The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run - Henry David Thoreau
Are you investing, spending or wasting?
Answering the question of how much life you are prepared to lose for something you want requires that we first have a clear understanding of what life means to us. We can go on to discuss all sorts of philosophical answers. I guess most would have no problem recognising the way they feel when they are alive: "energized, happy, connected, healthy, appreciated, loved, useful, helpful, meaningful, light".
When we are in a state of wellbeing, even in adverse circumstances, "spending life" feels natural because there is something that tells us it is worth the experience. We may be aware of the amount of energy we are spending; we know that not all experiences are pleasant but we appreciate that life is about both the joys and sorrows. When there is a sense of growth, we intuitively know the amount of "life" we are consuming has been well spent.
Have you landed in shark-infested waters?
So, we are investing in the future, learning and growing until... we get stuck with a jerk. Working for an obnoxious boss or with backstabbing colleagues eats up a lot of "life". If every day you come home feeling disrespected, de-energized or worse, generally feeling bad about yourself or sorry for people you care about, you may be working in a toxic environment.
It may be that this is a temporary situation, or that you are overreacting or being too judgemental about others and yourself. But if there is enough evidence around you that the environment is unhealthy, perhaps the lessons you were meant to learn have already been processed and you've landed in a hollow territory of perpetuated drama. And it may be time to come back to the basic question of how much "life" you are prepared to spend in that situation.
In his book The Asshole Survival Guide, Professor Robert Sutton of Standford University writes,"Hundreds of experiments show that encounters with rude, insulting and demeaning people undermine others' performance - including their decision-making skills, productivity, creativity, and willingness to work a little harder and stay a little later to finish projects and to help coworkers".
"The list of damages goes on and on", says Sutton. "Workplace jerks also wreck their target's physical and mental health - triggering anxiety, depression, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and poor relationships with their families and partners".
Sutton adds that long-term studies in Europe show that working for an abusive boss increases the risk of heart disease and premature death.
So, I should ask you this question:
Are you sure you want to continue to let your energy be sucked into a toxic work environment? If the answer is "I need this job", how are you protecting yourself?
There is so much "positivity" around us that I almost feel sorry to write about these issues. Every day we hear success stories about how optimism triumphs and careers are not for quitters. It's just that persevering in the wrong direction can only make you dig yourself deeper.
We are all going to die. Just don't know when.
The way you look at the amount of life you can spend depends on how much "life" you think there is ahead. Although it sounds dramatic, sometimes it is good to remember the uncertainty and impermanence of our existence. Many problems arise out of denial of the finitude of life. Becoming aware of the reality of death, on the other hand, motivates you to make the best of your life at every moment and not to put choices off until "later".
If you are suffering in a work environment that does not foster your creativity, where there are no opportunities for collaboration and growth - or any other positive values that used to motivate you have vanished -, it may be time to do some serious existential thinking and consider your options. There is always a better option, perhaps by radical changes, or maybe by adapting your strategies and protecting your soul or learning better resilience techniques.
It may sound sad and hard to say, but as in any other "problem", the starting point is to recognize the suffering. Then you can search solutions.
You have YOU. And a lot of people who can support you.
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Plato said that the life not examined is not worth living. In my coaching practice, we use a lot of humour to put things into perspective, we try to look a work and life in general, from a distance. But sometimes I will surprise clients with an existential question like "Is this jerk worth dying for?". So far it's been infallible. Everyone knows the answer. And suddenly the sky clears and a rainbow of possibilities opens up.
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