When God first created the universe, he commanded: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9).
And yet, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that some days, as Blink 182 famously sang, “Work sucks. I know.”
I want to do work that sustains my soul. But oftentimes, my work can make me feel drained. When this happens, I turn to dog walks with my husband, swimming, and also my faith to fill my well.
Surviving the slog of seemingly purposeless tasks
During college, I interned for a nationally syndicated radio show in Manhattan, hoping to learn the ropes of broadcasting and production. Instead, I was tasked with washing coffee cups from the show’s guests and fetching two percent cottage cheese for the executive producer’s lunch (which, surprisingly, took me longer than expected to find in SoHo).
Unfortunately, miserable tasks are innate to every job. There will always be things we don’t enjoy doing which are part of our responsibilities. Such is life – how many of us enjoy cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry? I sure as heck don’t. But, I know that I have to do it to have a clean, smoothly-run household.
When I’m making yet another slide deck, answering my 100th email, or updating a spreadsheet again, I remember that I am a piece of the bigger picture of my workplace. There is a purpose behind some of these boring tasks, but when it gets tough to get through, game-ifying the experience can help. I like to reward myself with a quick New York Times Connections or Wordle, or Merriam-Webster Quordle or Blossom game – and sometimes a peanut M&M or two.
I also try to figure out if there truly is a better way to get them done. For instance, I created a slide deck template that I use for all my slides, which saves me time in picking a theme—and it makes the presentations look professional and consistent. There may be ways, even small ones like this, to help the company innovate.
Recovering from a major setback
I’ve experienced several setbacks in my professional career as an educator and writer. From working weeks with maddening passion on a whole new global literature curriculum that was denied to receiving repeated rejections on my manuscripts, I somehow had to keep my chin up and, coming back to my faith, trust that God’s will is unfolding in my life. I frequently turned to prayer, especially the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Bible in the Year podcast to keep afloat in these turbulent waters.
Most recently, three students united with a formal complaint against me, unhappy that their final grades were A- rather than A, despite the clear feedback and individualized attention I’d given all my students throughout the semester. They escalated their dissatisfaction to the academic division chair and the dean, and I had to meet with the students over Zoom with my superior mediating. The whole ordeal felt like a slap in my face. What more could I possibly give these students?
There’s a traditional, World War II-era British saying: “Keep calm and carry on.” Well, for me, it should be: “Keep God, and he will carry you.” My faith reminded me that Jesus implores us to forgive not 7, but 77 times (Matthew 18:21-22), and to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39). I let the students express themselves, then I calmly provided evidence of their work quality.
Ultimately, they went home with their A-’s intact, and I felt good knowing I stood my ground in an effective and respectful way. I’ve learned that when I experience a setback, even though it may sting, I should approach the situation with patience and mercy.
Navigating a toxic workplace
If you find yourself working in a place where employees are afraid of their boss and/or are distrustful of each other, among other nasty scenarios, know who you are as a good, upstanding person and child of God, and act accordingly.
Once, when a new boss began at one of my workplaces, the boss did not ascertain the full context of a situation and wrote me a nasty, unfounded email that targeted my character. At first, I fumed. But once I let some time pass, I responded with a matter-of-fact, data-driven email. This was very difficult to undertake – I had the urge to write IN ALL CAPS – but I remembered that as a witness of Christ, I had to act professionally and interact politely. What happened to me was unfair, but I knew I had to keep my integrity intact by responding with merciful justice.
Of course, if things are really terrible at work, seek help – go to trusted colleagues and human resources for sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and other problematic situations. That is never acceptable. Polish up your resume if your workplace is really a poor fit.
Otherwise, be the change you want to see at your job. Be your own advocate, and know your rights as an employee. Remember, you are never “stuck,” even if your situation feels hopeless. You might remember the story of Jesus walking on water. So, if God can walk on water to save Peter, he will pull you up from this metaphorical quicksand because you are meant to live a beautiful life.
Probably the number one question posed in elementary classrooms is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Notice that the teacher asks what the students want to be and not want to do. That’s because our work and our jobs are not central to our identity. They are certainly part of who we are, and I personally strive to have work fulfill me with the satisfaction that I am following God’s plan for me. So, if you’re grown up or still have ways to go, remember: What do you want to be?