There is a myth floating around these days that has some folks feeling down—particularly those twenty or thirtysomethings who expected to find themselves settled in a job that makes them wake with the dawn and leap out bed grinning because their work completes them.
The myth could be called the “Love what you do and you won’t work a day in your life” myth (LWYDYWWDYL myth, for short)—or rather pseudo-myth, for there are a blessed few for whom income and inspiration are a package deal.
However, for those who see their jobs how a free-spirited canary might see its cage and for whom passion will not fill the pockets, there arises a valid question: “What should I do about the fact that I don’t love my job?” There are no easy answers, and every situation has its own special complications, but here are a couple strategies and a perspective to consider:
If You Don’t Love Your Job, Get Better At It
It may sound counterintuitive, but one way to begin appreciating an activity is to become more skillful in that activity. When you were a wee tyke, chapter books—with so few pictures and so many tiny words—looked unattractive. That is, until you learned to read them. If you continue to invest in books, suddenly those “old boring” authors like Homer, Milton and Dickens will mysteriously show up on your “enjoyable reading” list simply because you have built the skills necessary to appreciate them.
Similarly, in a job, there are often ways to excel and grow your appreciation for the work at hand. If you are in sales, read the best books on salesmanship. If you substitute teach, learn how to make your substitute days the highlight of those students’ week. Now, this is not a promise that you will ever find your job fun. You may not, but you can gain satisfaction from performing a task, however menial, with great skill.
Consider the feeling you get when a song you may not like but happen to know comes on the radio after a string of unfamiliar tunes; there is a certain comfort and enjoyment in knowing the melody and all the words. In the same way, understanding a job and performing it with excellence will tend to make your work more gratifying.
If You Don’t Love Your Job, Get an Avocation
An avocation (roughly translated from Latin, “away from your calling”) is an occupation outside your work-a-day world. It could be the piano; it could be gardening; it could be writing; it could be mountain climbing; it could be home brewing.
The concept is as old as King David’s musical interest and as storied as J.K. Rowling’s humble beginnings as a writer. The Apostle Paul was a tent maker by trade, but we wouldn’t call that his most significant work. Geoffrey Chaucer worked was a government employee by day and held down the title of “father of the English language” in the evenings.
Your day job does not have to be your passion. Doing “what you love” does not necessarily involve making money from that activity, though it may. That piano piece you pound out an hour at a time in the evenings may be the next “Sonata Pathetique.” Then again, it may not. An avocation may only pay in personal satisfaction, but that currency has a real market value beyond mere dollars and cents.
If You Don’t Love Your Job, Work for the Sake of Others
To quote the first line of the chic Christian book of 2002, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s Not About You.” Applied to the subject at hand it might read, “Your job is not about your happiness.” Of course it is a glorious thing to be happy in your vocation, but the joy of work should not be directly related to how much pleasure it gives the worker.
It may (notice that may), in some circumstances, be the best policy to stay in a job that doesn’t fulfill your wildest dreams for the sake of others in your life. For example, if you want to raise a family, some vocational paths—for instance, travel writing or becoming a hermit—are less conducive to spending quality time with a family or providing economically for future mini-yous. Your mind-numbing labor today may be paving the way for your children’s education tomorrow.
On the other hand, your dream job may cause you to give your best years and best effort to your work, not to your husband, wife, children, friends or neighbors. So, before you throw your all into the “pursuit of happiness,” ask yourself, “Will this career path facilitate the happiness of people other than me?” If it will, spectacular. If it will not, do some pondering.
You may be thinking, “He’s just trying to crush my dreams,” and to a certain extent that is true, but only the bad ones—dreams that will turn you into a self-serving workaholic with a trail of broken relationships and a perfect job. No one wants to be a drudge, and it is not inherently wrong to aspire to a better job. It can be a positive thing; but as you consider moving upward in the world, put the needs of others into each one of your steps.
If your passion and your skills do not get in the way of a selfless life, by all means put in the work; find a new job that suits you like … well, a good suit. Otherwise, that dream job can become a nightmare.