Heather Hansen

She’s Crafty – Are You?

Are you crafty? Are you one of those people who loves to draw, knit or make pottery, and who actually makes things that people want to keep?

I am not. I’m not crafty.

The closest I came to crafty was during the five years I was a camp counselor at the American Rescue League Camp in Cape Cod. I taught candle making, and in candle making we made candles. I have to get something off my chest though–in reality, I may have taught my campers more about fire prevention…and fire fighting.

You see, on one of my first days as the candle making counselor I started a small fire. No one was hurt, but I quickly learned that water does not work on wax fire. (Baking soda does). I spent the rest of my candle making career with a box of baking soda in one hand, the candle making tools in the other. That wasn’t the ideal way to make candles.  Fortunately, I soon found a junior counselor who WAS crafty. She loved making candles, and she was really good at it. She helped the kids make some of the most beautiful candles I’ve ever seen.

So, I let her do what she was good at, and I did what I was good at. Turns out, that was talking to the campers, asking them questions about their lives, and listening to their stories–all good training for my psychology degree, my years as a trial lawyer, and my work as a mediator.

I may not be crafty, but I was able to craft a summer job that I loved.

It wasn’t until years later, when studying psychology, that I found out that what I was doing is an actual thing. It’s called job crafting–and it might change the way you look at your job, your future, and your life. Job crafting, simply put, is the act of redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. I wanted to talk to the campers, I was good at listening and asking the right questions, and I was passionate about not starting fires. So I job crafted. You can do it too.

The women who really honed the term are Jane Dutton and Amy Wrzesniewski. In 2001 Jane was at University of Michigan, Amy was at Yale, and they studied how people in jobs many people might consider to be below them were able to change their jobs to match their goals. So, for example, they studied hospital janitors and found that some of these workers had found a way to make their jobs rewarding. These hospital janitors were serving patients in special ways–extra water, more Kleenex, even moving pictures on the walls of comatose patients to give them a change of scenery. These small changes to the job allowed those janitors to feel more satisfaction. They were job crafting.

Dutton and Wrzesniewski have found that employees (at all levels, in all kinds of occupations) who try job crafting often end up more engaged and satisfied with their work lives, achieve higher levels of performance in their organizations, and report greater personal resilience. You can use the power of job crafting in your own life. They’ve written and spoken on the ways this can be done. I believe that all of the answers you’re seeking are found in the questions you ask, so when it comes to job crafting I’d recommend these three questions.

1-What can you do? You have certain tasks at work, and those tasks need to be done. But once they’re done (and done well) there may be other tasks you can add to your repertoire. I had to make sure my campers made candles. But once that was done, I could also play word games with the campers, share stories with them, and give them a place to talk about their lives.

2-Who can you do it with? If it weren’t for my junior counselor, I couldn’t have crafted my job. She wanted to make candles, and I wanted to make conversation. If you’re able to find the right who, the rest may take care of itself.

3-How can you think about your job? I didn’t think my role at camp was to make candles. If I wanted to be a candlemaker, I would have tried to get a job at a candle factory. My job, as I saw it, was to make connections with the campers. I’d been a camper there for 6 years (won Camper of the Year in fact!) and I knew the impact that good counselors had on me and my experience. I saw my job as being there for the campers as a sounding board, a leader, and a friend.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. If you can change the way you look at your job, you may find ways to craft it into the experience you’ve been seeking. And if you’re interested in exploring this topic more, Adam Grant’s recent podcast touches upon job crafting and the power of your attitude at work.

When you’re happy at work, you can set the world on fire. Just remember–baking soda.

Heather Hansen

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