I’m reading Are You Fully Charged? by Tom Rath, of StrengthsFinder 2.0 fame. It’s a good title. The answer, of course, is no. I’m not fully charged. Who is, these days? I was annoyed at the size of the book, too. Under my breath I dared Rath to explain it all in the 160 pages he allots to the topic (not including back-of-the-book exercises).
Rath won me over. I like a good question. When my closet got out of control, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her question: Does it bring you joy? If not, throw it out. This book offers similar questions for sorting through your life.
The book operates on the premise that happiness isn’t found at the big-picture level. It’s at the ground level: your daily tasks, the people you chat with, the sandwich you had for lunch. This is the basic stuff of life, and it’s so … doable, which is good, because Rath wants you to get to work right now.
Rath focuses on three components of an energized life:
- Meaningful work. Meaning is defined as benefitting another person. I love this simple but powerful approach. It’s humble. We’re not talking fame, or a huge scope of work. Just help the next guy.
- Positive interactions. Fill your day with them. Even the little ones count, so put away the cell phone. No, not even on the table (Rath cites research that finds even the presence of the phone can taint interactions). Listen. Ask questions. Relate.
- Health, mental and physical. Get enough sleep. Do what you need to do. Our bodies matter.
Contrast this with the “follow your dream” approach to career change. Following dreams can be inspiring, but intimidating. Where do you start? And if your dream is totally unrelated to your job, how do you connect the dots to your next move? It leads to a mentality of shopping around. I like Rath’s definition. The pressure is off. He didn’t say that you have to benefit multitudes of people, and forget about going after that raise. Happiness is definitely not derived from riches.
It’s easier to improve your own happiness – and the well being of others – when you focus on doing it right now. -Tom Rath
In my former life as a reporter, I came across people who loved jobs that weren’t intuitively lovable, who helped people by doing the things others didn’t want to do. There was the janitor who didn’t necessarily like cleaning, but was devoutly religious and decided to clean churches for a living. The work became a meditation on God. I remember a sewage treatment plant operator who liked tackling an environmental problem that everyone contributed to every day, simply by flushing the toilet. He loved being behind the scenes. He also got a kick out of telling people what he did. Where would we be without these people? Up a certain creek filled with a certain foul substance.
The book reminds me of a job I had as a temp while working on my counseling degree. I was placed as a data entry temp in a complaints department of a local homebuilder, and there was a lot of talk of sump pumps. Not the most inspiring job… at first. But after a few days I noticed my colleagues’ method for coping with screaming customers venting their frustrations on them. When they had a particularly tough caller, they muted their head set and talked back sarcastically to them. It was hilarious. We could all hear them do it from our nearby cubicles. They still helped frustrated customers fix their problems, but at the end of the day they could walk away not drained but energized. All because they approached their job with humor, as a team. They easily could have burned out in a week.
Working on being fully charged, with the tips in this book, doesn’t mean you have to stay in your job or give up on those big dreams. But even if you have one foot out the door of your job, it’s worth mining your daily experience for every bit of happiness you can get. A life is filled with days and hours, random people and friends. Building a new life has to start somewhere. Rath offers some good ideas.