Want to Be Happy at Work? Care Less About It

A friend recently told me that she was ready to quit her job. Big changes at her workplace meant that new responsibilities were being heaped upon her.

Overwhelmed and stressed, she explained to me the unreasonable expectations—there was just no way she could perform all her tasks on time. She wanted to quit and be done with it.

As her friend, and someone who’d previously been in a similar situation, I wanted to help. I asked, “What would happen if you didn’t get all your work done on time? What ifinstead of quittingyou first tried caring less?”

She had never considered caring less as an option.

Have you?

For many of us introverts, our professional efforts and results are a reflection of ourselves and our dedication to our employer. At least, that’s how we see it. Because we aren’t the outspoken, gregarious, social butterflies of the office, we feel a need to prove to our superiors that we are smart, hard-working, and dependable. Behind the scenes, we quietly shine through our actions—not necessarily our (spoken) words.

We all know someone who coasts at his or her job. For me, it was a manager at a former workplace who often worked from home. When he was in the office, he was cool and relaxed and never appeared to be working, yet he was highly regarded by upper management. He was an expert at delegating and schmoozing.

In truth, I was jealous of him. I wished that I could get away with his behavior and attitude. But in reality, that’s not my nature.

For people like me and my close-to-quitting friend, the concept of giving anything less than our best doesn’t cross our minds. It simply isn’t an option. We set high standards for ourselves and are disappointed and frustrated when we can’t always achieve those standards. It’s that impending anxiety of failure that caused my friend to believe: “If I can’t do my job well, I don’t want to do it at all.”

But the brutal, honest truth is that many bosses don’t notice who is giving 100% and who is doing the minimum to get by. If you relate to this story so far, I’m willing to bet that your 80% of effort is most people’s 100%. So, by caring less, you’re actually caring just enough.

It’s great to want to be helpful and make a difference at work, but you have to take care of yourself first. You aren’t helping anyone if you burn out and quit. Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.

And here’s a bonus: You might achieve more when you care less. Consider this apt quote: the perfect is the enemy of the good. When you reduce the pressure on yourself to attain perfection, you can flow more quickly and easily through your tasks. Trust that your intuition and experience will guide you. Freedom from the weight of perfection can be creatively liberating.

Here is my advice for when you find yourself in the midst of panicked overwhelm.

First, ask yourself: What’s the worst that will happen if I miss a deadline by one day? or don’t proofread that spreadsheet for the fourth time? or if there’s a typo in my report?

Will I get fired?

Probably not. (And if you do, that’s not a company you want to work for anyway.)

You know what will likely happen? No one will even notice. Or if they do, it won’t be a big deal. Making occasional mistakes is expected and part of being human. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Next, slow down and analyze what, precisely, is stressing you out. Make a to-do list. Write down the specific tasks that are causing the feelings of stress. Talk it out with a friend or family member.

You might discover that the situation isn’t as dire as you thought. By approaching your tasks one at a time (remembering that everything doesn’t need to be perfect) you can make real progress. Taking that step back helps you shake the paralysis off and get more done.

So, what happened with my friend? Honestly, I think she found the concept of caring less to be too radical. Fortunately for her, the climate at her company changed on its own, and her workload was reduced. However, I hope she’ll remember my advice if she feels overwhelmed in the future. She deserves to be happy in her workplace without struggling to maintain self-imposed, almost-impossible-to-achieve standards. As do you.

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