Could caring less about your job actually make you better at it?
An argument for a well-rounded life; not apathy.
The other day I was talking to a co-worker when we shared an interesting observation.
People with interests or hobbies outside their day-to-day job tended to be nicer and much more enjoyable to work with. Those people also appeared to be better at their jobs in some instances.
It wasn't a 100% hard and fast rule, but it's something my co-worker and I noticed independently throughout our careers.
Why is that? I have theories.
Work Isn't Their Core Identity
Financially, you're okay if you have a diverse stock portfolio and one individual stock goes down. You won't lose that much sleep. If you have all your worth in one particular stock and it goes down, you feel it.
I think how work plays into our identities works much the same way.
If the core of your identity is your occupation, the stakes are immediately higher. Any bit of negative feedback you receive on the work is (inadvertently) a critique of you as a person.
A project not going well could feel like the end of the world when work is your entire world.
The way we describe ourselves and what makes our identity is subjective. Everyone is different. What is consistent, at least in my observation, is that people with identities outside of their job tend to take themselves less seriously (in a good way).
These individuals better grasp that the world is bigger than what happens with this one-off project. They have the humility to not over-emphasize their importance on the job and see how they fit into the bigger picture of the world. As a former co-worker once said to his team during stressful seasons:
"Just remember, we sit somewhere between curing cancer and digging ditches."
In this mindset, you are in a better place to receive feedback. You make decisions in a less-stressed headspace. You can be better at your job (at least in my opinion).
Outside Hobbies Are Cross-Training For Your Brain
Any workout program worth your time will work different muscle groups over time. If you're lifting weights, you won't spend all day doing bicep curls. When I ran cross-country in high school and college, we didn't just do long runs. We did short speed workouts. We did weights. We did long runs. Changing our routines made us better at our sport. I believe the same dynamic applies to our jobs.
Having interests outside of work allows you to use your brain differently than you do in the office.
Ever had a complex problem to solve, gone for a walk, then magically in a better place to solve it? What if you baked that little action into your routine by shaking up how you spent your time?
Work is important. It's where we spend the most significant chunk of our time, so it should be something we want to be good at. We should shoot for excellence in our occupations.
But it shouldn't consume us. Our work shouldn't be what defines us. It should only be a piece of the total sum of who we are as people.
Paradoxically, I think caring a little less about work could make us better at our jobs.
I’m not advocating a mindset of apathy. Just a recalibration of priorities.
What do you think?