Over the years, one of my favorite pieces of advice to give to bankers when discussing ways of staying motivated in their jobs has been to remember that we are all working in temporary jobs. Lots of folks are a bit puzzled at first by that assertion.
I then point out that most of them had jobs before the ones they have now that were also temporary, whether they knew it or not. Temporary doesn't necessarily mean "short-term." But it does mean that it will eventually end.
They may have their current job for a few weeks, months, years, or even a decade or so. But with few exceptions, they are not going to do the jobs they hold now for the rest of the time they have on this planet. We all eventually move on. We may move up or move out, but we go on to something else. No single job is forever. Hence, all jobs are temporary jobs.
I like to then tell them that, though the lesson sounds pretty grim, my intention is just the opposite. Occasionally reminding ourselves of the temporary nature of our jobs can actually have a positive impact on our personal job motivation.
It is human nature for many of us to focus inordinately on the things about our jobs that demotivate us. It may be our hardwired survival instinct that keeps us focused on the negative in order to keep us from becoming complacent about things that could harm us. Though this instinct served our ancestors well, it can work against us while navigating the modern jungles we call our jobs.
I have prodded banker groups of all seniority levels to make two personal lists. One should feature the things about their jobs that they really like and appreciate. (And yes, getting paid does belong on the list.) The other should be of things that drain their emotional and mental energy.
Almost without fail, the "good" list will be noticeably longer. And, also, almost without fail, they will be spending noticeably more time each day fixated on and obsessing about that shorter list.
Ralph Waldo Emerson captured the danger in that phenomenon when he said, "A man is what he thinks about all day long." When we continue to fixate on the aspects of our jobs that irritate us, we tend to "become" perpetually irritated.
I would respectfully suggest that this is not exactly the most productive state of mind to be in. And it is a good bet that your co-workers, subordinates and customers would agree.
However, when we remind ourselves that the negative things we become fixated on are themselves temporary, we almost always become more able to tolerate them. (I'll skip the conversation about cognitive control and self-efficacy for now.)
And for obvious reasons, taking a minute now and then to consciously dwell on the things we appreciate about our jobs is not a bad practice, either.
An old friend who is a senior bank manager has had many conversations with me about this subject. He is also a big believer in the benefit of avoiding fixations on the negatives that inescapably come with anything called a "job."
He once joked with me that he struggled at first to find ways to make the "temporary job" analogy to his team without making them panic about their job security.
In regular meetings with his managers, he began jokingly to ask them to share one or two things from the past month that had frustrated or angered them. He also made sure he kept a sense of humor about the activity so that it would not turn into a pity party.
At first, his folks were understandably shy about sharing things that wore them down or drove them crazy. To get things going, he often shares with his team his own recent frustrations. He laughed, telling me that he can tell new managers are often shocked that their bosses, too, have setbacks and stress-inducers.
One of his catch phrases is, "But you know, we do the fun stuff for free. They pay us to do the stuff that isn't always fun."
Another smart practice he has employed is making sure his top performers and "best attitude" people regularly share the things that may not have gone their way lately. The big benefit of this is that the rest of his team sees that their most successful colleagues are not free of failures or frustrations.
Instead, they succeed because they do not stay fixated on (what really are usually) minor irritations or allow temporary setbacks to have long-term impact on their outlook and morale.
In our current business environment, it is understandable that many of our teams are having a bit harder time keeping a positive outlook. Take a minute this week to remind them that setbacks and frustrations are normal, universal — and temporary. And the more we put the negatives into the proper perspective, the more temporary they become.