Loving What You Do

13 Feb
February 13, 2011

It’s drilled into our brains: do what you love, and the rest will follow. Do you love your work? What does it mean to love your work? More importantly, why do you love it?

It being Valentine’s weekend, it’s as good a time as any to reflect upon what it means to love your work. In The Art of Happiness , the Dalai Lama reflects upon the different ways to enjoy your work. Work can be pleasurable, work can be content, work can be satisfying. Like any love story, your relationship with the work you do can be unique.

Pleasurable Work

It’s the work we all imagine doing as kids–every day, getting paid to do something just plain, non-stop fun. Playing eight hours a day. Fanciful titles: professional pony rider, or chocolate tester. The act of completing the tasks each day are mainly enjoyable and the stresses are few. The work can have its challenges, but like play, the experience of over-coming the challenges is part of the fun.

These jobs are often in high competition and require a specialized knowledge or training to do–is it possible that part of the fun is doing something few others have the chance to? And frequently, the fun “play” of the job can fade over time as everyday challenges present themselves.

I think of many of my geek idols when I think of this work: Adam Savage, blowing things up on Mythbusters, Felicia Day taking a game obsession and channeling it into The Guild. Loving work this way means paying attention to the experience and valuing the enjoyment.

Content Work

The benefits are good, the demands are reasonable, and the work allows you to do other things you want to do. It’s the work that happens to support your other plans, and frequently the most common kind of job satisfaction.Although the job itself may not be a passion, it’s enjoyable and those with content work will have the most energy to complete their hobbies outside a nine to five. I’ve seen a lot of my friends and family find happiness in this kind of work over time, excelling in a job that allows them to rockclimb on the weekends, support family, have time for writing, or support a demanding hobby.

This kind of work gets a bad rep. Our culture values the risk takers and glamorous stars–staying in a job that allows you the flexibility or resources to do other things in a thoughtful way isn’t nearly as exciting. Yet, I’ve seen friends in “content” work like this accomplish more and dream bigger than a lot of stars in more demanding jobs. The key to having content work is to identify the value and not waste the affordances and resources it grants you. Loving your work in this way means not necessarily becoming the profession, but focusing on the bigger picture.

Satisfying Work

The Dalai Lama, predictably, endorsed satisfying work as the ideal aim. Work that is “satisfying” rather than solely pleasurable or content is work that holds meaning for your life and your goals. The roles are frequently (but not always) demanding or challenging. Some call these jobs callings or passions–charities, teaching, activism are all common roles.  But even passions can not be satisfying if it lacks the impact or meaning that you value. In satisfying work, you can see how your work contributes to a bigger goal or value you hold. Loving your work this way means believing in your power to impact others through your work.

Do What You Love

I think it’s important to love what you do–whether it’s pleasurable, content, or satisfying, and many jobs will have some form of all three. I think of myself as very blessed that I work in a role that allows me to help other creatives, live a flexible, generous life, and participate in really “fun” tasks like writing, reading, design, talking about media. Satisfaction, contentment, pleasure.

So perhaps the question isn’t DO you love what you do, it can be HOW do you love what you do? After all, given enough time, most working adults find their way to jobs that they enjoy in some way.

I love hearing people talk about what they do. When watching Dirty Jobs on television, the dirt or shock value of the work itself is far less interesting than when the workers talk about the positives of their job–why they do what they do. So much of it comes down to personal appreciation–I appreciate the fresh air, or the company, or the results, or the beers after work, or the craft. It’s a reminder, to me, about the power of appreciating what can be taken for granted.

The way you love your job can be a lot more interesting and telling than the job itself. Don’t tell me what you do, tell me why. What’s your work love story?

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