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When You're Sick and Tired of Work: How to Find Motivation To Do What Needs to Be Done

There are days when getting out of bed and crawling to the office are a major effort.
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In 1946, Nazi concentration camp prisoner Victor Frankl published his book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, the author outlines his psychotherapeutic method, which involves latching onto one’s purpose in life and immersing oneself in achieving that outcome. According to Frankl, who manages to fit this method and recount the atrocities of the camps in a neat 200 pages, the way a prisoner imagined his future—how closely tied he was to a purpose—affected how long he was going to live.

How many days in a week do we spend forearm-to-desk and fingertip-to-keyboard, looking for some meaning in what we’re doing? The frankly half-assed days float by devoid of the clear stream of thought and infinity-pool drive that pushes projects into completion. Where does the motivation go and why does it flee? Take Lockwood’s definition of motivation found in Bakit Ka Kumayod: Developing a Filipino Needs Theory of Motivation by Ilagan, Hechanova, Co, and Pleyto: “The psychological forces that determine the direction of a person’s level of effort, as well as a person’s persistence in the face of obstacles.”

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Now we wonder, what are the forces pushing us around?

Effort is a function of more than just motivation

So that’s one definition of motivation. But motivation—or what gets me working on the thing that’s due next week—is not the sole determinant of how much effort I put in. How worried I am on a given day, how stressed I am for reasons rational or not, and the occasional gadfly thought of “am I in the right job” all have a hand in deciding how easily my fingers find my keyboard.

One study says a whopping 62 percent of men and 71 percent of women in the Philippines say they are planning to quit to look for a new job over the next year. The cause? “Inadequate compensation and poor work-life balance” were right at the top.

We did our own, albeit much smaller, survey among peers, where we looked for workplace challenges. Rather than asking about anything as definitive as quitting (we didn’t have the booze budget for this), we asked about the specific challenges at work that made working difficult. Here’s what we found and what might just help.

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Growing my career, searching for passion, and politics

The most popular answers to the question of what workplace challenges affect individuals the most yielded the following results: growing your career, lack of passion for the job, and workplace politics.

All respondents were millennials. Per Pew Research, a Washington DC-based nonpartisan fact tank, a millennial refers to anyone born between 1981 and 1996. Office politics is understandable. With the recent Slap Your Annoying Colleague day (October 23), many of us spent the day in a state of heightened state of self-control. But why do the former two present such a challenge?

“I don't want to generalize by generation, but I think it is safe to say that millenials and Gen Z-ers look for different things at work,” says Jonathan Robert A. Ilagan, RPsy, MA Ateneo de Manila Psychology Department and a psychologist in Gray Matters Psychological Center and Consulting. “As your survey said, a lot of them have issues with growing their career, passion, and politics. This is probably because these are things they value. They value being able to obtain a sense of fulfillment, which can contribute to career growth and be blocked by workplace politics.”

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The value generation

Born into a generation that isn’t fighting a world war (not complaining here) but that is relentlessly bombarded with a flood of causes (see: Greta Thunberg on climate change, Malala Yousafzai on female education, and, fine, even Mark Zuckerberg on connecting the world), we seek to develop careers that have value. Never before has a generation been so boomingly been told that it can change the fabric of the world. Perhaps then, the mingling of wanting to grow my career (1), in something in which I’m passionate about (2), while navigating the complexities of human relationships (3) is a lot to ask of anyone. It’s paralyzing.

Pat yourself on the back, then. It is a big ask. Maybe realizing that is the first step to moving forward.

Is connectivity consuming us?

On the question of how central work is to our lives, Ilagan says that, nowadays, it’s even more pronounced.

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“In relation to work being a central part of their lives, I believe that this is a function of how connected these generations have become,” he says. “Because communication is easy, it becomes easier to stay connected to work even when a person is not physically at work. This can become unhealthy when other aspects of a person`s life are compromised; social life, self-development, and other things can be lost when an individual`s work is too central to his/her life.”

In some lines of work, 24/7 reachability and availability is just part and parcel of the daily grind, but for others, the office in your pocket, i.e. your cellphone, may just be a buzzing beacon of stress and not a tool of productivity. Perhaps sitting yourself down and seriously asking yourself if your job is a 24/7 line of work or not is a start to setting boundaries between you and those trying to make contact.

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Hey, time off is important.

How about that weekly existential crisis?

For starters, you’re not alone. We all get them.

“It can be part of the development of emerging adults as they strive to figure out who they are,” Ilagan says.

So, hell, it’s normal!

“However, when one's identity is rooted in work, the other aspects of the self suffer,” Ilagan adds. “It`s not wrong to be proud of the work you do and include it as a way of describing yourself, but when it becomes the sole determinant of who you are and what your worth is, then problems may arise.”

So when these pulls in every which way strike with a ferociousness that zaps your attention like a bright L.E.D. light (we’re mosquitoes in this metaphor), reassure yourself with the fact that they’re normal and that they may be opportunities to learn about yourself. Situate your thoughts around the question: what do I value? Ilagan suggests pulling your thoughts away from material things and asking prodding questions like “What are the things you enjoy doing? Who are the people you care about?”

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Brimming with brand names and every which kind of car (most of which I’d probably just call a Ferarri anyway), Instagram feeds hardly ever call up these sorts of questions. So, we must call them up ourselves.

How to ruin your mind 101: comparisons

I must admit to one episode of flipping through LinkedIn where I felt the well of monstrous jealousy bubble into a small nuclear meltdown. I found this 19-year-old, New York-based, college-level whiz who had already completed various finance-related distinctions and was already pegged to land a fantastic Wall Street job following his graduation. My otherwise pale face was rainforest green.

But comparisons occur far closer to home and on a daily basis. In the office, in our social circles, online. Ilagan echoes this normalcy of comparisons. “We`ve grown up in a society that compares people,” he says. Unfortunately, a great many of us can’t brush these comparisons off (raising my hand here), finding ourselves caught in the tight grips of “low self-esteem, anxiety, and feelings of incompetence.”

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Creeping out of this hole is difficult. But if we can get a solid hold of ourselves, and our values, if we can “[learn] who [we] are outside of external things and [find our] worth,” we can. Being open, to grapping with existential crises and digesting these or analogous emotions with circles of support or even professionals is key.

So when do I quit?

At what point do we throw in the towel and quit sparring against an opponent we shouldn’t have to fight anyway? At what point do we see the temple-tattoo of Mike Tyson and decide the fight simply ain’t fair?

“I can`t give a one size fits all answer of when to quit a job,” says Ilagan.

And can you really ask for more? This is a question of values and how much you’re willing to take to watch your aspirations come to the fore. Pinning down your purpose is a terrific start, though. If you’re clear on that, perhaps work and all the rest will unwind thereafter. Your work might just be a means to an end. A dot on the road. Realizing this might make putting in the effort just a bit more natural.         

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In Bakit Ka Kumayod, “[t]he study revealed four types of needs: job, organization, family, and career-related needs. Of these, family is not found in Western models.” Consequently, if family time is of heightened value to you, then a job which cuts into it should be evaluated. The same goes for anything else you hold as valuable.

Viktor Frankl’s advice

Having run through a small list of difficulties individuals face at work, we go back to where we started. We arrive at our very selves and our questions of purpose. Viewing the task we’re supposed to perform on a daily basis as a craft that we can develop might take the stasis away from the hours whiled away at our desks.

If we can navigate our work, mindful and patient with ourselves, willing to disconnect every now and again, and ready to tell our comparing selves to piss off, we may get to a better understanding of what we want, politics flung in the background.

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Without doubt, monetary considerations, navigating traffic to and from the office, and the mass of everything else you can find stewing inside your head in a mental tea of absolute muck all play serious factors in day-to-day motivation, efficacy, and mental health. No, not everything can be flung in the background.

But arguably, we can function better in our respective situations if we bring better mindsets into them.

As our friend Frankl says in his book, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

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About The Author
Jaymes Shrimski
Jaymes Shrimski is a twentysomething, Manila-based writer who’s grown up somewhere between Sydney and Cebu. Enthusiastic about all things food and beverage, clothes, books, and small business, he also loves a good long run, beers with his mates, and coffees at any given time of day.
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