It Is Ok To Frown

I love the idea of being happy, who doesn’t? And I love being able to shift gears and count my blessings when small things seem to ruin my day. However, this idea of constant “happiness” sometimes comes with a price. I’ve seen the stagnation that can happen if you chose to totally focus on the positive all the time and never see the things that need to be fixed. It’s like having a really pretty car whose engine is about to die, but hasn’t yet, so you keep driving it and pretending that it is ok. You can enjoy the way it looks all you want, and get jealous looks from passers by. However, one day you will get stuck in the middle of nowhere, in the rain, and be forced to wait for the tow truck for two hours. It’s nice that we have those moments of breakdown – they move us out of plateau and force us to fix things from the inside out. Wouldn’t it be nice though if we could fix our engines before they were broken and even out our lives a bit?

I think this is especially important in the workplace. I was working for a for-profit University where everything seemed to be about the present moment – colorful cubicles, loud fun music, inspirational meetings every other day. On the surface things were always happy; workers were being educated and inspired, the environment was fun, and the perks were pretty great – free gym membership, loads of bonuses, etc. However, the heart of the operation was dark. When I thought about the result of my job, not only did I feel unfulfilled but also like I have sold someone something I didn’t believe in. That kind of work wasn’t for me. I wanted to be driven by the core of the company not stricken down by it. I will discuss how we value different aspects of our job another time. For now, lets talk about why a proverbial frown at work isn’t a bad thing.

The culture of my old company encouraged positivity and laughter and actively looked down upon negative comments and conversations. As a result, we existed in a colorful, smiling, almost Pleasantville-like environment. It was nice, however, to not talk about the darkness of the company every day and to actively avoid creating a negative festering environment for 8 hours a day. It was good to be able to completely turn off for break time and chat about travel, good food, and friendships. However, without an outlet, my negativity would build and there were several days during my 5 month stint at this corporation when the tension inside me would build so much that I would turn around while driving to work and call in sick. Instead, I would drive to the mountains or go visit my parents. I couldn’t stand the thought of doing something I didn’t believe in so much I would physically feel ill preparing myself for the day.

My case is pretty extreme, but generally speaking it has become acceptable for us to let some major growth points of our job slide because it’s easier to not confront them. From there, things build up and one day we have a major blow out situation even at a place that we originally considered our dream job. News flash – sometimes it still is our dream job, we just aren’t being completely present to all of its’ realities. I once overheard someone talking about how they constantly lied to their boss about understanding what he was asking of them; it was easier that way. They got most things done and never had to “seem” stupid to their boss. They actually postulated that lying allowed them to appear smart and efficient, because they didn’t ask any questions . How did this behavior actually reflect on the person? There was always a risk of them getting into trouble for not completing a task, and they weren’t truly sinking into the intention of their job. Why? Because they didn’t know exactly what their job was requiring and asking of them.

Asking a question, admitting you can’t handle something, or sometimes even simply asking what the intention behind the action is can be seen as strength. At least I hope that we can all find bosses that agree with this. To me, these actions would show that the employee really cares about what I’m asking them to do and it is their attempt to really own the project while keeping my vision in mind. Thus, sometimes when things don’t make sense or seem unethical, I hope we all can practice the idea of “satya.” This is a yogic commandment of truth. You are being truthful to yourself when you admit you don’t know or like something. You are being truthful with others, when you let things process and then ask the question how, why, or where? Ask it respectfully, ask it with a process, avoid asking reactively and then shut up and observe the result.

Like I mentioned before, the hope that your “perfect job” comes with conditions that are accepting of you “frowning”, questioning, and recognizing growth. A place where you don’t have to fake your days, fake your smiles, and fake your results. Yes, this place requires you doing the work and connecting to your truth. The overall results would satisfy your heart way more than quieting yourself completely, not contributing, and becoming unhappy with your work.  You can pretend to be happy, listen to fun music, color your cubicle and shoot the shit with your co-workers, but at the end of the day if you leave and feel disconnected from the heart of what you do, how long will you last? How long can you only be present to “the good,” to the “right now” and avoid the deeper connection of “How?” and “Why?”

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