Dear Maria,

I need a pep talk about work.

I am a writer at a university. The work flow is feast or famine. I’ve hit the famine phase of the cycle. I don’t do well with boredom. What little work I do have I can’t find the motivation to do because once it’s done, then what?

I need this job and am determined to achieve the tuition benefit for my daughter, so leaving the job isn’t an option I’m willing to consider.

Uninspired on the Job

Dear Uninspired on the Job,

You’re not alone. Here’s a quote from a wise job-hunting, career-finding guru:

“There is a vast world of work out there in this country, where at least 111 million people are employed in this country alone–many of whom are bored out of their minds. All day long. Not for nothing is their motto TGIF — ‘Thank God It’s Friday.’ They live for the weekends, when they can go do what they really want to do.” ― Richard Nelson Bolles

His “What Color is Your Parachute?” series is my go-to reference for career advice. He updates it annually; check it out for great inspiration, especially his section on “Finding Your Mission in Life”. In your current position, you say your work is boring, versus describing it as soul-sucking or demeaning. Sadly, it only take a few drinks to hear these complaints from some folks. It also sounds like you are feeling pretty engaged in your work when there’s plenty to do, but the boredom comes during the slow times. So, in the meantime…

Here’s your pep talk:

You are beautiful. You are talented. You bring great gifts to this organization which will help it succeed. You are bright and inquisitive. You strive to improve your lot in life. Good for you! Your work environment shows your success. Our ancestors labored to provide higher education for us. With that education, you’ve crafted a career and lifestyle that allows you to identify yourself as a writer, as well as extend the gifts of past generations on to the next. Keep it up! Your work is so important in today’s world. The world needs strong, thoughtful, sensitive wordsmiths to communicate ideas and create connection with others. Don’t approach any project as “Just-a Project”: just a press release, just a thank you note, just a cover letter, just an article, just a report, just an email. In every instance, putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard initiates an opportunity for two or more people to connect. Your work is, at its deepest level, a sacred trust. (If you believe in prayer and angels, you might invite Archangel Gabriel, the patron saint of communicators, to be with you in your projects.) Do you write for pleasure? If not, get started. Put on your novelist glasses and observe the quirks in your coworkers, and the inherit ridiculousness of the institution. Consider your office work as a writer’s strength-training and maintenance program. It keeps your skills sharp. Work-writing and home-writing can feed each other. Find something to be grateful for in every moment: the feel of your favorite pen in your hand, the music in your headset, a warm cup of coffee, the coworker who makes you laugh. Your work world is a great resource for the “other” work, which happens on the weekends, as Bolles says, when we get to do what we really want to do. Hang in there. The feast will return. Savor the famine and its hidden gifts.

Some other strategies:

  • Get away from your desk at least once a day. Don’t eat your lunch there, either! Eat healthy foods to avoid that sleepy, sluggish feeling.
  • In every office, there are projects that are important, but not urgent, so they drift to the back burner or the bottom of the To-Do List. Keep track of new ideas and projects like these to tackle during downtime. Make a brief proposal to your boss to complete these projects, including a plan for implementation. This shows initiative and creativity, and may evolve into opportunities for more engaging work. Also, higher education is changing in dramatic ways. In the coming years, the organization, and your work, may change significantly. Make yourself indispensable by making the most of your downtime.
  • Keep an eye out for positions of interest in other departments. You may be able to change jobs within the institution.

Tuition for your child is a great benefit. Welcome to adult-ing. There is a sweet satisfaction that comes when one’s purpose in life shifts from providing for oneself to creating opportunities for our children. But, it doesn’t mean you must sacrifice your own fulfillment along the way. A parent with a meaningful career is a great role model for a child. Show them how it’s done!

Unwritten is one song on a playlist I compiled as inspiration for writers. Maybe you’d like to add some of these songs to your workday selections! (Click the link, or visit YouTube and search “Haven Playlist” with my name.)

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.