Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously

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10 months have passed since we made those new year’s resolutions, and we’ve got less than 100 days until the end of the year.

If you’re asking yourself, “Damn, this year flew by SO quickly! Where has all that time gone?”, then that makes the two of us. If this is the first time you realized this, consider this your wake-up call.

Looking back at the past couple of months, it felt like I had spent most of my evenings and weekends working on various personal and professional projects. I know that I’ve been taking them quite seriously, often working late into the night.

However, despite the amount of time and effort invested in the work, I don’t feel like I’m making much progress against the goals that I’ve set for myself about 10 months ago. Heck, I’ve even given up on some of them because they didn’t seem to be working out.

“What a failure…”, I told myself.

This put me into a state of minor panic; It’s bad enough that I feel like I’m lagging behind on my goals, but now I’ve also failed at some of them? This wasn’t good for my mental well-being.

Fortunately, I’ve practised enough mindfulness to know that I need to stop this negative self-talk if I want to move on from this episode. The question is how?

As I reflected deeper on this, the answer slowly became obvious to me: while I should take my work very seriously, I don’t always need to take myself too seriously.

What does that mean? Let’s find out.

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Recognize what’s working more than what's not working

Earlier this year, my coach, Sam, called out a self-limiting behaviour of mine. She told me that I’ve got to be kinder to myself, and learn to look at what I’ve done instead of what I haven’t done.

This comment took me by surprise. It wasn’t something I didn’t already know, but having it brought out and put in front of me like that felt like a (gentle) kick to the shin.

Naturally, people tend to pay more attention to things that don’t work out as opposed to things that do; it’s a survival mechanism hardwired into our DNA. Now, this instinct is also sabotaging my mental well-being.

After this behaviour was called out, I realized that I’ve been too “zoomed in” on my perceived shortcomings. When I zoomed out on the past 280+ days instead, a different story seemed to emerge:

  • I’ve read almost 18 books this year and am on track to meet my target of 21
  • I stepped out of my comfort zone and spearheaded the partnerships function at a local healthcare startup without prior experience
  • I’m halfway through my professional coach training with the Collective Change Institute (CCI)
  • I’ve managed to keep up my daily runs for 35 consecutive weeks, even though I’ve hated it for 30 years of my life!

That point I’m making here is that when things look or feel like it’s going nowhere, try taking a step back rather than diving right in. You might find that you’ve actually made quite a bit of progress, but these were made with small incremental achievements instead of big wins. When you learn to recognize and celebrate these small wins, you might find yourself feeling better more often than not.

Photo credits: smstandret

Things don’t always work out, and that’s okay

Of course, things don’t always work out. Our goals and priorities can also change because circumstances don’t always remain constant.

To maintain a positive mindset, we need to recognize two things:

  1. Life happens and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. These are things that are outside of our sphere of influence, like the weather or how other people think of us. Instead, what we can change is how we respond to these changes. These are things that are well within our power to change, thereby granting us the ability to adapt our plans accordingly.
  2. Sometimes we have to experience things not working out to know how we should adapt our plans instead. Life is simply too short to spend time and effort on meaningless endeavours

When you do that, you might just think to yourself, “Well, I guess things aren’t THAT bad after all.”

Photo credits: FlamingoImages

See challenges as opportunities for action

In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi suggests that the difference between someone who enjoys life and another who is overwhelmed by it is the way they see challenges as threats or as opportunities for action.

If we see challenges as threats, we will tend to run away and hide. The threat never goes away, and it will remain an obstacle to our progress forever.

On the other hand, if we see it as opportunities for action, we will then get a shot at overcoming this challenge and learn something new in the process.

Here’s a great quote by Robin Sharma, which summarizes this point perfectly:

“There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. There is no such thing as a negative experience, only opportunities to grow, learn and advance along the road of self-mastery. From struggle comes strength. Even pain can be a wonderful teacher”

As we can see, it’s really all about perspectives.

Photo credits: seventyfourimages

You have it within you to shape your reality

When you put it all together, you’ll notice that you’ve done quite a lot for yourself already. Start first by zooming out and recognising progress, milestones and achievements, regardless of how big or small.

Next, always remember that things don’t always work out. Sh*t happens, and that’s ok. What’s important is that we acknowledge it, make adjustments to our plans, and move on. Life’s too short to get mired in negative self-talk.

Lastly, learn to perceive challenges as opportunities to grow. No effort is wasted effort; only opportunities for growth. More importantly, know this: We should always take our work seriously, but not ourselves. It’s good to always do the best we can, but don’t forget to smell the roses along the way.

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About the author
Terry Toh

Terry Toh

Terry is an aspiring life coach working towards his accreditation by the International Coaching Federation. He loves to read about personal development and entrepreneurship, often with a nice cup of coffee or G&T in hand.
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