What do you think of, when you hear the word “work”? What phrases come to mind? “I have to go to work.” “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.” “Work sucks.” “Work was hard, so we quit.”
“One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours—all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.” —William Faulkner, interview in Writers at Work, 1958
For most people, the concept of work isn’t something we are inspired by. Some people are starting to stand up and say it doesn’t have to be this way, but much of this effort is still in its infancy.
I believe that “work” is part of a full, meaningful life. In society, we often associate “work” with “toil”. It’s right there in some of the oldest texts of society. Right at the beginning of Genesis (common to both Christians and Jews), work is seen as a punishment for our unwillingness to listen to G-d. Well, that’s a common interpretation anyway.
Looking at work through a different tradition, Confucius said:
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
But what is “a job you love?”
I once was having a conversation about “work we would love to do” with a friend of mine. I asked this person if they could do anything for work, what would it be? They replied: “pet cats, and knit”. This is a person who is incredibly hard working and accomplished – and at that moment I knew she was massively burned out from a job she hated but continued to work out of a fear of needing the money. She couldn’t imagine at that moment in her life that there might be a job that she liked so much, that it wouldn’t feel like work.
How many other people are stuck in that mindset of “this job sucks, so all jobs must suck?” I lived that for many years, but I have also learned that isn’t true.
I believe that work is one element of the expression of the purpose of your life.
I believe that work is an important part of a fulfilled life. I believe that work is challenging, exhausting, often involving risks and potential failure – but that when it aligns with your values and utilizes the best of you, all of that negativity makes work that much more meaningful. We don’t watch movies of someone doing an easy job. We don’t celebrate a win for someone who didn’t have to make a significant effort. We all know that the person who made a sacrifice, who put in many hours to practice, to develop the skills to compete with the best is the person to be celebrated. Yet, as a society we have come to believe that only certain “gifted” people, people who have been blessed with the correct genes, born in the right place with the right parents, with the right circumstances get to have the joy of this experience. Otherwise, if they didn’t have the parents willing to make the sacrifices to hire the coaches, and have access to the best training facilities, they could never have achieved their peak potential.
I believe that we all can have that.experience in life, of working towards, and even experiencing our peak potential.
A job you love is about so much more than just doing something for fun, that’s easy. It’s about engaging tasks that are challenging for you, that utilize your unique strengths and knowledge. Its about doing things that create value for yourself and for others – about serving needs that you are best suited to serve.
When it comes to creative entrepreneurs – coaches, photographers, writers, bloggers, podcasters, professional speakers, artists, designers, etc. – much of the advice about creating an effective business starts with the question of “what do other people want to pay for”. This is an absolutely critical question, but I think for anyone who is trying to create their business around their own potential, sharing their own vision of what this world could be like, it has to start with an internal exploration as opposed to an external question. Its about starting with an understanding of who you are.
If you have a confident understanding of that, one that is many faceted, one that incorporates your past, your present and your future, one that includes an expression of your strengths, values and life purpose – when you have a good answer to “who am I”, then you have the tools you need to understand how you can express yourself in service of the world.
I believe that “a job you love” starts with an understanding of what is unique about you, about what you want to express into this world, and then what are you uniquely gifted to create in this world, and finally, requires knowledge of the people who need this gift.
Like any art, this it is a work in progress. Some days, it will feel like its coming along well. Other days will feel like you have nothing of value to give anyone. If you are willing to keep at it, focused on starting with what is meaningful to you, and what your strengths are, you will be able to find people who you can serve – and who want to pay you to serve them. When that aligns, its work, but work as a form of self expression, a gift you are giving to the world.
I think that’s a worthy goal to pursue, even if its never fully realized.