When your job stops bringing you joy, try these | by Mary Borysova | Jan, 2024


One day I caught myself being a very optimal and no-minute-wasted type of skeptic.

At some point, I realized that every challenge I started working on — felt like “work”. Never a play, an exploration, a joy of discovery and growth. This discovery happened to me unexpectedly — when I was browsing LinkedIn.

Somebody has shared their work and mentioned rigor in their approach to exploration and a commenter argued that the joy of exploration lies in anything but serious rigor. I didn’t get it first, and I had to reread — what do you mean, joy? It’s work! There is no place to play or have fun or even worse — be not rigorous– as if it’s the only trait of the task approached correctly.

Every challenge, however innovative and creative, seemed to be somewhat of a burden, one more line on my to-do list.

True, it’s not the worst discovery one may have — at least it didn’t challenge the quality of work, it described only my feeling during the process.

Oh, wait.

It actually challenged one of the most important things — the life I spend working on something, hours amounting to years I will never get back.

So, I decided to change my approach. That’s where my journey to joy started.

Google office
Google office design. Source

This may seem too shallow, yet the environment is a huge factor that influences our attitude towards work.

Colors and sensory stimulation

“In a study of nearly a thousand people in Sweden, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and the UK, people working in bright, colorful offices were more alert than those working in duller spaces. They were also more joyful, interested, friendly, and confident.” © Joyful

The author of the book Joyful explores the psychology of color in detail and how ordinary objects can be designed to bring joy.

Integrating curvy art and desk accessories, like spinning wooden tops, into a workspace may not only make the space more visually appealing but also stimulate creativity due to their shape.

“I encourage clients to pick everything up and see how it makes you feel. You’ll have items that you immediately know you love — maybe because they make you feel fantastic.” © KonMari

I did my best to make my home workstation a place of joy and inspiration by adding objects that bring me joy, even though they are not always functional: an interesting lamp, a painting I have created myself, journals reminding me of my past trips, and some more.

When you I through the door, my workstation makes my heart lift. It’s a corner that reflects my personality and gives me energy.

One of the big fears I had for years was to be wrong. Senior or Lead or Stuff designers were supposed to suggest the most optimal, almost flawless experience, and craft every detail — so being wrong seemed like a glitch. Certainly, we all make mistakes from time to time, and it’s often attributed to a fundamental human error but a designer always seemed to have higher standards, pixel-perfect standards.

“It was proved that individuals with perfectionistic tendencies often experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, and high stress in the face of failure” (source).

It became clear to me that perfectionism usually leads to poor mental health and if I wanted to increase job satisfaction I needed to challenge this approach of mine.

We have a right to make mistakes and still enjoy the work process

Project Aristotle, a study of hundreds of Google’s teams, found that psychological safety, the confidence that it is safe to take interpersonal risks, was the leading factor in team effectiveness at Google.

“Research in Google revealed that when people feel comfortable making mistakes without fear of punishment or judgment, they are more likely to generate innovative ideas.” (source)

I met a number of stakeholders who were expecting ideal design from a designer and treated anything but perfect as an issue: “Why didn’t you think of this? Why is it not innovative?”.

Yet we sometimes find ourselves in work environments that are not as psychologically safe as we wish and do not cultivate a healthy approach to mistakes and learning in the design process.

That’s why we should support ourselves regardless of the team we are in at the moment. Instead of being stuck in perfection and expectation of flawless work resulting in poor mental health, we can follow the concept of excellencism.

“Excellencism is the pursuit of excellence over perfection. It means setting high standards without harshly criticizing yourself when you don’t fully meet them.”

Excellencism is a balanced approach, aimed at high but reachable standards, investing appropriate effort, and knowing when to pause.

What helps me cultivate a healthier attitude towards my work are acceptance criteria and a good enough approach.

I define the acceptance criteria for my solutions in collaboration with other stakeholders and when those are met I stop investing more time in solution design unless I am personally interested in walking the extra mile.

Scenario-oriented acceptance criteria
Scenario-oriented acceptance criteria. Source

Aside from that, external factors, mood, stress levels, and even time of day impact our ability to generate innovative ideas. We can cultivate an appropriate environment to enhance creativity, however, it’s natural for everyone to experience periods of low creative output and we shouldn’t blame ourselves for them.

One research found that decision maximizers, people who seek for the best and refuse to settle for anything less than perfect, secured roles with higher starting salaries in the job search. However, they reported lower levels of happiness compared to those who followed a strategy of going with an option that was good enough.

Another research revealed shows that constantly seeking the best is linked to feeling less happy, optimistic, and satisfied with life. It’s also connected to higher levels of depression and regret.

“Students with high maximizing tendencies secured jobs with 20% higher starting salaries than did students with low maximizing tendencies. However, maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with the jobs they obtained, and experienced more negative affect throughout the job-search process.” (source)

It turns out, it’s better for our mental health and life satisfaction not to focus on getting not the ideal outcome, but a sufficient one.

I discovered that the joy I derive from my work comes from two main sources: making an impact on the world externally and expressing myself internally.

The concept of Mudita in Buddhism involves taking joy in the happiness and success of others. (source)

I had a chance to work on a number of healthcare projects. Some of them have drastically changed the lives of people, for example, helped patients with substance abuse and mental health issues recover.

It was clear to me that what I do is not design — it’s real help for people who desperately need it. In cases like these, it’s very explicit and simple, it’s hard to deny that what you do matters — and therefore there is a good reason, both emotional and rational, to keep doing so. Each time I have witnessed a change in somebody’s life due to my actions at work, it has reminded me about the “why”.

In the workplace, designers are usually required to achieve optimal results for the business in terms of time and resources.

It’s often hard to express ourselves freely within our work projects. We are constrained most of the time — and often rightfully so — as we have to be efficient and useful to the business.

“In the process, they also took us further from essential aspects of our own nature: playfulness, creativity, sensuality, joy. Perhaps they took us to a place where we forgot that these aspects were part of our nature at all.” © Joyful

Yet there is something inside of us that needs expression — a soul or an inner voice — and this something may not be logical or under our control. I wanted to find a way to express myself.

Allow yourself to express without expectations

I was never interested in creating art for the sake of art. I never fully understood spiritual sessions, spending time crafting something with my hands — it all seemed ineffective enough.

Yet the beauty of an artistic passion is the liberty to create anything with no limitations and expectations from others. Also, I found out in a number of studies that art is proven to help reduce stress and make us feel more engaged.

“The researchers found that 75 percent of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered after making art.” (source)

So I pushed myself to explore it. I dived into my friend’s hobbies — drawing, handcrafts, art. Everything that I didn’t accept before because it was too childish.

Girl making art
Making art to express ourselves. Image source

Power of Community

As I connected with the creators, cautiously at first, I became absorbed in what they did myself. I fell in love with their passion, their approaches, and their pure desire to create for the joy in the process.

Being around people who burn with the desire to create is a great way to find our spark and ignite the desire to express ourselves as well.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” © Heraclitus

Exploring art without restrictions brought me joy, and connecting with a community of creators inspired my own creativity. This journey showed me that being creative isn’t just a pastime but a fundamental part of happiness in life.

My journey back to finding joy in the everyday process of work is not over and it will never be. I have added more color and shapes to my workspace, started allowing room for mistakes in my work output, and regularly meet with a community of creators.

Work isn’t just about outcomes but also about enjoying the journey along the way and I keep reminding myself this daily.


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