1. Don’t sweat the economy: There’s nothing at all you can do about the state of the overall economy. You can spend time reading about (and agonizing over) the latest layoffs, tax issues and political bailouts, but these things are totally out of your control. By ignoring them, you free up energy and creativity to work on the things you can control. There’s a huge difference between reacting to circumstances beyond your reach, and responding effectively to change your position and attitude.
2. Connect with people (and customers!): The people who interact with your company can easily be seen as whining, inconvenient distractions that get in the way of your real job. They’re not, of course. Dance with them and embrace what they bring to you every day. Every office has someone who is seen as being great with customers, happy to go the extra mile, eager to engage. Guess what? That’s the person with the safest job.
3. Invest extraordinary amounts of energy: Some things get worn out when you use them too much. Burn too much rubber on those tires or overuse a kitchen appliance and sooner or later you’ll have to get them replaced. Energy at work doesn’t work that way. In fact, the more energy you expend at work, the more you’ll get back. It’s not your fault that this feels weird: generations of bosses and co-workers have indoctrinated you to keep your head down and not to make waves. But the happiest, most secure and most productive people at work are the ones who bring more energy than they’re asked for.
4. Don’t do what you’re told: If you follow the manual, you’re doing exactly what the cost-reducing, outsource-to-someone-cheaper accountants want you to do. At In-N-Out Burger in Los Angeles I met a store manager who refused to simply follow the manual. Instead, she worked out front cleaning tables and talking to customers, then in the kitchen smiling with her staff, and then she grabbed some paper hats and started handing them out to the kids in line. No, this wasn’t in the manual. Yes, she had a great day. And sure, she’s guaranteed a job for life if she continues to add value like this.
5. Remember what you learned as a kid: School spent more than 10 years brainwashing you into forgetting how to be creative, how to finger-paint, how to do work so exhausting you needed to take a nap on the floor. Creative work is exactly what the most essential employees at your company do every day, from the solving of problems to the creation of compelling new ways to do things.
6. Challenge your lizard brain: When you were busy reading the previous paragraph, a little voice in the back of your head probably started to object. It pointed out all the reasons why this idea is nuts, impractical or even dangerous. Did you ever wonder who that voice belongs to? The resistance. The resistance is the force that keeps us from being creative or doing work that matters. The resistance comes from our lizard brain, the pre-historic region near the amygdala. It’s the same part of the brain that causes temper tantrums and fear. When you hear the voice of the resistance, challenge it. Whenever you get close to doing something important but difficult, your resistance pipes up. It’s a signal that you’re about to do something great.
7. Change something: Start small. Gently and quietly fix things that are broken. Don’t ask permission, don’t write a memo, just do it. If every day at lunch it’s a struggle to find menus, go make a notebook of takeout menus from 10 places and put it in the coffee room. If there’s something that’s a pain in the neck to do with your computer, install a free macro program and make it faster and easier. Once you get in the habit of making small and positive changes, you’ll discover that people need you more and engage more often. It will also make your day a lot more fun.