Once upon a time, a man named Ted Geisel had a job that was driving him crazy. He had thought it would be a snap, but after a year and a half, he was stuck. His task? Turn a list of “beginner” words into a schoolbook for 6-year-olds that they “wouldn’t be able to put down”. Although tempted to give up, he decided to try to find a new way of looking at his job.
What if he broke all the rules and wrote a schoolbook full of crazy characters and silly rhymes? He decided to choose two of the simplest words on the list and began. The words were “Cat” and “Hat”.
When Ted Geisel (perhaps you know him better as Dr. Seuss?) published The Cat in the Hat in 1957, it revolutionized reading for children by replacing rote memorization with phonics – and fun. Kids loved his books. Parents loved his books. Teachers loved his books! And by shifting the limits of his job, Geisel/Seuss found unlimited new satisfaction (and extraordinary success) in his career.
Don’t love your job? Craft it.
You don’t have to quit your job in order to find meaning and satisfaction in your work. Instead, you can try “job crafting”— turning the job you already have into the job you love. As psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E. Dutton defined it in their pioneering paper, the phenomenon of job crafting occurs when employees shift the boundaries of their work, either by expanding or narrowing their job descriptions.
Studies of organizations from Fortune 500 companies down to tiny nonprofits suggest that people who job craft tend to be more satisfied and engaged in their work. By changing tasks, changing coworkers, or changing the meaning assigned to their work, they’re able to craft their existing jobs into ones more closely aligned with what they believe makes life enjoyable and worthwhile.
Three ways to job craft
Rethink the tasks your work entails. Are there some you love and some you loathe? Job crafters, when they can, will try to better shape their days. Discuss this with your boss to see if you can trade tasks with coworkers. Because a task you hate might be a task someone else loves.
Rethink the people you work with. As Wrzesniewski phrases it, your relationships with your co-workers are at once responsible for the “greatest joys and greatest frustrations” that come from your job. This part of job crafting involves trying to spend more time with the people you like and less time with the people you don’t.
Rethink the way you think about your work. This may seem like the easiest part of job crafting, but it’s actually the most difficult: what you have to change is your own mind. How do you see yourself? Do you feel limited by your job title? Can you open your mind and see things differently?
David Sturt, author of Great Work, writes, “To reframe one’s job is to make a mental connection with a grander purpose: its social benefit. Its worth to society. Its potential to benefit others. Thinking of the good our work can do, beyond our daily to-do list, helps us change how we relate to our work. Such reframing possibilities exist in practically any occupation. All it takes is a little effort to think beyond our to-do list to the difference we want to make for others.”