“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Work is work, even when it’s work you love.
Effort is required. Dedication is required. Some sort of consistent time commitment is required. You need to be willing to deal with hard things.
Any less and I wouldn’t hire you.
Just because you love a job doesn’t mean it’s easy. Athletes train hard. Pianists practise daily. Chefs spend entire days in hot tiny kitchens.
I run a small business. I love my work. I love it so much that last weekend I took a girl out for the first time, and when she asked me about my personal goals I immediately started talking about my work targets.
Anyway. Work — hard work — is essential to all of us who need to earn a living. And not everybody is lucky enough to find jobs they love.
Fortunately, loving what you do isn’t the only way to find meaning on the job. Over the years I’ve come to believe that there are no fewer than five ways to find meaning at work, and that any of these can suffice (though a combination of several is better).
All five of these are based on love, because love is the magic ingredient that makes us feel our lives have been worthwhile. In no particular order, they are:
- Loving what you do
- Loving who you do it with
- Loving who you do it for
- Loving what you do it for
- Loving how you do it
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
1) Loving What You Do
This is the obvious one.
Generally speaking, people love jobs that allow them to express themselves creatively (e.g. graphic designer) or that are somehow intrinsically pleasurable to them (e.g. wine reviewer).
If you love meeting new people, and your job requires you to constantly be schmoozing, that sounds like a good fit — because the work will be meaningful and worthwhile to you in and of itself.
Such jobs, however, can be hard to find, and tend to draw serious competition (assuming they pay well). So what are you going to do if you don’t manage to find a job you love?
You pick one of the other four options, obviously.
2) Loving Who You Do It With
Many, many people see their colleagues far more often than they see their families.
In such cases your colleagues will be the people you spend the majority of your waking hours with. Which means your relationships with them will be among the most important of your life.
Great colleagues and a great team can make all the difference between having a great time and wanting to kill yourself on your way to work each day. And the positivity great coworkers bring with them can dramatically improve the meaningfulness of the work you do, because even if it’s a tedious, boring, utterly routine job at least you’re doing it together.
Of course, if you’re in a toxic environment surrounded by assholes get out of there. Life is too short to put up with unnecessary drama (and it is entirely unnecessary).
3) Loving Who You Do It For
If you’re the breadwinner of your family, the need to put food on the table for your loved ones and to keep a roof over their heads can be incredibly powerful. People will take shitty jobs, enter toxic environments, and work 14 hours a day for their families. And they’ll do it without complaining very much, if at all.
Many people, amazingly, find meaning in this. Why? Because of love.
It doesn’t even need to be your own family. When the Fukushima I nuclear plant melted down in 2011, people volunteered to go in on a suicide mission to help stabilize the crippled nuclear reactors. Why? To help save the lives of others. And then they claimed that they were doing nothing special.
This is altruism writ large.
On a smaller scale, if you work at a nonprofit or in a service business you could simply, honestly care about the people you serve so much that it makes what you do worthwhile every single day.
But you don’t have to be altruistic. At the opposite end of the scale you could simply want to build a better life for yourself and see the work you do as the means to that end. You could work for your own self-respect and dignity, so that you won’t need to live on handouts from others. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing selfish about it. It’s called healthy self-esteem and the world could probably use more of it, not less.
4) Loving What You Do It For
This is where you believe that the work you do will accomplish a far greater goal.
There’s an old story that runs thus: once a traveller encountered three stonemasons on the building site of Salisbury Cathedral. The first grumbled about his work and called stonebreaking the hardest job in the world. The second was much the same, saying that once he had earned enough money he would go home to his family. The third was working merrily and singing. When asked why, he answered: Because I’m building a cathedral.
When you have a vision that drives you — some sort of belief that the work you do is important and adds real value to the world — that can be enough to keep you going.
The converse is also true. If you believe that the work you do is actively making the world worse — if you’ve somehow ended up working for poachers and swindlers and other kinds of scum — that can be truly soul-sucking, and you have a moral duty to get out of there. There are better jobs.
5) Loving How You Do It
In my opinion this is the best approach of all. This is the one that no external circumstance can ever take away from you, and that you can use to love your work no matter what you do.
What it means is simply this: you commit to doing the best damn job you can in whatever circumstances you find yourself. You realize that the relentless pursuit of excellence is always its own reward.
I’ve met people who absolutely reject this approach. They say that if you’re working for the man you should just phone it in and sneak off to smoke another toke of ganja. I’ve known people who moved to Europe specifically so that they could abuse and sponge off European social welfare policies. People who try to get what they can from the world while offering as little as possible of their wit or sweat in exchange.
I call them like I see them: parasites.
Don’t be one of them.