The Return of the Grind: For Many, the Non-Optimal Self Goes Back to Work


This summer, most people are reentering models of work that closer resemble pre-pandemic schedules with the accompanying stress and strain. While the pandemic allowed many of us to pause and hopefully reflect and take personal inventory…not everyone did.

For many, the pandemic was a period of time of simple survival as we waited for science to catch up and aide our recovery. Alcohol and marijiuana consumption increased, people soothed themselves with food and Netflix, neglected physical activities, and buried fears around our uncertainty.

Now, we are taking these non-optimal versions of ourselves back into the workplace headfirst. If you follow social media, you probably have seen articles from The New York Times and The Atlantic on this very topic.

Back to the grind…

But our hearts and minds are in need of fulfillment.

Not fulfillment from a paycheck, but the fulfillment that comes from living our values daily. And if the pandemic did allow you to gain clarity on your values, yet you haven’t made any changes to live more aligned, you’re at a high risk for burnout.

Burnout is real.

It’s sneaky too – showing up when you least expect it as your only refuge becomes work itself. The Mayo Clinic calls burnout “a special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

Loss of personal identity… that is lost at sea without a rudder.

Whether you are a business owner, leader, or employee we need to learn how to cultivate fulfillment in our workplaces through clarity on our core values and LIVING them daily.

The Atlantic argues that “work can’t be the answer” because it’s not sustainable or fulfilling, and we should instead provide fulfillment outside of work. But the New York Times replies with, “It is possible for a job to both sustain us and inspire us.” Yet the latest Gallup Report shows that only 36% of employees are engaged in the workplace.

So how do we shift our paradigm to something better? To the belief that our work and our life can be so aligned that we aren’t celebrating hump day or TGIF or living for our next vacation?

The first step: pause.

Chances are, if you resonate with anything you have read here so far, you have been running on some level of autopilot. Taking intentional, scheduled, focused time to evaluate and audit how your life is going is not something we have been taught to do, even though it is arguably one of the most important things we will ever do.

Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning their LIFE. Let that sink in.

But here’s the thing… I truly believe we are all worthy of and have the ability to create true fulfillment, to contribute to a better community and world, and to leave a lasting legacy. The type of manufactured, ego-centric fulfillment we are sold in our culture is bullshit. The kind where the focus is on where our name is on the leader board, which country club we’re a member of, how “busy” we are or how many vacation homes we have.

And then there’s the other kind: when you have spent time with loved ones or done what your heart has been leading you towards. When you have made a positive impact on someone’s life, created amazing experiences for your family, found work that fills your soul with a true sense of joy and purpose.

Fulfillment isn’t about what you have. It’s about how we use what we have to contribute and nurture the relationships around us. An addictive focus on maximizing our meager material income leads most of us to think in terms of having “more” material things, which often means doing less of what we truly value.

We end up with fulfillment anxiety… and burnout…and neglected or dysfunctional relationships.

The second step: get clarity on your values.

To start your own life audit, begin by identifying your top 3-5 values. You can look at a list of core values from The Happiness Planner here. We have a values audit that we use in the start of our work with all of our clients. If you have ever watched “Chopped” on the Food Network you’ll know that each chef is given several ingredients that their entire dish is created around. Think of your values as the key ingredients to the recipe of your life. You HAVE to know them first, in order to build the life you truly dream of. Otherwise you’ll end up taking whatever ingredients are handed to you by someone else. Your life won’t be your own.

The third step: do a resource audit.

This one takes some discipline and if done, is always extremely eye-opening. Start a tracking guide for yourself and for several days (or ideally a week) keep track of everything you are doing with your time, money and energy. At the end of this time period go back and audit how much of these resources you truly spent on cultivating a life that aligns with what you say your values are.

This step can be taken in many different ways and you may not have to do it for a full week. You could start just by tracking your time spent on social media for one day or even just the time you spend each day watching TV. Remember that this is about what YOU want from life, so make sure to be as detailed as possible.

Once you have a snapshot of where your resources are going, it will be easier to see if some behaviors are more or less aligned with what you want.

The fourth step: creating your life vision.

We have created a Vision Workbook (find it here) that looks at each department of your life in detail and gives you the chance to architect your dream life.

The life departments we have outlined include:

  • Spirituality
  • Wellbeing
  • Mindset and Emotional Mastery
  • Loving Relationships
  • Family and Social Life
  • Experience and Environmental
  • Business Mastery
  • Financial Mastery
  • Transcendence

Here is a visual of what The Hierarchy of Fulfillment looks like.


These departments complete a holistic picture of all the roles and parts your life has. In addition, each department builds on the next. Each one relies on the one below it. If you don’t have health and wellbeing, how good are you going to be in your relationships? If you don’t have loving relationships, how good are you going to be in your career?

I encourage you to take the time to think through what you REALLY want. Not what others want from you, or what society thinks. What you TRULY desire for yourself in the years to come. The next years of your life could be the greatest years of your life to come without question.

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