How to Thrive in a Tough Work Environment

difficult work enviroment

When I visited a difficult work environment I worked in years ago, I made a point to greet as many people as possible with “good morning”.  There were an awful lot of awkward stares, and on two separate occasions someone asked,

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

Each time I replied with “yes”…which lead to even further strange looks.  Unfortunately, the difficult work environment hadn’t changed much since I left years ago.  But the good news was I had.

Many of the people there were staring at the ground, pensive, and even a little sad. I chose to bring the complete opposite of what I saw, trying to spark positive energy for their day.  It was obvious that if I showed up in that environment every day, it would start to get to me, too. I could slide back into a ho-hum approach to work.  That isn’t good for the employee or the organization.

When you want to change things up a bit….try to “be the change you want to see,” but this is easier said than done. So I’ve got a special strategy for you to try.

Thrive by Using the “Flower in the Desert” Strategy

This strategy came to me when I was describing my approach working with organizations and employees to my mastermind group (created by Pamela Slim).  The insightful and hilarious, Susan Baier, shouted out…

“Ben, you’re the flower in the freaking desert”. (Although there may have been a different word used here…)

This flower metaphor is a powerful way to think about your career, so let’s explore…

The desert is a harsh environment for anything to grow…especially a flower.  You might think a flower shouldn’t exist in the desert, but if you ever happen upon one it makes an impression. Much more so than if you ran across it in a garden already full of beautiful flowers.

  • Garden = Organizations that are supportive of their employees creating the job they love = Google, Facebook, and probably a list of offices where they’re serving beer on the premises after 5 PM.
  • Desert = Organizations that aren’t really fertile ground for creating the job you love. Places where it feels really awkward to talk to your manager about your career aspirations.

So in this metaphor, you’re the flower and you can decide:

  • Option 1 – Go find a nice garden that’s supportive of creating the job you love. This probably involves quitting, potentially losing $36,000, waiting, and going through a grueling interview process to work at one of the “garden” offices.
  • Option 2Set yourself apart from the rest, and become the flower in the desert. Grow your roots deep, learn to feed yourself, and create the environment where you can thrive.

While neither option is wrong, consider option 2 for a minute.  You might get a few “you’re not from around here’s”…

By the way, if you already work in a “Garden” environment consider forwarding this to someone who doesn’t…

Three Steps to Thrive as a Flower in an “Office” Desert

Step 1 – Grow your roots deeper – Brace yourself for the long haul, and remind yourself of the benefits of the job you have… steady paycheck, benefits, a chance to make an bigger impact than you could at another job.   Notice how your mindset shifts when you invest yourself in the job you have versus the “I’m just passing through”. It might even mean instead of asking yourself, “How can I stay…but stay differently” as I explain here:

Step 2 – Learn to feed yourself – Don’t wait for others to motivate you. Learn to motivate and inspire yourself, so you’re not depending on others for “sustenance” to keep going. Here is one of my favorite tactics:

Step 3 – Begin to create an environment where you can thrive – As you establish deeper roots and a system of sustaining yourself, start to make small positive changes to your environment to be even more supportive of your professional growth.  Here’s one really easy action you can use to get your day started off in a positive way.

Now choose one of these small actions above and notice how it can help you approach your work enviroment with a more positive outlook. Before long you might be asked, “you’re not from around here, are you?”

To becoming flower in the desert!

Ben

3 Comments

  • Jim Mondry

    Reply Reply May 2, 2017

    Ben – I love what you are calling out: that we all have the potential to create an environment that feeds our deeper self, no matter the external circumstances.

    What worked well for me was that every morning, before I looked at my to-do list, I asked myself three questions:
    1) How do I want to honor my values in my work today?
    2) How might I use my strengths to achieve my goals?
    3) How do I want to impact those who I interact with today?

    Then, when I looked at my to-do list (or thought about the meetings I needed to attend, or the reports I had to prepare), I was able to bring positive energy to all of the actions, and find ways to make the work more fulfilling regardless of the external circumstances.

    • benfanning

      Reply Reply May 3, 2017

      Jim, Thanks for sharing your process. I love your three questions. Ben

  • Michael LaRocca

    Reply Reply May 9, 2017

    Excellent advice, and of course I wish geography allowed me to be part of a mastermind group formed by Pamela Slim, you lucky desert flower.

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