My day job as a bereavement counselor for a hospice recently made a Top 10 Weirdest Jobs with High Salaries list.
Truthfully, my salary isn’t as high as the list makes it out to be. I earn enough to pay the bills, but not enough to own more than 5 shirts, one for each day of the work week. (Just ask my coworkers.)
Also, my job is not weird. It’s just not a job most people would want because you spend 40 hours per week helping families navigate through terminal illness, death, and grieving. So maybe it’s not that the job itself is weird, it’s just weird that anyone would be drawn to this field.
There’s something else you should know about my job. It involves the worst of two very different types of work: (1) endless, monotonous data entry that must be done within the confines of a cubicle; and (2) clinical expertise with an intense expectation attached– the expectation that no one will commit suicide under my watch, and that instead, they will miraculously live a brave life despite their loss and trauma.
My job is a reflection of your life because in both cases, you must balance the mundane drudgery of life’s practical demands, with the beautiful, challenging, profound reality of being human.
Therefore, whether it’s me in my cubicle or you in your personal life, we must hone the following 4 skills in order to stay sane and happy:
1. The ability to replace unhealthy coping skills with better ones.
My coworkers keep trying to kill me by way of carb overload. Every other day someone brings in a huge bag of warm pretzels, which disappear in a matter of minutes.
I think the power walk to the pretzel bag is the only exercise some of us get each day. When you dream of escape, warm pretzels with cheese sauce for dipping help you forget that you spend 70% of your week in a cubicle.
But I can’t keep fooling myself into thinking this coping mechanism is fine just because pretzels are technically a low fat food. So I adjusted my coping mechanism by discreetly listening to music on my headphones while doing data entry. It’s not a very innovative means of escape, but filling the silence with music keeps me from daydreaming and procrastinating.
Everyone needs coping mechanisms because everyone’s life feels hard and unbearable at times. If you develop healthy ways of coping, you won’t develop diabetes (or a drug addiction, or herpes, etc.) while you wait for the storm to pass.
2. The ability to embrace your quirks.
I am responsible for providing emotional support to over 1200 grieving people, and I mostly do this over the phone.
Can you imagine calling 30 people each day to talk about what life is like now that someone they love is dead? Yeah. So obviously, I’ve got to be strategic about how to handle this task so I don’t burn out.
First, I refuse to make calls in a depressing cubicle. So I sneak into important people’s corner offices to use their phones. That way, I can stare at the gorgeous blue sky and remember that these phone calls are sacred and beautiful, not just tragic.
It also helps to sing songs I’m obsessed with while dialing phone numbers.
Or daydream about a naughty topic that I refuse to write about.
The families I support don’t need to know that I’m sneaky and weird. All they need to know is that I’m able take good care of them because I take good care of me.
So do whatever you need to do to make you a nicer, sharper, more sane person, even if it means letting your freak flag fly.
3. The ability to not care what other people think.
During the first few months at my job, I was afraid to take breaks during the day. My bum was glued to my swivel chair because I didn’t want to get caught looking like I’m not a star performer.
But without breaks I began dozing off at my computer, or feeling too drained to support my emotionally fragile clients. So at some point I had to stop caring about how I might appear to others if disappear to do short power walks around the building.
You don’t have to defend your actions when it comes to self-care. But if I had to, I’d simply tell my boss, “Cubicles are shackles on the soul of humanity.” Or possibly something less dramatic.
4. The ability to say NO.
There are a few things at my job that threaten my sanity. I’ve learned to say no to them, and I’m preparing myself to say no to unreasonable demands in the future, because this is what it means to have good boundaries.
Speaking of saying no, I’m saying no right now to providing any personal examples of what I’m talking about. (I’d like to keep my job, thank you very much!) This is proof of how good I am at strategically saying no in ways that will benefit me.
Being able to say no to activities and people that may harm you can feel risky. And indeed, there is always risk of being rejected or disliked when you say no. This risk feels so threatening that you’ll feel like you have no choice but to be agreeable. But remember: Setting boundaries is always one of your choices. No options should be left off the table when it comes to your sanity and happiness.
Your Turn: What coping skills and self-care habits have you formed on the job?