I have to admit I’m guilty of saying it many times throughout my career. I bet if we tapped all the corporate offices in the world our ears would be drowning in some form of the common response, ‘Livin’ the dream!’
How many times have you heard the following interaction?
Co-Worker 1: How’s it going? Crappy weather we have, right?
Co-Worker 2: Yeah, I’m ok. Rain’s not supposed to stop until Thursday. How have you been?
Co-Worker 1: (with a smirk) Oh, you know… just livin’ the dream!
Co-Worker 1 & 2: (erupt in sardonic laughter)
Since a few years ago working in various teams and offices, my heart would sink when I heard that phrase because I had figured out what it really meant and it isn’t the least bit funny.
‘I’m unhappy, but I’m resigned to my plight.’
I wince just typing it. How did we get to this point? When did our wide-eyed selves turn sour and disenchanted? The answers of course are different for everyone, but I’ve discovered the common beliefs of those that say this phrase often.
They believe they’re powerless. At some point in their career (likely during the beginning) they made an attempt to change something and were met with disappointment. Perhaps their boss told them ‘no’ to a much deserved raise or their work on a long-term project was never used. Employees from corporations with a lot of red tape especially can recount for days on end their own stories of dejection.
They think they’re trapped. This is as good as it gets, right? They’ve seen their friends, family members and colleagues get laid off, passed up for jobs, and be underpaid. It’s everywhere so it doesn’t matter what other company you try to escape to it’s just the nature of being a corporate cog.
They see their hours of drawn-out unhappiness as the price to pay to make a living. ‘There’s no free lunch’ and ‘They call it work for a reason!’ were the common phrases branded onto their brains by the grown-ups of their youth. You have to put in the time in order to enjoy the fruits of your labor they’ll reason.
And the saddest, most devastating belief that hands the final blow and turns their lovely eyes glassy is:
They believe that work can’t be meaningful. That’s for the non-profit do-gooder who’s running around trying to save the world, the one handing out meals to the homeless or medical supplies to the sick. I’m just a [insert job title here] and the company I work for does [insert boring mission statement here]. I can’t affect that kind of change.
Funny thing is, in a way, they’re right. There’s an element of truth to each of these beliefs yet elements don’t make them absolutes. Life in general will bring us moments of being overlooked, disrespected and misunderstood. We're so quick then to take these experiences and use them to create false generalizations about how the world works. It’s at that precise moment that our outlook turns gloomy and uninspired. “So and So has been looking for a job for 6 months, I doubt she’ll ever find one again in this economy at her age” or “It’s extremely rare to make a living doing what you love; my friend tried and he had to close his business.” The most misguided belief, however, is that we’re powerless in anything. Thankfully, we’re not. Most of us (including myself) have the destructive habit of underestimating the power and strength we’ve always had. Remember that the world is a huge place filled with countless opportunities to realize our dreams.
No one else but us is responsible for determining what that dream is so go out and actually start livin’ it.