July 19, 2011
What's your work mantra?
Sunday night, after a glorious weekend on the Olympic Peninsula, I came home to several hours of uncompleted work. Due 9 a.m. Monday, hard stop. After two leisurely days of beach strolls and sunsets, communing with my computer was the last thing I wanted to do. So I picked up the remote, switched on the tube, and landed on an episode of "Deadliest Catch."
[Flickr photo by madame.furie]
One of the skippers was chewing out a deckhand who'd retreated indoors with a torn stomach muscle. With just a handful of crew on his Alaska crab fishing boat, the skipper needed all hands on deck, pain be damned.
"I've worked through torn muscles and all kinds of pain," the skipper snarled. "Unless you have a bone sticking out, you suck it up and get back to work."
Obviously, writing is nowhere near as grueling as fishing for Alaska king crab. Still, those were the words I needed to hear. So I switched off the tube, and with "Unless you have a bone sticking out, you suck it up" as my mantra, I slogged through my project and made my deadline.
When it comes to how we approach work, I'm a firm believer that each of us has our own mantra, motto, or credo. It may be a quote by a beloved author or philosopher. It may be something you heard a friend, relative, or reality TV star say. You may even have an entire theme song running through your head while you work.
For me, Sunday night's "suck it up" mantra was just a mantra of the moment. My overriding work philosophy has nothing to do with muscle tears and compound fractures. Instead it's more about trying to quell my workaholic tendencies.
To do this, I often return to an exchange I had with a next-door neighbor a few years ago. About 15 years my senior, she was an empty nester and frequently home during the day while her husband was at work. I lived alone at the time, and she took to keeping an eye on me, not in a nosy, invasive way, but in a caring, neighborly, even maternal way. Often we'd chat over the chain-link fence between our yards. Sometimes we walked our dogs together during the day.
I wrote two books while living in that house, sometimes working straight through the night, sometimes holed up indoors for days. My neighbor occasionally called to check in on me during these writing binges.
"Are you okay?" she'd ask. "Your lights were on late last night, and I haven't seen you outside in a few days."
I explained I'd been keeping some long, oddball hours to make a big deadline and it was nothing to worry about. But a few weeks later, I got another "Are you okay?" call. This went on for several months, me sequestered in my shack, my neighbor periodically calling or stopping by to make sure I was okay.
My dear neighbor has since passed away and I've since moved across town, but I think about her a lot, often when I'm spending more time in front of the computer than I am living my life.
"Are you okay?" I'll hear her say.
"No, I'm not," I'll answer silently, as I shut down my computer and get up from my desk. "But I will be."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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