When work gets slow, I get anxious. While ebbs and flows are natural in my line of work and overall I’m a net asset to the company, I can’t help feeling guilty when not actively engaged in meaningful work. I suppose it’s natural. But for me the guilt often morphs into self-pity, boredom, and an unhealthy dose of wanderlust. And it’s been a slow couple of weeks. This time I resolved not to give in. I made a choice.
To help snap out of the funk I went through a personal mini ritual. Clear the desk of all clutter, pull out a pen and an empty piece of paper, then try to make my mind match the paper. After several minutes entertain a single thought, the first thing that comes to mind. On this occasion it was a question: What’s missing?
When you start with a blank piece of paper the answer is everything, but this is only a trigger. There are days when work is invigorating; what’s missing today? When you think about a great day at work, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I could effortlessly imagine a half-dozen examples.
For a recent project I sat down in front of a blank computer screen and hammered out an elegant algorithm (in R) that cranked through a mountain of data and spit out meaningful information complete with fancy graphs. What was it about this particular project that made it exhilarating? It was an act of creation, bringing something into existence that did not exist before, something useful even.
Learning new things is great. Supporting the business is fine, but acts of creation lead to incomparable satisfaction. It is why I envy artists, musicians, directors, writers, even mediocre ones. They create!
I then wrote two more questions on the sheet of paper: 1) What can I create today? and 2) What can I create to improve other people’s lives? The questions more than the answers have already improved my days.
While the statistician in me understands that most days are average, there’s nothing written in the universe that says the average can’t rise. If I go to bed tonight having brought something useful or beautiful into the world that didn’t exist when I woke up, then today really was better than average.