“Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” ~Sarah Bernhardt
Ten years ago, when I first moved to China, I came as an English teacher at a university. I hadn’t the faintest clue as to how I would teach and I only had one year of experience as a teaching assistant in graduate school.
At the beginning, I was completely out of my element. In fact, I woke up the following morning after arrival in my new apartment only to realize that I had no food, couldn’t say anything in Chinese, and had no idea where to get something to eat.
For me, everything was uncharted territory, especially my new career.
After settling in, I tried to do a good job of teaching, and I truly did care for my students. However, having hundreds of different students and seeing each group for less than an hour per week, I did not see how I could make much difference.
Because of this, I lost my motivation and never really gave it my all. I could find no reason to excel at what I was doing because I couldn’t see how I could have any impact.
I became apathetic about what could have been a wonderful occupation. I dreaded waking up in the morning and dragging myself to class. When making a lesson plan, I would just throw something together that I thought might be sufficient.
In class, I just wanted to get it over with and move on with my day. I rarely stuck around to converse with my students and I often complained about my work.
I did what was necessary just to get by. I gave very little of myself and got very little in return. My profession became a job to trudge through.
You Get What You Give
Years later I began to work on improving myself. Naturally, this included my own job and I began to search for a way to transform my work into something better, something more meaningful. And I found the answer.
Fast-forward a few years, and everything changed. When preparing classes, I would construct course plans with meticulous care and would repeatedly practice how best to deliver them.
I would wake up each morning at 5:00am to make sure that I was physically and mentally wide awake and ready to give it my all, every single day. Before each class, I would talk to myself and whip myself up into a state of excitement, determined to make every class a masterpiece.
I started to feel genuinely excited on my way to class and felt great joy upon entering the classroom. I would stay afterward and speak with students, who were always full of questions for me.
Increasingly, I was able to see through the eyes of the learner. And, by being able to put myself in their shoes, I knew what needed to be done and how to execute it.
I improved as a person as well. I became more confident, learned how to hold the attention of a crowd, gained a much clearer understanding of the process of learning, and felt much more joy. I learned how to lead and to provoke curiosity.
I was getting significant, measurable results and I realized how huge of an impact I could have on my students’ lives.
It was true that I was devoting more time to my work, but what I soon learned was that I received much more in return. I could feel and see such love from my students. They were more cooperative than before, I gained their trust, and they showered me with kindness and friendship.
I was greeted each morning with enthusiastic smiles, and at the end of the school year thoughtful gifts poured in that brought tears of joy to my eyes.
I had completely transformed, and so too had the experience of my students. And it was all because of a shift that I chose to make.
The Key to Creating Joy in Your Work
What had happened? What did I do to create this incredibly positive change?
I made a simple decision: I was going to give more than anyone else expected of me.
This decision happened in an instant.
Back when I was still trudging through my work, one afternoon, I was walking through the halls of the school. I was struck by the fact that every classroom was full of silent, bored student who were playing on their phones or sleeping. At the front of every single classroom was a teacher speaking monotonously or reading from a slide on the overhead.
I felt pity for my students and was angry at the laziness that I saw. The system was a total sham and nobody was receiving anything of value. And in that moment I had a revelation: I was part of it.
I too had become lazy and was contributing to this horrible state of affairs. I felt a conviction rise within me: I would no longer be a part of the sham anymore.
Upon returning home, I did something that forever changed how I work: I thought very carefully about what my students needed.
I was struck by inspiration and spent hours putting together a new lesson plan. When I delivered the plan, everyone in the classroom, including myself, was shocked. The students were completely inspired and the entire atmosphere of the room changed.
Afterward, numerous students told me how much they had enjoyed the class. They requested more like it. Overwhelmed with excitement, I set to work constructing more lesson plans that would truly have an impact.
From there, it blossomed into a virtuous circle: the more I gave to my students, the more joy I received in return. And this made me want to give even more. Happiness flowed to me in avalanches of joy.
I never imagined the beautiful changes that would take place. My classrooms were utterly transformed.
Watching the enormous impact I was having on hundreds of lives, I realized something: all of this happened because of a single decision that I had made.
I created this change. And so can you.
And it starts with a decision: to give more of yourself.
How to Give More
The giving of service is the master key that will unlock joy and success in any profession. So, if you are not a teacher like me, how can you apply this to your own work?
What, for example, would it look like for someone with clients or customers? If you are a waiter or waitress, a secretary, a nurse or doctor, in sales, or customer service you would want to be attentive to your customers above all else.
Listen for and focus in on understanding what they need and find a way to deliver it to them. There is no better way to ensure repeat business.
If you are a cashier, be the cashier who everyone remembers. Make every person feel important by looking them in the eyes and greeting them with a smile. This will bring more joy to both of you than if you mindlessly wished you were somewhere else.
If you are a laborer, cleaner, or prepare food and may not interact with many people, focus on excelling at your task. Know who you are serving, what they need, and do it in the best way you know how.
And even if nobody appreciates or recognizes your work or you don’t get the results you expect, you will go to bed with much greater satisfaction and contentment knowing that you gave it your all.
If you dislike your work, the key to making it more enjoyable is to give more of yourself. When you focus on giving, you stop thinking about yourself and what you don’t like.
It is as simple as it is profound. In the end, the person this will help the most is you.
If ever you are uncertain as to how you can excel at your work, you only need to find the answer to these four questions:
- Who am I serving?
- What do they need?
- How can I give them what they need?
- What can I do to exceed their expectations?
Once you have the answers, you have developed a plan to excel at your work. And, by doing so, you have created the master key to making your job a labor of love and a source of joy for yourself and for those around you.
Love my job image via Shutterstock