By Noelle Sterne One-Time Rights © 2022 Noelle Sterne
Do you wake up in the morning and groan? Not because you can’t face another spartan breakfast of kale and skim milk but because you dread your day job. All you crave is to stay home and paint, write, or work on your latest interior design.
You get up, grumble, and stub your toe on the pile of your rolled-up canvases, novel drafts, or swatch catalogues. As you rush out the door, you scowl deeper, visualizing another horrible day at work.
I too have harbored such attitudes. They’re harmful, even damaging, to our body, our psyche, our present job, and our future creative work. Struggling with those negatives, I found the remedy sitting right on my desk right in front of me. Inscribed on a little blue vase of dried flowers, the message commanded (gently): “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
This notion may sound cliché, distasteful, or outrageous. But, as a minister’s experience and my own show, both described below, you can change how you look at your job, how you feel, and thereby what you experience—and get closer to your dream.
See Your Day Job Differently
Paul had always wanted to work for the church and someday pastor his own flock. Just out of seminary, he joyfully accepted a post at the headquarters administrative offices.
On his first day, the assistant office manager showed him to his office. Paul stepped into a badly lit cubicle with a single lamp, a desk, and a straight-backed wooden chair. Stacks of letters obscured the desktop. Squeezed among them rested a large manual typewriter. Paul’s elation and ego fell flat.
The assistant manager informed Paul he was expected to answer a certain number of letters daily, and they would be reviewed by the supervisor before mailing. “Good luck.” The man left.
Paul sighed, guiltily wishing this prayer hadn’t been answered. He sat gingerly on the hard chair, poked at the typewriter, and took the top letter from the nearest pile.
And so began weeks of toil. Paul managed to produce the required number of letters, but he developed eyestrain, backache, and an unpleasant disposition. After work, he ate too much, watched too much television, and found it harder to get up each day.
One Friday, Paul’s supervisor took him aside. “I know you’re doing your best,” said Mr. Rennie, “but something is obviously bothering you.”
Paul mumbled, “I’m fulfilling my quota.”
“True,” said Mr. Rennie. “Your letters address the issues, but they’re—uninspired. And several people in the office have noticed your negativity.”
Paul looked at the floor.
Mr. Rennie suggested they meet after work to talk more. Paul agreed, feeling uncomfortable and yet slightly relieved.
In the coffee shop, Paul found himself telling this surprisingly sympathetic man about his excitement at acceptance to the headquarters. He smiled for the first time in months. Then he burst out, “But I was given the most insignificant job in the whole place!”
“Oh, Paul,” said Mr. Rennie, smiling. “No. You have one of the most important jobs in the whole place.”
Paul looked bewildered.
The supervisor continued. “You are the very first contact for so many people with our church. Your reply determines whether they get the information, support, and comfort they need. Your responses answer their prayers!”
Paul’s eyes widened. He’d never seen his job this way.
For the entire weekend, Paul thought about Mr. Rennie’s words and prayed for long periods. And he had no desire to overeat or overwatch television.
Paul realized several things. He’d viewed his letter-writing as only menial and boring. Now, he saw, his letters gave people what they needed. Wasn’t his mission as a pastor to help, whatever the form?
The next Monday, Paul bounded out of bed, arrived early at work, smiled at everyone, and dove into the letters.
A few months later, Paul was transferred and progressed through the organization. After several years, he pastored his first congregation and went on to establish his large, successful ministry in New York City.
What was Paul’s lesson—and ours? He learned to see his job differently and then acted differently. How we act applies to all of us who feel dissatisfied, frustrated, annoyed, or downright enraged about where we are in our lives, careers, and creative pursuits. So . . .
Do Your Day Job Differently
In an office job, I developed an attitude close to Paul’s initial one. I grumbled to a good friend about the boss, the excessive work, my constant exhaustion, and how I’d never get to write, my true passion.
My wise and spiritual friend Peggy waited until I finished complaining and said quietly, “To get out of this job, plunge into it. Give it a hundred and fifty percent.”
Peggy nodded and said nothing more.
I huffed for a few days but finally succumbed to Peggy’s advice. At the office, I concentrated only on the work and doing it well. To my shock, everything went more smoothly. I stopped resenting the boss and felt less spent when I got home. Most evenings I even wrote for a half hour.
Feeling better, I became friendly with office colleagues. As I told them about my writing, they asked for help with letters, announcements, and their children’s stories. Word got around, and I took more assignments. Eight months later, I was able to leave the office job.
What’s the Bloomin’ Lesson?
Our problem isn’t the work, tasks, the circumstances, or the environment. Think of prisoners of war and victims of natural disasters. How do so many rise out of their terrible conditions? In the midst of horrors, they embrace a hopeful, undaunted outlook (see especially Viktor Frankl’s works for astounding examples).
Our attitudes influence our experiences. How do you feel clearing a friend’s dishes after a party? Or (in contrast) your family’s after dinner? Washing your water color brushes or house painting brushes? Getting wet at the pool party or stepping in a puddle on the way to the office? How can you transfer the enjoyment of one to eradicate the aggravation of the other?
When we bloom where we’re planted, we invest ourselves wholly in the work before us. As the Zen saying goes, Chop wood, carry water. This means doing your work fully, positively, mindfully, with recognition of its value—sweeping floors, waiting tables, washing clothes, balancing accounts, chauffeuring children. If you are fully present, you will also see and feel the beauty in what you are doing—the sensations, feelings, movement, laugher. Then your attitude becomes one of giving and thinking of those who will benefit. Your attitude becomes one of love.
As Paul and I discovered and my little blue vase reminds me, the lesson is to see your detested work in a different light. Reverse that outlook to one of giving. When you bless others this way, the blessings will and must come back to you multiplied.
Your work, whatever it is, is good work. Hold to and act on this thought. Bloom where you’re planted, and your good work will metamorphose, slowly or speedily but inevitably, into your good creative works.
© 2022 Noelle Sterne