"I once got to know a young woman who worked at Starbuck's; she always greeted me with a warm smile and a friendly word. When I asked her if she was ever in a bad mood, she replied, 'Of course, but my calling is to bring good cheer to my customers, which I can't do if I obsess about myself.'
"Each of us has to reflect on what we have to offer, as well as on what is needed. It may take a while to find our own calling, but this is a very different path from our usual self-centered pursuits in the workplace. When we do our work primarily for money, or to achieve higher status, we're unlikely to find genuine fulfillment. What's missing is the sense of valuing the possibilities available through our work. We often forget that meaning is not inherent in any job. For example, being a doctor is no more inherently meaningful than being a janitor. In fact, many doctors burn out because their expectations of what they'll get for themselves — money, status, appreciation — don't deliver their promise, even when conventional success is achieved.
"On the contrary, a study of janitors at a large hospital showed that those who saw themselves as part of the hospital team experienced genuine fulfillment, because they thought more about the welfare of others than about meeting their own self-centered demands. Even though their time was spent emptying bedpans and mopping floors, they went out of their way to contribute, sometimes doing extra tasks to help ease the burdens of the doctors and nurses. . . . They found value in their work by making their best effort to serve others. They also experienced the satisfaction of seeing themselves as contributing to the overall healing environment of the hospital.
"Finding happiness through our work requires two basic things. First, we have to recognize our own patterns, such as trying ever harder to be appreciated or doing whatever it takes to get approval. These patterns block any chance of experiencing genuine happiness. And second, once we recognize those patterns, we have to undertake the basic, blue-collar work of practice — the mundane everyday efforts of bringing awareness to the underlying fears that dictate how we feel and act. There is nothing romantic or magical about our blue-collar efforts; they are bound to take time and perseverance, and we may become frustrated at times along the way. But we can remind ourselves regularly that awareness is what ultimately heals.
"In addition to staying present with our experience, we can also turn our whole approach toward our work right-side up. We do this by turning away from our normal orientation of 'What's in it for me?' and instead ask the question 'What do I have to offer?' When we learn to give from our own unique gifts, we can experience the deep fulfillment of living a life in which we prioritize giving over getting. We will also discover that giving from the generosity of the heart is one of the essential roots of true contentment."