5 Tips For Finding Joy in Your Work


Have you ever met someone who just loved her job?  Someone who doesn’t mind working late and regularly starts early. That person that does their work steadfastly and without complaint. I’m not thinking about a rock or movie star.  Don’t think of glamorous positions or even high earners.  This is about that restaurant server who shows up with a big smile on her face and makes you feel like you’re family when you’re eating in “her” restaurant. That waiter who thinks there is more to enjoying a meal out then having food served to you.

It’s that couple that cleans your office and whistles while they do it. They smile as they go about their work, take on all tasks without hesitation and although you are in an office building full of people, they know your name.  They ask about you and your life. They notice when you go away on holiday and are always willing to stop and chat when they find you working late.

When I start to get cranky and whine about my job, I think of them and what they do. I don’t think of them because I think my job is better, but because they “know” their job is better and that they are excellent at it.

I’ve often heard the expression, “your job defines you”, but I think it’s more accurate to say that we define our jobs.  We are the ones who decide that the work we are doing is valuable and worth doing well. We determine what it takes to be successful. We decide when we’ve had enough.

I recently heard an interesting discussion about the value of work-life balance. We‘ve all been told, no doubt countless times, that it’s important to our health and well-being that we achieve work-life balance. The common perspective is that working long hours or not escaping work on the weekend isn’t good for you. Being engaged at work is important to your overall well-being, but don’t be too engaged.  Find that balance. Nigel Marsh, author of “Forty, Fat and Fired” and more recently, Fit, Fifty and Fired Up argues that work-life balance is critical and that it is too important to leave up to employers. Things like dress down Fridays and flextime mask the essential reality that some jobs or career choices are simply not ever going to be compatible with the demands of having a family and small children.

Marty Nemko, a career coach, makes the case against work-life balance. He asks the question, is what you’re doing with your time valuable? He argues that the concept that family is primary is only true in terms of the quality time you spend with them. Furthermore, he states that children benefit from having role models who value productivity and has gone so far as to say that working parents make better role models than stay at home parents.

No matter what perspective you bring, work and life should not be on a teeter-totter. Rather than treating them like competitive teams, we should see them as a marriage. There has to be give and take. Consider how much time you spend working.  Whether you are working from home or working at another location, you give over a vast amount of your time to that activity, so treating it as a conflict with your life means you are constantly at war with yourself.

Why wouldn’t we instead strive for the joy of work? Why not decide to look at all the time we spend at work as an opportunity to do something you love. Getting that attitude of joy in our work doesn’t always come naturally.  Sometimes it means you have to take steps to bring the joy back or use a few old tricks to get you on track. The following are some of the tricks I use, though to be transparent… I work for myself and I LOVE what I do.

Fake it until you make it: Sometimes you just have to fake yourself out. For anyone who’s done a lot of phone work, you know that even though the person on the other end of the line can’t see you, if you smile, they will hear it in your voice. It seems our brains notice the physical even if our minds don’t mean it. So, be positive. Decide to smile and approach work as if you love it, eventually, you may forget that you were faking it and start loving.  This works well in the short term but if the problems are deep, you may need to look to additional solutions.  `

Muscle your way through: This approach is essentially about grinning and bearing it until you are past the bit you hate.  Sometimes projects come along or times of uncomfortable change and you need to just survive the worst of it. You may not be able to smile your way through or pretend that you’re enjoying it, but if a job is worth having it may be worth the effort of getting through the bad times. This is when you focus forward and think about your long-term vision.

Find a pet project: This approach is really about reminding yourself why you wanted the job in the first place. Look at what it would take to make you happy and engaged and see if you can find a way to introduce that work to what you are doing. Understanding that you can’t always introduce new projects you might want to consider new approaches to doing your job.

Look at your skills: Since you can’t always control the projects you work on or even the approaches you use, consider your skills.  Are there basic skills that you can work on to achieve a different level of joy from your work or perhaps a job that will bring you more joy?  A writing course, an IT course or perhaps it’s about tweaking your organizational skills.

Take a walk: Sometimes taking a break gives you a new start on your work and you can come back and look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes a longer walk is required, like a good long vacation. If that doesn’t work, consider a one-way walk out the door.  There are times when your work simply doesn’t fit you anymore. Just as getting the right cultural fit was important when you were hired it’s important to realize that both you and your organization can change and many incremental changes over time may mean the fit is no longer good enough.

What tricks do you have to keep the love of work present? Is there such a thing as work-life balance and do you even want it?


54 responses to “5 Tips For Finding Joy in Your Work

  • A dear friend just moved from a toxic organization to one that has so much going for it–so we can’t deny the impact that has on our ability to be happy in our jobs. Sometimes faking it just means you’re burying the frustration until you can’t anymore. It’s been a joy to see her being truly happy in the work she is doing and the environment she’s doing it in!

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      March 11, 2018 @ 11:15 am

      RoseMary I’m glad your friend made her escape. There is no doubt that when the work environment is wrong is can be debilitating. Getting out as soon as possible is like giving yourself a new lease on life.

  • Your points make so much sense. I first became a Business Analyst, with very little previous training, I had to muscle my way through work. I had to learn everything from squire one. At first it was frustrating, but now, it is a joy to go to work.

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      March 10, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

      No matter how much you look forward to a new position or role the first six months can be tough. Glad you got to a point of contentment.

  • I have worked with people who truly enjoy their job. Not because it is remotely fascinating but because it is their job. They decided to get the best from it and it impacts positively on those around them. I have encountered many people who clearly dislike their job as it shows in their mannerism. I was recently served at a train station early one morning and the ticket officer looked anything but happy yet the day had just started. I wondered if he brightened up as the day went on – I doubt it.

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      March 10, 2018 @ 12:22 pm

      Funny you should mention the train station I had almost the identical impression of the ticket officer during a recent train trip. In fact, I had to remind myself that I set the tone for my day, not others after speaking with her. 🙂

  • Catarina says:
    March 6, 2018 @ 11:07 am

    I have always worked with what I wanted to do and it makes a huge difference. Makes it easy to laugh when the joy is there. Mind you the majority of the people in the world have dull jobs they just do in order to make money. In Europe they have secure jobs and they will manage financially for the rest ot their lives. But how many of them enjoy doing the same thing year after year after year. Where is the joy…

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      March 7, 2018 @ 10:24 am

      Catarina, having a secure job you don’t love is like wearing golden handcuffs your whole life. We spend way too much time at work to be unhappy with what we do.

  • Thank you for your very practical advise! I am going to take a look at my skills and see where I can improve myself.

    • Thanks Grace. I imagine that even if we love our jobs, if we implement some of the tips on a regular basis it will help us to stay engaged, not to mention on top of our careers.

  • “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work” somebody said. Well..we must agree that not all of us are so lucky that’s why your post is so inspired and thoughtful. You’re right, faking can be very helpful sometimes. I remember when I was a teacher, I wouldn’t like my job at all. One day, though, while my little students were writing their test, looking over their heads, I had a strange feeling, like a revelation: “These kids need me”, I said to myself. From that moment, I tried to be the best teacher in that public school. When I quit and changed my job, my little kids cried over me and I have to confess that my eyes were teary for a couple of days, whenever we met in the classrooms.
    I think that regardless the job we have, we should find the “silver line” in each of them and find the right balance between work and love life, as they mutually influence and affect. Working late hours is not wisdom, but isolation from the rest of our lives.

    • What great story. So often our success or failure is a question of attitude. I know that people sometimes just don’t fit, and no amount of positive attitude will make things work, but often it’s about finding away to get comfortable.

  • I definitely believe that there should be some form of balance. Whether you love your job or not, there should be more to your life than just what you do. Finding the little things and taking time out just to find joy in most situations.
    There are many times that I find I have to grin and bear a situation or task and it is definitely the positive spin that you put on it that helps you through. Whether it be just get it over with, to making a game or faking it till you make it.
    Working out your own balance is probably the key. What is the right amount of work for one person compared to another is totally different. Finding what works for you and makes you happy is your own personal balance.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Work takes up a lot of time and so you shouldn’t just accept being miserable when you’re there, but that doesn’t mean you ignore the other part of your life. Whether its time with family, friends or just recharging your own batteries. Finding the right balance is very personal and the only way to do it, is in a way that works best for you.

  • My wife is going through this now. She is very unhappy with where she works. Her next move is to spend some time at school building new skills so she can move on to something better. While she is doing this she is still muscling her way through the drudgery of her job. It isn’t the best situation but there is still hope that she can find something better.

  • In my opinion, you should not have to look for joy. However, I can say this because I am currently doing what I love, so I am probably biased!

    If you’re working at a mundane job, then I think you’d be best off finding one you are happier at, so that you can focus on your personal growth. It’s tough to grow when all you do is the same thing over and over and over and over and over until you are doing it with your eyes shut!

    Variety is the spice of life. Or so I have heard.

    • I agree, if you don’t like what you’re doing then you should try to do something different. The thing is, like most things in our lives, it’s our perception that defines it. You might look at a job and think its the best ever, someone else might be thinking, I wouldn’t do that in a million years. The conflict comes when you are in the job and hating it.

  • I like the topic of the article and I definitely think the flexibility of work/life balance is important. As I continue to look/reflect on what to do next (I finished my MBA in April), all of the points you mentioned are super important to me. I want to be a part of a culture I like where I can continue to grow and learn and be easily be engaged because it is something I am passionate about doing. Of course, this also means that it may take longer to find, or that it’ll be something I create, and that is not an easy thing to figure out, or for many people to understand. A reason I had for returning to school was to be able to put myself in a better position. The comment about having a sense of purpose has been really tough lately since I’m not in school or working yet. I have been finding ways to solve part of that by helping others and making sure I stay active and engaged in the activities I am interested in doing….BTW, I started a local business book club at the beginning of the year. I’d love to know what is on your reading list!
    Thanks 🙂

    • You are in the difficult position right now of being spoiled for choice. You can go in so many directions that it can be hard to focus. Have you created a personal vision document for yourself? The process will help to prioritize and bring clarity. I know that can sound like torture, but it’s so useful.

      As for business books, there are so many out there that I find interesting. Some of which are not necessarily “business” but whose principles I find transferable. I’d have to really give it some thought, also what’s good to mine for specific information and what’s a really good read don’t always mesh up. The following are easy to read and I think would work for a book club…but there are so many more. Please let me know what your club chooses, I’d love to expand my selection.

      The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
      I used some of the principles I found here to launch a vision paper for my organization a few years ago. We invited media, government, business and sector leaders to a dinner to discuss the principals, it was magical. Malcolm Gladwell is a wonderful thinker and what he is particularly brilliant at is shifting your perspective so that the old becomes more than new, but completely different.

      The Art of Possibility – Rosamund and Benjamin Zander
      This has gotten me out of quite few tight spots and it (and some help from my friends) is the reason why I finally launched a blog. Their focus is all on attitude, but there are also some neat tools that they use. 🙂

      Visual Teams and also Visual Meetings – David Sibbet
      I used the ideas here to work with leadership teams inside of my organization to get input into our strategic planning process. People laughed and chatted as they explored the possibilities. Nice change from what can be a really dry process. The idea here is that people learn and engage in different ways and this approach appeals to different kinds of thinkers.

      A Whole New Mind – Daniel Pink
      I haven’t had an opportunity to see if I can bring this into practice, but he does pose some intriguing questions and introduce (or refresh) some interesting ideas. He’s also a great writer, very easy to read.

      • I actually started sorting through papers, again, and came across your article about creating a vision. No, I have not done it yet. Yes, I believe I need to. It is challenging right now to figure out not only what I like and can do but what really would make me excited for the duration.

        The book suggestions are great! The last one, “A Whole New Mind,” I read and presented for a class last fall and really want to read more by the author. The next discussion is on the book “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa. It’s about sales and building the relationships and, I believe the most important part, the questions to ask in order to get the best answers about what the client wants/needs. Not a fast read. It definitely would one that can be applied.

        One that people are still talking about is the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. What I liked about this one is that it explained in depth more of the differences between introverts and extroverts, and how society has made being extroversion the norm. On top of that, it answered questions of why I tend to do things a certain way, and how to deal with/around being more introverted. For example, I am not as good at presenting on the fly, However, given time to prepare, I actually like doing it.


        • Thanks for the tips on the books. I’m particularly keen to read “Quiet”. I’ve been asked a few times by introverts how they might manage in meetings or other work settings when their extroverted counterparts tend to outshine them. It can be brutal. I have some terrific colleagues who are naturally quiet. When we actually give them the chance to speak, they’re brilliant, but if we don’t create the space for them, we miss out on amazing insight.

          • The book is a great place to start! and then check out the author’s website. It is definitely an important topic for everyone.
            I totally understand what you are saying about your naturally quiet colleagues and I am happy to know that it is understood enough that they need space created for them. It’s a point that is lost on many. The “quiet” many times is how thoughts are processed. I am totally like that and have been teased for seemingly slower or unfinished thoughts (or people trying to finish them for me).

          • I’m definitely getting Susan Cain’s book. I just did a walk-through of her website and it’s excellent. Thank you.

  • Great post. It really does help to focus on the positive in any given situation to help get you thru. Finding a project that you can devote your energy to and help you ignore the negative vibes always works for me!

    • Thanks Doreen. What’s interesting is that sometimes the projects that we use to “distract” ourselves end up being central components in the work we do. None of it is wasted. 🙂

  • Aw, I so hear you regarding this issue. The fact is sometimes we get a bit too close to what we do and lose perspective. That includes how we feel about what we do. I found that when I got that “I hate what I do” feeling (as you suggested) by just taking a walk outside it helped reset where my head was and to regain my balance and attitude about work. Great subject, this… 🙂

    • Susan, I never cease to be amazed by what a walk can do for your mindset. I work in an organization that has a lot of passionate people working in it, the biggest challenge with that level of passion is that people have a hard time stepping back from their job and refreshing. We start our meetings with two things typically, 7 Minutes for Safety (which sooner or later includes telling people to go for a walk) 🙂 and 6 Minutes for Success. The objective here is to remind people why they are passionate and of course to celebrate. It isn’t always enough, but I’ve always thought is was a smart way of managing the day to day challenges…even when I’m trying to squirm out of delivering 7 Minutes for Safety.

  • After selling real estate for 25 years I decided it was time for a change. I started a promotional products business when I was 50 years old and it was very scary. What I did learn is that in order for people to be happy in the workplace, you need as the employer to do a couple of things.
    One: make work fun and not a chore. Two get your employees involved and let them know that they are appreciated. We all want to think that we are important. I have the girls have a contest who walks the most during a week. I give them a prize each month for the top person. What I am trying to do is motive my employees that work can be rewarding and fun. So far it is paying off.

    • Arleen I couldn’t agree more. No one wants to be miserable at work, though we will all suffer through it for a while. Employees want to be engaged, they need to be engaged. The first thing I always ask when I’m working on internal communications is, “What’s in it for the employee?”

      If they can’t relate, they can’t see themselves in the project and they can’t make sense of it, then the message isn’t meant for them.

  • I worked as a lawyer for 25 years. I even had a small law firm with two women partners. I enjoyed most aspects of the work, but the amount of work took it’s toll over the years. In 2005, after a trip to the ER for an umpteenth GERD attack that my physician husband could not rule out at home as not being heart related, he was the person who told me that chronic stress kills and he wanted me around for some more years. I gave my partners 6 months notice and started working part time writing briefs from home, but also having more time and flexibility to do other things. It was actually my son (now a 25 year old travel blogger) who suggested I try travel blogging, “You like to travel, and you like to write, I think you would enjoy this.” He’s right, I do.

    For the 25 years I was a more than full time lawyer, I frequently felt that I should have been a more engaged mother and wife. Fortunately, I’ve seen that our sons (29 and 25) seem to have survived my parenting.

    My husband is like the last person in your examples. He is an accomplished physician scientist and runs a sophisticated medical research laboratory at a university teaching hospital. He has been offered many opportunities to be a chief in his specialty. He sometimes questions his ambition, but he realizes that he loves his job and the parts he likes the least are what he would have to do more of with a higher position. This is a very rare attitude at his level of achievement. I am glad he knows himself so well.

    • It’s frightening how easy it is to get absorbed in our work. So easy we can become self-destructive. Stepping back and reassessing all aspects of our lives is a healthy, smart way of managing the complexities that are thrown our way. You and your husband are great examples, him for knowing himself well enough to know what works and what doesn’t work for him and you for having the sense to stop when work was invading your health. Listening to the advice of loved ones when they are telling us to stop doing something that feels natural to us isn’t as easy as it sounds.

  • Debra as always, you articulate things so well! Living in Switzerland, work life balance seems to be a bigger priority than in English speaking countries. Working 80% (1 day off) is common and easy to find. Mothers often come back 60% (although that is a bigger discussion as the kids come home for lunch). And going home and to lunch on the dot is very much in-grained in many companies. It is not across the board, but more acceptable. And then there is the 4-5 weeks vacation you have to take – or questions are asked!

    As for finding the job that makes you happy – as I get older this becomes more and more important to me. In fact I am changing again right now and let’s see what comes next!

    • Thanks Ashley. It’s interesting to see how different cultures manage life challenges. You’re lucky to be in a situation that allows you to see the best of many worlds. You get to see the benefits and pitfalls of different approaches. I have to agree with you on the effect age has on how you value jobs. For me, if there’s no challenge, there’s no point. Good luck on your next transformation!

  • Debra — another thoughtful post. I think in order to love what you do you need to be constantly learning. Don’t let yourself get stale. Learn new skills. When I first started blogging and dabbling in social media I had no idea it would turn into a business. But I found it challenging and exhilarating (and frustrating at times, too). It is so much fun, at least for me, to learn something new.

    • Great point Jeanette. I never feel so stifled as when I’m not learning new things. Generally, when I stop learning in a job, then the job is over for me. I’m with you on the blogging front, while it has not transformed into a business for me, it is a constant learning opportunity. I can only imagine that as a business it would be both challenging and rewarding because it’s constantly changing and asking for new responses, new approaches.

      • Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) says:
        June 27, 2013 @ 04:27 pm

        I think I had it with teaching when I finally reached the point where I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, but merely being a cog in the unforgiving wheel that is public education (okay, so I’m being a bit melodramatic…). Still though, more often than not, I would wake up most mornings and find myself wondering if I could see myself being in the classroom for the next 20 years. I really gave it my best, but finally I just had to give myself permission to walk away. That was probably the hardest part of all. Now that I’m transitioning into freelance work, I am probably still working as many hours as teaching, but my I don’t feel as drained at the end of the day. That counts for so much.

        • Isn’t it strange how we fear the things that will make us happy and cling to the things that make us miserable? I think your decision to change professions was an amazing and courageous one and having read your stuff, a smart one. 🙂

  • My job title is now “mom,” but when I was in an office environment, I found that professional development opportunities (workshops or conferences) were a good way to reconnect with my passion for my work.

    • As a mom you are learning something new every day and if ever a job required constant and consistent engagement, it’s that one. I’d also bet you’re pretty passionate about it too. 🙂

      • Oh Yes! I am in a constant stage of “professional development” now. Every time you think you know something as a mom, your kids find a way to show you that you don’t. 😉

        • Couldn’t agree more. It feels like every time I think I have my kids figured out and I know what to do, they learn something new that they need to teach me. I’m glad to say it’s a job I’ll never get bored with. 🙂

  • Agree with you completely Debra. Your article came at a good time for me. Am having problems with my computer and it makes me lose interest in what I should be doing. Am really tired of making the computer work over and over again:-)

    Will apply what you wrote to dealing with my computer until I have a new one. Let’s see if it makes me happier about it? As Jane Fonda said “Approach what you cannot avoid with enthusiasm”.

    • Sorry to hear about the computer challenges. When my computer stops working, I feel as if I’ve lost part of myself. I will admit, the only part of my computer going down that I appreciate is that the pile of business books and articles that I have been promising to read get read.

  • Can’t say that I love my job. We have a coworker that will throw you under the bus in a minute. She’s always changing things to something that makes sense to anyone else. So many times I’ve come home just completely exhausted and wanting to quit my job but am afraid I won’t find anything else.

    • Ugh! co-workers who don’t understand that they are part of a team can be brutal. In fact, they can contribute to low moral in an entire organization. Pretty impressive what one disengaged and unhappy person can do to a group.

      I don’t know what your situation is, but have you tried reflection on your coworker? When she’s asking you to do something that seems insane, confirm the ask by re-framing what she said in a away that makes your confusion evident. For example, if she’s saying, “I need you to log in a book all calls that come in.” You would would say to her, “You want me to stop answering the phone to make a note on each of the 250 calls we receive every day?”

      The other thing I would suggest is, look at your health (mental and physical) and ask yourself what job is worth the cost of your health.

      • Vary rarely does re-framing work on her (Quality Manager). When something doesn’t make sense we bring it to the Office Manager who will run interference. The boss/owner finally realized there was so much office tension because of her. I don’t know if he ever said anything to her (he’s not one known for confrontation) but things are better (not ideal) this year. At our little review/bonus time at the end of the year he actually implied that I help try to diffuse the situation.

        I checked out some books from the library – “Jihad the jerk at work : get rid of that idiot who’s making your life miserable,” “Stand up for yourself without getting fired : resolve workplace crises before you quit, get axed, or sue the bastards,” “Power freaks : dealing with them in the workplace or anyplace,” “The bully-free workplace : stop jerks, weasels, and snakes from killing your organization.” Haven’t had to read any of them but still have them checked out just in case it starts turning south again.

        • Cassi it sounds to me that although your frustration level is high, so are your coping abilities. I love that you took the time to prepare yourself with some information. It helps that someone more senior in your organization recognizes not only the challenges your coworker poses, but what you contribute to managing them. The assumption now is that they will also manage those issues if they escalate again. No one rational likes confrontation, but there are ways of dealing with difficult co-workers. If you’re interested, a book I found really amazing in helping me through some tough conversation is, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen. I found the style of the book easy to follow and the approaches sound.

  • I completely believe that you can have a harmonious balance between work and life. I don’t think your entire life should be your work but I also don’t think you can live your entire life with out work . Work gives us a sense of purpose that we need for our confidence. With out that, we may struggle as human beings. If your work isn’t fulfilling that sense of purpose, then maybe it is time to move on to somewhere you can really feel like you are benefitting somebody or something.

    • I agree Mary. Even if you were rich enough to not have to work, you still need to engage your mind in something. We still need to know our value (not monetary but at a personal level) as individuals. My husband and I used to talk about golden handcuffs. They show up when a job pays well but makes you miserable. At some point you ask yourself, is it worth being imprisoned? It’s not!

  • It took me a while to realize I had moved away from the job I loved. I had become management because I was good at what I did, organized and capable of managing staff in a positive co-operative manner but managing meant no longer creating, playing on the computer (which is how I viewed my original job, a challenge, almost a game). It took failing health for me to make the move out of management and back to the work I loved. I became happy again, at work, with my friends and importantly with my family.
    I would encourage everyone to find a job they love. We are here for such a short time and we spend so much of it working. It is worth the effort to find and equip yourself with the skills to be able to do that job well and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from it.

    • Simone you are the only person I know who has gotten younger as you age. I think you are the poster child for what finding joy in our lives really does for us as individuals. It can seem scary and it can even seem like failure to some, to move “backwards”, but I think the question you have to ask yourself is, how forward is your momentum if every step you take makes you more unhappy? Thanks for commenting.

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