6 Ways To Determine What's Your Work (And What's Not) -- By Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg


I love my work but I have a tendency, to paraphrase the Oklahoma song, to be a gal who can't say no. Yet when our mouths get us into trouble, the rest of our bodies can right the wrong, and that's what happened to me. I would take on way too much work, all of it gleaming with promise when I said yes, but by the time I was driving six hours west to do a low-paying gig or staying up late doing a rushed editing project, the shine was gone, and I was exhausted. I was also sick often, which is over-commitment does to some of us to get us to slow down.


While I wouldn't say I've figured it all out, I'm well on my way as a recovering workaholic. What's helped me immensely is constantly asking myself, "Is this mine?" For a gig worker like me, this is obviously important, but even if you have a 9-to-5 job, it can help to regularly ask yourself, when faced with optional tasks or extra assignments, if they're yours to do.


A friend recently told me about a time she was pissed off because a co-worker got a raise for putting in ample extra hours. After she looked at the facts, she realized the raise was minimal, and her time spent with her family, relaxing at home, gardening and getting together with friends was worth far more than the extra money. So a lot of what's mine comes down to your values and priorities.

Here are six ways I determine whether to say yes to work I wasn't anticipating as well as work I've been doing for a while but am questioning. Please feel free to tweak these questions to what speaks to you, especially if your work isn't for income but for art and/or service (in which case these questions might be even more essential to ponder). As you ask each question, score yourself from 1 (no way is this true!) to 5 (this is the Nirvana of right work for me):


  1. MINE: The biggest question of all: Is this yours to do? Is doing this part of what your life, your soul, your essence is calling you to do at this moment? Is it dyed-in-the-wool of your job description? Is it vital to your or your team's goals.

  2. TIME: Is the timing right for doing this in your life, or will you be just recovering from doing too many other things? Do you have enough time to do it the way you want to do it? If you're being pressured to do something in short order that would compromise the quality of the work and your health, see if you can renegotiate the deadline.

  3. TEAM: If you’re working collaboratively, will you be part of a team aligned with your own values? If you’re just showing up to do something with others, is it organized with integrity and thoughtfulness, and good communication between the organizers or supervisors and you?

  4. HEALTH: Does doing this bring you home to yourself in body and mind or further out to field? Does this compromise your physical, mental or emotional health? Does it come at a time when you’ll be more vulnerable and need to take better care of yourself (such as after organizing a big event)? Also, does this add to your health in a positive way? Or does considering it make your stomach hurt?

  5. LIVELIHOOD: Does this add to your right livelihood — the Buddhist term of making a living without doing harm (and by extension, contributing to your community and living out your life’s gifts)? Even if it doesn’t pay money, does it enhance your livelihood in other ways, or does it distract from how you live out your vocation and avocation?

  6. LOVE: Do you love doing this? Are you working with, visiting with or playing with people you love? Is it in a place you love or would love to get to know?

Now add up your scores, and aim for at least a score of 20 before you say yes. Big caveat: If you get a lower score than 20, but your heart drops because you want to do this so much, then see if you can change some of the elements involved to make it a higher score (get people to help, stay in a nice little Airbnb on the way, travel with a bag of chocolate, dark chocolate so that it’s good for your health).


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Learn more about the work that calls to you by joining Kathryn and me for Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching, a 90-minute session 7-8:30 p.m. CST on Tues., Nov. 30. It's only $9.99, and it allows you to ask a question about the work that intrigues or call you, plus learn more about possibilities for growing and discovering your true work. More here.


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