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April 23, 2018

Meaning in the Mundane

by Harrison Earp

This past fall, after a year-and-a-half long hiatus from running, I trained for and ran two half-marathons.

To continue my conditioning during the Winter, with an effort to avoid frigid temperatures, I decided to train indoors on a treadmill. I learned however, that training on a treadmill required a greater level of discipline for me. The idea of running in place and going nowhere, made running uninteresting and ultimately began to take the joy out of the sport. By the end of the long winter season, I had a hard time motivating myself to wake up early and get back outdoors to train.

 

The mundane winter training had really impacted my mindset.

 

In addition to my low esteem, one of my first outdoor runs that spring was set to be on a long and brutal trail. Needless to say, I was not particularly excited about it. However (despite my begrudging attitude) I took to the trail, and my feelings towards my previous treadmill training quickly changed for the positive. As I began my run, I discovered that all of those mundane hours I spent training on the treadmill put me in great physical shape and left me well-equipped to enjoy my return to trail running. I even finished that grueling run with a PR (personal record)!

Training and conditioning is crucial to any sport. However, it maintains its greatest value when we keep the purpose and goal for training in mind. I found that my decreasing motivation during the long winter was rooted in losing sight of why I was training on the treadmill to begin with. When I lost sight of the purpose of my training, I failed to recognize its value; and that left me feeling unfulfilled and unmotivated. Now that I realize the importance of keeping the purpose in mind, when bad weather forces me to return to the treadmill, I run with more purpose and confidence.

Recently I’ve caught myself wrestling with similar feelings at work. Showing up for work on days full of mundane “treadmill” tasks has left me feeling unexcited and unfulfilled; wishing I could return to the exciting “trail run” projects that bring me joy and fulfillment. Regardless of the industry, it’s inevitable that every job will have tasks and responsibilities that feel mundane . . . like running on a treadmill, getting nowhere fast. I’ve found myself drudging aimlessly through these monotonous and mundane tasks, failing to approach them with excellence and going home unfulfilled.

After hitting a wall at work during a week that felt “more-mundane-than-meaningful,” I was reminded of my experience with the treadmill. I came to a perspective shift. Though my administrative tasks felt tedious, I remembered the end goal being accomplished because of the support of these tasks. I kept this in mind as I worked. Suddenly, tasks I had been viewing as burdens became opportunities to take steps towards our departmental and organizational goals. Practicing this approach and perspective made accomplishing routine tasks more energizing and fulfilling. My take away? There will always be tasks that seem mundane, but that does not mean they are meaningless.

 

The next time you find yourself on a mental treadmill, I challenge you to try the following three things to bring meaning to the mundane.

 

Keep the End in Mind

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “Personal leadership is not a singular experience. It doesn’t begin and end with the writing of a personal mission statement. It is, rather, the ongoing process of keeping your vision and values before you and aligning your life to be congruent with those most important things” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, Simon & Schuster, 1999, pp. 140). Having a clear vision, defined mission, and foundational values are critical, but the real battle is maintaining focus through the mundane, daily tasks. Continue to lead yourself by taking time to reconnect with your vision, thereby, energizing your efforts.

 

Identify the Value

Identify the contributions provided by mundane tasks. Do they add value by taking you and your organization closer to accomplishing your mission? Do they add value to a specific person, allowing them to more effectively accomplish his or her role? Identifying the value will remind you that there is a purpose and meaning created by even a seemingly mundane task.

 

Make It Personal

Knowing the people you serve with your tasks gives more meaning to the mundane. Set out to discover how your work equips others to live out their role well; ask yourself what improvements can be employed to make their job easier and more fulfilling.

It is also important to connect purpose and meaning to your relationship with those who equip you to accomplish your role. Help the people around you see the meaning in their mundane by pointing out their contribution. Keeping the vision and mission uppermost in mind will enable you and others to achieve your goals and enjoy the process—even in the mundane.

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