Stop taking work so seriously!

Posted by on Apr 26, 2013 in Career Advice | 24 comments

Does your job keep you up at night?

Do you work too hard?

Do you care too much?

Yeah, I’ve been there.

I’ve always been a little too serious with a highly developed sense of responsibility. This trait carried over into my work, in a serious way. I tried to do it all and rarely said no. I stressed myself to the point it started to affect my health. After several significant illnesses I realized something had to give- my body already was.

I made a conscious choice to stop taking work too seriously. I had to give up my inflated sense of responsibility and importance. I had to make mistakes, have fun, let go, and simply be happier at work!

What did it take to stop taking work so seriously?

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Be happy

I am virtually unable to be happy and stressed (or angry, or sad) at the same time. Focusing on being happy meant I felt less stress and was less likely to take every little thing that happened during the day to heart.

Being happy is easier than I thought once I stopped thinking happiness comes from the outside instead of the inside.

Be responsible for me and me only

As a manager I thought my employee’s performance was ultimately my problem. I tried directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. If an employee didn’t live up to my expectations I was sure I was the one that failed. I made myself crazy and undoubtedly make other people a little crazy, too.

I cannot control what anyone else thinks, says, or does- that’s up to them! I can be responsible for me and me only.

Be a team player

I not only took on responsibility for my employees and co-workers, I took on responsibility for the overall business success. But one player alone cannot win or lose the game. The more responsibility I accepted, the more serious I was about my work.

Seeing myself as part of the team helped me give up some of my responsibility and share it. Plus, it’s just more fun to work with others!

 Ask for help

If a job was assigned to me, well, then I was going to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Only, it turns out, “whatever it takes” sometimes meant working myself sick.

Work is less overwhelming when it’s shared. So, I started asking for help. The best part of asking for help wasn’t even the help I received, but the relationships I improved with the people that worked with me.

 Say no

Not only did I say yes to just about every request, I volunteered to take on more without even being asked! I’m sure it’s no surprise to you I was overburdened, overworked and over-serious!

I started to say no, not only to others, but also to my desire to be helpful to others all the time.

 Make mistakes

My fear of mistakes was one of the main reasons I took work too seriously- what if I screwed up? I still made mistakes and I was seriously stressed out every time I did. When I began to accept and even embrace mistakes I stopped stressing myself out and started having more fun with my work.

 

Do my best and forget the rest

All I can do is my best today, and nothing more. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks of me, or expects of me. It doesn’t really matter what I think or expect from myself! Since I don’t control what happens next, I’ve found it easier to focus on just doing my part. In the end  all I can really do is my best.

Be present

The more I focused on goals, results, and achievements, the more seriously I took my work. I gave all of myself today for a presumed future win but it was like planting spring seeds and not watering them- with my mind always on tomorrow I wasn’t making the most of today. Focusing on simply doing my best work for this day only made today whole lot happier and yielded better results.

Believe in myself

Another reason I took work so seriously was because I worried what might happen if I lost my job. I tended towards worst-case-scenario thinking and imagined myself becoming homeless and living on the street. While losing everything was a possibility, it wasn’t very likely to happen. I needed to believe in myself.

I am a competent, smart, and resourceful person. When I was laid off I bounced back just fine. I didn’t end up homeless. Was losing my job difficult?- hell yeah, it was- but I got through it. Whatever happens, I’ll face it. I can do this!

Don’t blame

If there was one underlying reason I was too serious about my work it’s because I was constantly assigning either positive or, most of the time, negative value to everyone and everything that happened at work.

Instead of doing my best with what’s in front of me I lamented and complained over every perceived injustice. I made myself miserable! I had to stop blaming everyone and everything to find some peace in my work and my life.

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I love your comments! Have you ever taken your work too seriously? How did it affect you? What did you do to change it?

24 Comments

  1. Ha
    Amazing, I’ve just been lying in bed, it’s now 00:20 and I picked my phone up and googled ” don’t take work so seriously” I googled this because I’m yet again lying in bed and can’t sleep with the stresses I have in work and my job. I am a contracts manager for a construction firm and have many jobs on at once with immense responsibilities on each project with hundreds of thousands of pounds at stake, my job entails constant damage control and taking allot of flack from client PM’s because if works not being done properly or 1 of the hundred things that can go wrong every second on a job. I try my best to control every aspect of what goes on because ultimately it’s my role to plan and execute projects efficiently and within budget.
    however allot after the planning phase is kinda out of my control as I’m reliant on everyone else to do there part, and of course this doesn’t happen in reality no matter how hard you plan, organise and explain, shit just goes wrong and I spend my days and nights stressing to fix the constant problems.

    So back to the article I swear this is exactly as if I wrote it. Everything about how I feel solely responsible and take on the mammoth task of feeling responsible for every outcome even if most of it is out of my control. I realised that it is because I will not accept failure and take on the world , I too believed that every employee and persons actions good or bad was a direct attribute to my management and planning skills. Well this is indeed a recipe for disaster as you can’t control the actions and outcomes of other people’s decisions.

    I have to stop this it it will send me to an early grave I know, I have to accept that I just need to bring my part and stop feeling like the world will explode with every problem that arises.

    Now don’t get me wrong I’m not d frantic person and I do hold my cool and focus on moving forward but it’s the subconscious stress that eats at me.

    I must believe in myself as well because I started at the bottom as a labourer with no skills and worked my ass of all the way up the ladder to contracts manager level in 10 years so I doubt I’ll be on the streets.

    I wil really try hard to make this conscious decision to accept mistakes, eventualities and just do what I can and focus more on feeling happy and other things in life rather than measuring how good a weekend or holiday is going to be on the position the jobs currently lie at and how organised things are.

    • Hi Leeroy,

      Thanks for your comment! I apologize it took me so long to reply- your comment was stuck in a spam filter by mistake.

      So now that it’s been a few months, how is it going at work? Have you had any success taking less responsibility for things that aren’t yours? Are you getting better at being okay with making mistakes?

      I had a recent ah-ha moment when I realized the reason I tend to work so hard and take on so much responsibility is because a small part of me believes/believed that I’m not good enough as I am, but if I work hard enough I can earn the approval and appreciation I desire. Uncovering this belief was huge in helping me interrupt the pattern of working too hard and too much.

      I’d love to hear how it’s going for you. Let me know if you’ve been able to find some ease around this.

      Chrysta

  2. Just the words I needed to read, thank you. Deep down, I know the things I need to change about the way I deal with the situation I find myself in at work. I changed my place of work to what I thought was going to ultimately lead to a better work life balance. It turns out that my new work place is in a dire situation, something I was not aware of, and if I was I would not have moved. I find myself in a position with greater responsibility, which I expected, but also having to deal with far bigger problems, and fewer people to do the hundreds of things that must be done. There are also pressures from others in positions above me that are unrealistic, they consider anyone saying this is too much as being negative, The one time I did express my concern did not go well. This made me very upset, because to say that I am finding things difficult goes against everything I am. So I’ve dealt with this by taking on much of the responsibility by working 12 to 14 hour days, little time for family, and many holidays spent at work or working at home. For the first time in my life I feel totally overwhelmed constantly, and the joy has gone. I know the value of this gift of life so I’m desperately trying to change the way I view my job, as just that, a job.
    I will return to your words often, as I wage war with my sense of responsibility and the expectations that are unreasonable.
    Thank you again for sharing.

    • Thank you for sharing your challenge.

      What can you do to bring some joy back to your life? What one joyful thing can you do today?

      When we aren’t getting results we often think we need to work harder. We think we need to do more. Working harder and doing more rarely gets us the results we desire- it actually only burns us out.

      If the situation at your current job is, in fact, dire, then my guess is it’s going to take more than you alone can do to turn it around. Even your best efforts can’t make it work if it’s doomed to fail. So give yourself a break! Do what you can, where you can.

      Have more fun and more fulfillment in your life outside of work because if/when this job is no more, you need and deserve approach what’s next from a good place.

      Chrysta

      • Dear Chrysta,
        Thanks for your reply. You are spot on when you say that one person alone can not solve all the problems, I’m trying to change my mindset to one in which I do my ‘sensible’ best, and not feel responsible for every failure. I work in education and there is a culture of scrutiny and blame, nothing seems to be good enough and I am routinely judged If this judgement is negative I’ve allowed it to hurt me deeply thinking ‘How can they say that when I work so hard?’ But I need to accept that this is how the system works and I need to change my response to these situations. I am not perfect and myself and my family need a life together outside work. The hard part is going to be overcoming my mind and body’s first response to the words ‘You are going to be observed teaching’, that will be the test.
        Thank you again for taking the time to respond to my post, it is much appreciated. Your original post is going to be read by me over and over until I get the balance right, or at least better.
        Kind regards,
        Jay

  3. Thank you for your article, I was a Marine for many years and served combat tours, I got out to spend more time with my wife and family in our home town, however I am way to motivated and felt like I had to take the world on my shoulders and everyone that was not motivated had to get out of my way, and this is what brought me to your article, I had to sign a paper saying I will be more polite to my fellow coworkers. The differnce of working for a purpose and people working for a living got to me, “not my job” was the last straw. I am struggling with not fixing every problem but I am willing to try to let others carry their own crosses. Thanks Tom

    • Thanks for stopping by, Tom!

      I get feeling frustrated when others are not doing their part, especially when I feel I’m picking up the slack. One thing I’ve learned over the years is I have nothing to gain by concerning myself with what other people are doing or not doing. Focusing on other people’s behavior makes me frustrated, angry, and resentful and those are not emotions I want ruling my life!

      I enjoy more happiness, satisfaction, and success when I focus on what I can do and being my best every day! I’m very dedicated and highly motivated and I’ve got a lot to offer. When I do my best every day I make a lot of progress and create so much energy, joy, and fun in my life!

      You’re clearly very dedicated and motivated yourself. Keep being your best. Keep being better today than you were the day before. Show your coworkers how it’s done by leading by example! You got this!

      Chrysta

    • I not only loved this article. Tom W I loved your thoughts as well. I am not military but it runs through the family. My grandfather was career army, dad 4 years navy then became a cop. And I totally relate to your thinking. And working with non-motivated people drive me crazy. I am learning more to deal with what I can – me, my work, my desk and my responsibility. It has truly been a work in progress but it is funny – I find myself a little happier at work. Good for you.

      • Pam, thank you for sharing your experience with this! I love that you’re happier at work, because life is too short to be unhappy if we can avoid it (and usually we can)!

        Chrysta

  4. This is what is happening to me right now. I am so stressed out at work because I feel that I need to be perfect all the time and if someone doesn’t think I am the greatest, it sends me into a tailspin. My old supervisor recently just left who was awesome and very even tempered and never got angry or upset. My new supervisor is really tough and I feel like she feels that I am stupid and lazy. The stress and anxiety I have been putting on myself about this change at work and in my feeling of having to be perfect has affected my work and am starting to become less productive. On one hand I don’t want to deal with the anxiety and quiet but on the other hand I am afraid of getting fired. As you can see, a lot of conflicting emotions.

    My coworkers have taken some of the responsibility off of my plate but I still feel like it is not enough and things are not getting done.

    This is my first real job out of college. I want to be able to go back to a place in my life where I am happy and confident. To not care about what others say to me, that my best is good enough, and to be able to leave work and work and live my life and be happy.

    • I’ve been where you are, Ashley. I have known for years that I can’t be perfect, yet I continued to be hard on myself and take on too much. That’s where I was at when I started writing this blog- I had taken on so much stress that it was seriously affecting my health and I realized something needed to change.

      I want to help you and I’d love to chat with you more about this. You can schedule a free coaching call with me here.

      Chrysta

  5. That is me! exactly without comment!
    I don’t ask fro help regularly; I do not say no often; I consider myself even responsible for other’s mistakes!!! It’s annoying for me now; I am almost done.
    Thanks for all advises, I will keep them in my mind; even write them to have them on my office.

  6. I’m worried I may get laid off and I totally agree it’s because I’m taking my work too seriously. But I have been working with the ‘absentee’ manager for 2 years and jelaous colleagues – as you can imagine this team is in a constant battle. Under surface of course.
    Projects are run very badly and people are incompetent or lazy. Last week I realised that as no one does anything about it, I keep challenging them – but is it my responsibility? It isn’t. I’m not going to do this any more. I feel like being sacked would be my worst nightmare but when I imagine this I feel so calm and relieved. Time to have more fun!

  7. Spot on! I am experiencing exactly what you are describing and I am trying to find a balance and solutions. Your article helped me a lot and I started to think about life in a more optimistic and happy way! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience!
    Thanks Alexis

  8. Be present. To me this is the key, be here and now… Let this be your focal point. We need to start back enjoying the little things we do, by doing this something beautiful emerges.

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Jeromey!

      I love the thought that something beautiful emerges when when enjoy the little things! Beauty is all around us but much of the time we get distracted thinking about all our “problems” until we no longer see the beauty.

      So glad you stopped by! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  9. I use to take work & life to seriously. I realized though that I can’t control things that was out of my control.

    ..Then I thought the whole notion of trying to be in control was silly

    What I finally did do was find balance in my life. I started passively aggressively doing Tai Chi and just by that act alone I became more balanced in my life..

    Life is short, I say enjoy it while your hear :)

    Awesome post thanks for sharing..

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Larry!

      You’re so right- trying to be in control is silly- I might as well try to meet my needs by wearing a live duck on my head! Either way I will certainly get people to notice me, but probably not in a good way and it’s not going to get me what I really want in life.

      So glad you stopped by. Thanks again! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  10. Ah, the good old days Chrysta! NOT!!!

    I remember working with another executive assistant and they were sending us both to a workshop for time management. Now that’s not an area that I needed help in at all but the company had that as a requirement.

    I remember spending the day with her and I learned that she had a horrible problem of telling people no. Every time someone asked her to do something she said yes even though she didn’t have the time. She was horrible at prioritizing her work which is why she was always so stressed out.

    After spending the day with me and this workshop she got an ear full and went back with a whole new perspective. Never take on more then you can handle because at the end of the day you’re going to be the one stressed out over not having done a good enough job.

    Great point Chrysta!

    ~Adrienne

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Adrienne!

      Thanks for sharing your story- you are so right, taking on too much will lead to major work stress! I used to have a hard time saying no at work because I thought it was my job to say yes but saying yes all the time made me a worse employee- not a better one!

      So glad you stopped by today! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  11. Chrysta – Simple awesome advice. I still feel that overdeveloped sense of responsibility (great way to put it!) When I’m stressed that I haven’t done enough or worried about what others will think, I also turn to #1 on your list – be happy. Happy opens us up to accepting what is… and a heck of a lot more flow… than stress and disappointment. Love and appreciate your inspiring reminders of taking control for our own choices, actions and happiness!

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Alli!

      Happiness is the best cure for whatever ails me. When I cultivate habits that sustain happiness in my life I find I feel a lot less stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, and all that other stuff. My happiness is about me and the rest of those feelings are usually about how I view people, places, and things in relation to me. When I just focus on me a lot of that other stuff falls away.

      Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  12. Hi Chrysta

    I found that the more competent I became, the more was demanded of me. The more pressure it became. Then there were lies and a number of negative people I had to work with. Such a shame when the ones in charge don’t know how to manage. But such a relief when they laid me off.

    I too found that happiness came from within. Only found that at my lowest point. If you just be happy in the moment, it releases the need to worry. Like you say you can’t do both at once. The JOB made me sick also. Now I just take one day at a time. Today everything is okay, so live in the sunshine of the day. If tomorrow brings a problem I will deal with it then. My heart is open for miracles and I read we are entitled to them, so why worry. Things always have a way of working out if you believe they will. When one door closes, there is another door waiting for us to open it. The universe gives us many opportunities we just have to show up to accept them.

    Mary

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mary!

      The more I hear you talk about that job, the more I am glad you are no longer in that unhealthy situation! I applaud you for making the most of your life and moving on from that unreasonable situation with hope, inspiration, and patience!

      I love that you shared you found happiness at your lowest point- I feel that’s such an important revelation for us all. Happiness doesn’t happen when our lives are perfect and everything is going well. If we don’t have happiness inside us, then we can’t be happy with what’s outside us. Your situation is the perfect example of how we can be happy even when our external circumstance isn’t all that great.

      Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

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