There is a classic tale of three bricklayers. The famous architect Christopher Wren visited the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which he’d been commissioned to rebuild after the 1666 fire. There, he saw three bricklayers. He asked them each what they were doing. The first said he was laying bricks. The second said he was building a wall. And the third? He said he was building a cathedral for God.
I found myself thinking about this story lately. Indeed, it relates to my career and the way I see myself in my company. After all, there’s a well-known phenomenon that familiarity breeds contempt, or at least boredom. So, how do I stay motivated at work?
Mulling this over, I thought it wise to speak to two of the most enthusiastic people that I know here at Colliers Engineering & Design. Donna Corman and Lukman Osi both have reputations for being passionate about their jobs. I wondered what their journeys were to get there. Did they start out in their dream job? Is this even their dream job? After years of being content in a job, how do they not grow a little bored?
Picking the Right Company
Project Manager Lukman Osi of our Bridges and Structures department is well known not only for his industry knowledge and expertise, but also for his overwhelmingly positive attitude. He told me, “My wife could see the change in me when I started here about three years ago. She saw that I was excited to be a part of this team. I just felt so welcomed, of course by my own department, but also at every level of the firm. I love that I am not a cog in the wheel, even though we are growing.”
Most people working in an office setting probably have a little fear in the back of their head about being treated like a “cog in the wheel” instead of as an individual with unique abilities. When he puts it that way, I agree that it’s important to find an environment where you feel valued as an individual.
I asked what else about a company culture helps him to stay excited about work, and he said, “It’s easy to be motivated when everyone around you is. If we need to get something done, everyone will go all the way and work late if need be. And I also love that other offices and other departments help me without hesitation. No one is ever too busy to talk to you, answer your question, or give you help.”
Ok, so one key to feeling excited about your job is to find a culture that you are excited about being a part of and then actively work on building real relationships with the people in it. Ok, let’s say you do that. Then what? Will you automatically love your job?
Donna’s Key to Staying Motivated at Work
In 2012, Donna Corman came to our company, and now works as a Collections Coordinator in our Red Bank office. She is the kind of person who acts just as lively on a Tuesday as she does on a Friday.
I asked her what day-to-day things about her job keep her motivated. She said, “It’s all about how you look at your tasks. For example, I have a certain number of things I need to do and certain priorities, but I have freedom to more-or-less decide what order I do them. I’m very internally motivated to get everything done because I focus on that freedom.” Hmm, interesting… Ok, I can definitely agree with that. I also try to focus on the freedoms I am given and take advantage of them.
In that vein, when I think about it, it’s the moments when I feel myself getting bored with one task that I get creative. It was when I was knee deep in spreadsheets that I went to my manager and asked if I could start a new social media series, and when I was spending whole days trying to learn about LiDAR that I asked her for help finding new, interesting ways to understand it. Sometimes it’s easy to just mindlessly slog through what you’ve been given. But, I agree that it’s internal motivation that really makes you feel good about your work and your day.
Donna also said, “Someone on the outside might think collections is a boring job, but it’s all about relationships. I’m constantly building and maintaining relationships all day long.” Ok, that’s interesting. Donna is satisfied because she views her job through a lens of it being about relationships. How can I apply this to my job? Can I view my tasks as being more interesting than someone else might?
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Donna definitely thinks of herself as a NASA employee. You may remember the story of the janitor JFK met while visiting NASA during his presidency. He asked the man what he did there. The man said he was helping to put a man on the moon. Which he was, when you think about it. If NASA didn’t have a janitor, how could the scientists and engineers do their jobs? That janitor saw the bigger picture of what he was doing, and that made him enthusiastic about his work.
This is exactly what Donna does. She told me, “If I see money come in because of me, I feel really lucky. I’m not just sending emails and making phone calls all day. I’m actually keeping the company running! I see myself as part of the greater mission.”
I get that. There have been days when I did nothing but transfer information from one spreadsheet into another, a seemingly dull task. But I never felt bored because I knew that it was extremely important to the company for that data to be correct and in the new place. In fact, it felt weirdly thrilling to know that my contribution was going to make a real difference. And we all do make a difference, whether we are transferring data or doing collections, taking out the trash, or flying a drone to scan a railway.
Lukman, too, noted the fact that he feels part of something greater, “It makes me want to go all the way with this company. We really are going to conquer the planet, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
This is perhaps the biggest piece of advice I could take from them since it’s something fully in my control every minute of every day. Recognize how your every effort contributes to the greater picture, and every task you do will seem important.
I think we’ve solved it, folks.
Let us know in the comments how you stay motivated at work. Catch me next time I ask, “Am I Doing This Right?”