Personal Growth Post-Grad

Finding Joy During the Work Week: A Pending Task

Last week, I painted with watercolors. I was organizing my desk items when I found one of those classic Crayola watercolor palettes. I doubt it has ever been used and I honestly could not tell you when I bought it. 

After dinner, I filled a small container with water, pressed play on a Spotify playlist, and opened my journal. The outcome was neither profound nor particularly intriguing. But the process… now that was fun. And I think that’s the point. 

Finding joy during the workweek is one of the largest struggles I have encountered after graduating from college. I despise living for the weekend, it never has and never will set will with me. What a waste of life if we only live for 2/7 of our days every week on earth. Yet, when you work a somewhat boring and unfulfilling 9-5, come home to make dinner, wash dishes, then go to bed and do it all over again, it is suddenly really difficult to enjoy those 5 monotonous days. 

My friend Lauren, a talented writer with a new Instagram writing account, prompted our friends to set a mantra for the week. On Monday I told her, mine was “joy lives in small things”.

Small, joyful things & the happiest people

I don't think finding joy throughout the week is synonymous with doing spectacular activities. A life worth living isn’t only filled with grand getaways and climactic events. It lives in small things. A freshly brewed cup of coffee in the morning. The cheeky little sun sneaking up over the skyscrapers on your way to work. Wriggling into your most worn in and familiar sweats after a long day of office wear. These things exist around us every day.

And I will be forever convinced that the happiest, most content, people aren’t people with more things than you or more booked flights to far off places than you. They are the ones that have their eyes and heart opened to the beauty of daily life. These past few weeks, I have been trying to pay closer attention to those things. 

Before we dive into this reflection, I want to take a second to clarify that I don't think "making your own joy" is simple or feasible for all people. Choosing joy is a concept that comes from a very privileged position. A position free of mental illness caused by chemical imbalance, a position free of worry about how you will afford your next meal. "Mindset" is not the cure to anxiety, depression, poverty, etc.

With that being said, I hope this post resonates with you and inspires you to find some extra joy during the workweek.

The disappearance of childlike wonder; an exchange of creative freedom for productivity

I often think of how life was as a child. It was romantic and magical and creative. It was spending an entire summer day sitting in the top branches of the pine tree in the backyard, looking out onto the city water tower. It was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the seventh time and still finding the words just as captivating.

Something happens as you grow older. At least it happened to me. You get swept away by the influences of hustle and productivity. You forget that checking items off of a to-do list isn’t an actual measure of success or happiness, that your joy and identity aren’t intertwined with the title you hold or the letters behind your name.

The reality of your first entry-level role

I think jobs, especially our first few positions, are worth far less than we give them credit for. They simply facilitate a means to an end in the early stages, they are not the end. They are just a middle man. We work to live (pay rent, buy cheap bottles of wine, get our family members Christmas presents), but that doesn’t mean we live to work.

I appreciate the movement to pursue jobs you are passionate about. But I think what they (our parents, our teachers, our mentors) often fail to mention is that you will not be able to have that job straight out of undergrad. You may have a path that will get you to that job. Maybe you have no idea what that dream job is. But it is highly unlikely you get to do that job straight after graduation. 

And that first step towards your dream job? You are probably going to be either underchallenged, undervalued, uninspired, OR a mix of all three. 

No one tells you that.

So here you go, thinking your first entry-level gig is going to be so meaningful. You are going to love what you do. You will make an impact. It’s like you were set up for failure. We place too much pressure on that first job. In reality, your first job is likely not going to be a fountain of overflowing joy and purpose-driven passion.

And that is okay! There are many reasons we work. We expect too much of that poor ole 9-5. Give yourself permission to not love your first job. Just let it be. But at the same time, do NOT give yourself permission to not love your life. After all, your life and your job are two separate entities, no matter how blurry that distinction seems at times.

Creating joy outside of your 9-5

The most progress I have made towards finding joy during the workweek has involved changing my mindset. Joy does not simply present itself to you, you need to make your own. Seek it out. Don’t rely on your work to passively provide you with happiness. 

Read a few chapters of a really good book before bed. Go for a sunset walk after you clock out for work. Come home and take everything out of the bins under your desk only to get distracted by a watercolor set and then sit down and paint. Heck, have a glass of wine and do it. 

Life after graduation is scary. If I have learned anything so far it’s that you need to take control of your own fun and your own joy. No one is going to hand it to you anymore. There are no organized campus activities or friends to drag you out to the bars. There is just you and seven days every week waiting to be enjoyed. And while this is quite terrifying, it is also quite exciting. Your joy is entirely up to you and that is a very powerful thing. 

Some things that have brought me joy during the past few workweeks:

  • Taking a good look at every sunrise and sunset on my way too/from work.
  • Getting a little too tipsy off wine and whiskey on a Thursday with Austin.
  • Cry/laughing through sweaty workouts with my little sister.
  • Seeing how excited my puppy Remi gets when she realizes we are getting in the car to go to her bff’s house.
  • Target trips to look at holiday decor and Christmas gifts. Need I say more?
  • Starting a new part time job at Free People. There is something so therapeutic about organizing and staging a clothing store. And I have met so many cool and interesting girls my age. 
  • Dancing around in fuzzy socks in my living room blasting wonderfully written music.
  • Random creative endeavors: lettering affirmations, watercolor painting, journaling, reorganizing my closet to look like a retail store, painting my nails.
  • Stocking up on ingredients for holiday baking. 
  • Drinking my morning coffee in a silent kitchen while Austin and Remi are still sleeping.
  • Holiday drinks in cute little holiday cups; what can I say, I am a sucker for the season.

A pending task

Now, I am certainly not saying I have cracked the code to happiness. There were plenty of unjoyful, “what the hell am I doing with my life” moments as well during these past few weeks. And that’s okay too. 

Staying rooted in the joy of small things helps to take the pressure off the big things. Most of the big things, big questions, big worries in life are unpredictable and out of our control. I am not sure what job I will be working in 20 years down the line. I mean, I don’t even know what job I will be working one year from now. I am not sure when life will go back to “normal” when the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed. I am not sure of much these days, truthfully. Most people aren’t.

I think part of the privilege of being young and not having many people rely on your sureness and steadiness (ie children, a spouse, a team you manage at work), is that you are granted the ability to say “I’m not sure and I choose to not think too far ahead today”

The thing I have been sure of these past few weeks is that life is a lot sweeter when you take the time to create your own joy and appreciate what each day brings. To spend time in the present and romanticize your daily activities the way you did as a child. We put too much pressure on the big things, and not enough gratitude in the small things. 

Finding that watercolor set sparked a sense of childhood joy I had not felt in a long time. I want to experience that more often. So yes universe, challenge accepted. I may not love my job, but I can still love my life. Seven days a week. A little more head in the clouds, a little less worrying about the future.

What is something small that has brought you joy this work week? And more importantly, what are you going to do to keep your joy alive?

Have a happy rest of your week my friends (weekday and weekend),

xx Mich


  1. Kelly Tope

    December 18, 2020 at 1:17 am

    Love this! I stepped away from the chaos of life to drive though Bentlyville Christmas light display in Duluth with Morgan and Sam. When I get frustrated with how stressful the game feels sometimes I am able to sit with the animal, and it helps me remember the joy of why I am doing it.

    1. Michaela Reardon

      January 13, 2021 at 6:35 pm

      Just seeing this now :’) Glad you guys had some time together to appreciate the light display. I am convinced animals are the best company you can keep to stay grounded and joyful.

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