I had an “aha” moment a few days ago when I suddenly realized that we behave in the same inefficient way in our relationships with our employers as we do with our romantic partners. Here’s what I think we do:
We identify someone/some job that we want. Maybe it is as random as spotting them across the room. It could be as reactive as responding to someone’s overtures. It doesn’t matter how it transpires. What matters is that we decide we want that person/that job. Once we do, our motivation is kicked up and we start playing a better game, often our best game. We spend a little more time on how we look. Maybe we’re more current with world events than we regularly are. We don’t audibly fart in their presence. We don’t expose very many weaknesses, except when they’re strategic. We’re highly motivated to connect, which increases our motivation to be vulnerable. We feel excited and often good.
Then we get the job. Or someone commits to us. Whatever the case, we get validated and desired. We won!!!
What happens next? Sooner or later we get sick. Or tired. Or a little lazy. We relax. We make some mistakes. It’s all very unsettling. The person or organization isn’t what we thought they were. They’re disappointing. We also worry that we’re disappointing, aware of all the ways that we’re not perfect. All this fear of disappointment changes our interactions and our thoughts. We become more defensive, more guarded, less engaged. We feel disconnected.
At this crossroad, several things can happen: We get disenchanted and break up or change jobs. Or we latch on to the good old days of what things used to be like and then put effort into trying to reclaim it. We can’t. So it gets frustrating and our continually futile efforts aren’t good for our self-esteem, but giving up feels even worse. So we stay. But we feel disconnected, uninspired and consequently not very motivated.
It’s a little dark. But also, pretty familiar, right?
The thing is, that we can never “reclaim” what we had at the beginning. Of a job or a relationship. Our relationship was based on different kinds of motivation. Securing something new like a relationship or a job is a particular kind of validation or “victory”. I think we have a specific kind of motivation that drives us towards succeeding in those interactions that is different than what drives our day to day, over time activity. We can’t sustain the “acquisition” motivation over long periods of time without burning out. Ultimately, we become our long-term selves. We can’t go back in time or change the dynamic back to an acquisition state of mind. So, first we need to recognize that what we want we can’t have – we’ll never be on our honeymoon again. If we focus on what is possible, then what lies ahead involves understanding what both parties offer each other and how to manage our collective flaws and strengths long term. I don’t think it’s possible to do that when everyone is feeling disappointed with each other. Then we’re too focused on trying to justify our positions instead of focusing on connecting.
We are losing out on so many opportunities by thinking like this. The inefficiency is that we are minimizing our potential to connect, by focusing our work on something that isn’t possible, instead of maximizing it by acknowledging all the things that are true today. I think the mindfulness of focusing on what is, versus what has been or could be, is the foundation of connection. Connection leads to happiness. Happiness leads to productivity (among other things). This sounds like the honeymoon we’re seeking!
Here’s how I think we get to the “real” honeymoon:
- Recognize that it is wasted effort to try and return to the feelings/motivation of the first phase in our relationship/job.
- Understand that everyone/everything is flawed.
- Examine ours and others’ flaws and see where they’re also strengths. For example: someone being calm and relatively emotionally unreactive is attractive, because they don’t seem volatile – as a partner or as a manager – but it also might mean that they’re not highly emotionally tuned in and need greater assistance understanding others’ emotions. Accepting that flaws are also strengths helps us understand that we don’t need to eliminate them, we’re looking to manage them.
- Think/write about how you want to feel – in your job, in your relationship(s) – and then focus on what beliefs you have about yourself, your partner, your manager, your organization that are roadblocks to feeling like this. Then, you’ll understand the productive work that can be accomplished.