How to stop getting worked and start working

Do you ever feel like you’re just a cog in the wheel going through an endless list of to dos and emails never to feel like you’ve achieved anything or like you’re ever done? If so, you’re not alone.

Gallup has reported that less than one-third of workers are engaged at work. That’s because most people are merely “getting worked” by their boss, colleagues or company instead of actually working. When you feel like work is just happening to you, it’s challenging to get excited about it. That’s why taking control becomes so important.

A Brief Grammar Lesson

Remember that thing called the passive voice from grammar school? It’s criticized for a reason (see what I did there?). It’s weak. It’s missing an actor. It connotes a sort of blase attitude about the subject.

The true grammatical difference between getting worked and working is active versus passive voice.

And therein lies the difference between the expression of the phrases as well…

Getting Worked

If you’re just getting worked – doing what you’re told, falling in line, chasing emails and meetings all day rather than creating something or solving a problem worth solving – you’re the living representation of the grammatical passive voice.

“Getting worked” has no actor. You’re a product of someone else’s action – not actively engaged in your career. If you’re getting worked, you have a lack of engagement in your work, your future, and an all around weakness in your expression. It’s no wonder you can’t excited about work.

Getting worked shows you either don’t care, are too lazy to do anything about it, or don’t have the means to actually work, which I know you do!


Taking Action

Working, on the other hand, takes action. It takes intention and strategy. But, most importantly (especially to all of my grammar geek friends out there) – it takes an actor. One of the main reasons I got into this line of work is because I saw so many smart, talented people just letting their careers happen to them. They let the next job offer come to them. If it didn’t, no biggie. They were fine.

Or – they knew they weren’t happy and didn’t want to be where they were for long, but with no obvious option in front of their face, and feeling drained from the churn of getting worked day after day, they were too tired to pursue anything of meaning.

Because, as humans, we like to be involved and we like a challenge! It’s why Engagement – ensuring your work challenges you, helps you grow, and keeps you interested – is one of the pillars for my framework for a successful and fulfilling career!

So even though getting worked doesn’t take any action, it feels draining. When you’re working, you’re more involved, but that involvement fills you up, inspires you, and keeps you motivated to keep moving.


Shifting into Action

And that’s the difference between getting worked and working. If you feel like you’re just getting worked every day it’s because you’re not involved! You need to take some action to shift your perspective.

How do you do it?

  • Control Your Days: Stop coming into the office without knowing what you want to accomplish. Take some time at the end or beginning of each day to choose what you want to do. Yes, there will be things you have to do, but there is always an opportunity for more important work if you’re being deliberate with your time. Learn how to do that here.
  • Reflect: I will never stop saying this. Start a work journal. If you’re not sure how to do that, start here. But you truly cannot take an active role in your career if you don’t take time to reflect on where you are and how it’s affecting you. That’s what the work journal is all about.
  • Strategize: It’s hard to stay engaged in something without a clear goal in mind. It’s one of the foundations of flow – the psychological state of optimal experience – and what keeps us motivated. So, if you’re not sure where you’re headed in your career, start here and get my introduction to your career framework to provide some structure for how you set your goals. Because answering the question “What do you want out of life?” is a bit too overwhelming. I get it.


These are the building blocks to becoming an actor in your career. If you’re not sure at all what you want or what’s holding you back, take the Strategy Spotlight! It will help clear the cobwebs and get you thinking clearly about next steps again.

Does any of this ring true for you? Do you know whether you’re working or getting worked? Let me know! I’d love to hear what you think and what grammatical representation your career is taking!


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