doing your job well you’ll harm your company–stakeholders, employees, and customers. In this way you’ll be allowing your pain to become pain for other people.

So what do you do?

First, be honest about your pain. This starts with being honest with yourself. Don’t pretend that painful things don’t hurt and don’t affect you. Notice the ways your pain impacts you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When you name this impact it’s easier to deal with. The mind and body are better at coping with things that are acknowledged than things that are denied and pushed down. Once you’re honest with yourself about what you’re experiencing, find at least one other person with whom you can be honest. If you have a good relationship with a co-worker or manager it’s great to be able to share at least the basics of what you’re dealing with. In the last year I’ve been able to share some family struggles with my supervisor. We don’t dwell on it, but knowing he knows has been a plus to our relationship and work. And don’t be afraid to seek out the professional help of a counselor either. Giving an hour a week to counseling can make a huge difference in your ability to function well.

In the last year I’ve been able to share some family struggles with my supervisor. We don’t dwell on it, but knowing he knows has been a plus to our relationship and work.

Next, be aware when you need a break. This might mean taking five minutes during the day to go for a quick walk and refocus. If things are bad enough, you might need to take a vacation day–or a few. The point is, there are times where you can’t just “push through” and you need to be aware of yourself enough to know when that’s the case. At the same time, with the right perspective your work can actually be helpful in difficult times, not destructive. Which leads to the final point.

When there are things in your life outside of work that are hard or painful, your work can be something that brings some joy and goodness to your day.

Remind yourself of the good that comes from the work you’re doing. When there are things in your life outside of work that are hard or painful, your work can be something that brings some joy and goodness to your day. The reality is that your work is doing a lot of good in the world. You have the opportunity to positively impact employees, co-workers, vendors, and customers every day. The products and services you offer make life better for people. And there’s just something fulfilling about good day’s work. So remind yourself that your work be something that goes in the positive column when other things are rough.