The Joy of Work

Ok, I'll bite...

Ok, I’ll bite…

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Does anyone love their job?

I’d like to know.

Other than the actors who say, in their awards acceptance speeches, “And I’m just so lucky to get to do what I love, every day…” — who loves their job?

Because I would like to love my work. And I don’t. I think maybe I’m just not cut out to work for anyone other than myself. I have a wee bit of an independent streak (underestatement). More than that, I have a driving need for my life to be an authentic expression of myself. So whenever I’m working on something that falls short of that ideal…which is usually… there is this gnawing dissatisfaction inside of me.

Is it the restlessness of the artist? The only other people I ever hear express this sensation are fellow artists. Just yesterday, I came across this quote by Sarah Silverman: “I don’t wanna do anything I’m wishy-washy about. I just wanna do it if I love it.” I’m no huge Sarah Silverman fan, but to that I say, amen.

Now, I realize, I may sound naive, or self-indulgent, to only want to do work I love. But here’s the thing: I believe in every fiber of my being that I am of most use to the world when I am lit up inside. Also, there is no part of me that wishes to be idle. Last year, when I was unemployed for a few months, I was a busy bee — blogging, doing improv stuff, volunteering. I love to do things. It just seems that none of the things I love to do generates any income.

Which is maybe because what I love to do is express myself creatively. I love to blog. I love to improvise. I love to write sketch. When I am doing these things, I am so full of joy, I feel like I could light up the western hemisphere. There has to be a way to earn a living doing something that makes me blaze that bright.

Have you cracked the code, and found work you love? Please tell me how you did it.

Photo by strangelibrarian on Flickr

8 thoughts on “The Joy of Work

  1. Oh I know this feeling all too well. I've moved from job to job waiting and failing to actually love it…until now. A couple of months ago, I started a new job and although I was tentative, I am so in love with it, I'm almost scared that it's a dream. I wish I could say I had some formula; that I sought it out knowing I would love it but the truth is I was actually reluctant to even take the job. But now, I can't imagine working anywhere else. I think the only thing that I consciously did was make sure that I stayed in a field about which I was passionate. Non-profit work seems to suit me well :)I hope you hit your employment jackpot soon 😀


  2. I'm so happy for you! I do get a lot of satisfaction from working for non-profits… but satisfaction and joy are, alas, not the same thing… are you able to articulate what it is that makes the job such a good fit for you? The work itself, the mission of the org, the people you work with…? Congrats again 🙂


  3. I'd say that loving something is what let's the little indignities and compromises of doing it for a living and with other people become bearable. It isn't that we don't compromise and accept only the perfect, but quite the opposite when we love something. We love something enough that the dirt and grime of the real world don't obscure the brilliant joy we get from doing something, the satisfaction of getting to do it routinely, and the fact that many others don't appreciate it in the way we do. From reading your blog post, I get the sense that perhaps the real issue here is that you have had a series of "likes" that you've tried to make careers out of instead of a love. When we like something, it is so much easier for it to be sullied by what others think, by frustrations, by difficulties. The thing about great loves is that they are still a lot of "work." We aren't good at things simply because we love them, we aren't gifted necessarily, and we aren't recognized for others right away for what we love. And all of that doesn't matter when it's love, because it's about internal validation and internal joy.


  4. Wow, Nate, I really enjoyed your thoughtful response to this thoughtful article. Thanks, Amanda, for writing about this. When I think of the work I love I think most about my photography. I'm not the person who carries their camera everywhere, creating photographic art with every spare moment and filling flickr storage with the fruits of my genius. I love doing photo work for people – kids, brides, business owners, pregnant women, yoginis, what-have-you. There are lots of parts of photography that I am bad at – I am sometimes slow to complete my editing, I am not intuitive about marketing myself and my work to get business, I am bad about delivery steps… but I really love doing it, and I love that I can make some money in such a satisfying way. Making money from it doesn't sully it for me or feel like a compromise of my integrity… and in a perfect world (and maybe a world not too far in the future) I'll do more of it and less of the desk work that pays my bills. But I like Nate's take on things – love *is* what makes the lousy parts of something bearable and in fact, dignified. Loving something perfect is easy, loving something messy and complicated and hard is a lot harder but a lot more realistic.


  5. This post sure hits me in the gut! I recall reading something by the Dalai Lama in "The Art of Happiness at Work" — Amazon synopsizes it as: "Rather than striving to find a role which suits us, we should allow our work to arise naturally from who we are – and what is most important to us. From here, we reach a pathway that can lead us to true life fulfillment and purpose."…and I was like, "Dude, that's easy for YOU to say, you're the frickin Dalai Lama! How much time have you spent hunching over a soul-killing desk job? How can I allow my passion (this week) for posing and photographing kitschy figurines to arise naturally from me when I also have to pay rent, bills and health insurance, retirement… You can bet nobody's gonna rush to publish MY book! I didn't happen to be born famous!" …which, granted, are incredibly stupid, selfish things to say to a man who has bigger problems than health insurance to deal with (e.g. genocide). What I'm getting at, though, is that the freedom to allow our work to arise naturally from us (let alone the blessing of having a clue as to what, exactly, that work might be – or the perseverance to stick to it) doesn't just fall in most people's laps. As an artist, you either have to work to survive, to have a trust fund, to sell out (as if that were an option), to not care that you're poverty stricken, or to be brave enough to risk it anyway. I never got good at any of those things! BUT, in spite of the fact that I whine a lot, I do kinda think the Dalai Lama is hitting the nail on the head. From what I can see, you're kind of already doing what he advises. Maybe it's happening and you just don't always see it.


  6. Do what makes you feel alive.I've been thinking about this a lot lately.First of all, I commend you on pursuing what revs your engine, whether it pays the bills or not. Think about all those people who aren't as brave, who merely complain about unhappiness or place blame on others for a current state of mind, yet put forth zero effort to the contrary. Even questioning is important. Some people may be too scared to consider life passions, careers, and how they fit together.For those that refuse to simply "plug-in" and fall in line, who do need to add a few sparks to the fire, maybe that is an option… have a job that pays the bills, yet still allows time for projects that ignite the fire. However, I keep feeling my career should be my passion. So. What if my passion was my career? Would it then begin to feel like "work"? (Round and round we go.)Sometimes, I imagine communicating with my 80-year-old self. She may tell me… "The notion of a traditional career path is admirable, but tired. And, pursuing those things that bring the light is the shit. Therein lies true fulfillment."At least, that's what I tell myself, I would tell myself.If you could merge career and love, what would it look like? Once you find that out, why not go for it?For me, it's difficult. I can't say that I really have one major passion in life, one big enough to fill up the horizon.Who knows… in the end, maybe you'll choose to stick with what you're doing, but that decision can only be secure if you've considered the alternatives.For fun, I threw in a couple of related theories below:Affect TheoryEdwin A. Locke’s Range of Affect Theory (1976) is arguably the most famous job satisfaction model. The main premise of this theory is that satisfaction is determined by a discrepancy between what one wants in a job and what one has in a job. Further, the theory states that how much one values a given facet of work (e.g. the degree of autonomy in a position) moderates how satisfied/dissatisfied one becomes when expectations are/aren’t met. When a person values a particular facet of a job, his satisfaction is more greatly impacted both positively (when expectations are met) and negatively (when expectations are not met), compared to one who doesn’t value that facet. To illustrate, if Employee A values autonomy in the workplace and Employee B is indifferent about autonomy, then Employee A would be more satisfied in a position that offers a high degree of autonomy and less satisfied in a position with little or no autonomy compared to Employee B. This theory also states that too much of a particular facet will produce stronger feelings of dissatisfaction the more a worker values that facet.Dispositional TheoryAnother well-known job satisfaction theory is the Dispositional Theory. It is a very general theory that suggests that people have innate dispositions that cause them to have tendencies toward a certain level of satisfaction, regardless of one’s job. This approach became a notable explanation of job satisfaction in light of evidence that job satisfaction tends to be stable over time and across careers and jobs. Research also indicates that identical twins have similar levels of job satisfaction.A significant model that narrowed the scope of the Dispositional Theory was the Core Self-evaluations Model, proposed by Timothy A. Judge in 1998. Judge argued that there are four Core Self-evaluations that determine one’s disposition towards job satisfaction: self-esteem, general self-efficacy, locus of control, and neuroticism. This model states that higher levels of self-esteem (the value one places on his/her self) and general self-efficacy (the belief in one’s own competence) lead to higher work satisfaction. Having an internal locus of control (believing one has control over herhis own life, as opposed to outside forces having control) leads to higher job satisfaction. Finally, lower levels of neuroticism lead to higher job satisfaction.Two-Factor Theory (Motivator-Hygiene Theory)Frederick Herzberg’s Two factor theory (also known as Motivator Hygiene Theory) attempts to explain satisfaction and motivation in the workplace. This theory states that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are driven by different factors – motivation and hygiene factors, respectively. An employee’s motivation to work is continually related to job satisfaction of a subordinate. Motivation can be seen as an inner force that drives individuals to attain personal and organizational goals (Hoskinson, Porter, & Wrench, p. 133). Motivating factors are those aspects of the job that make people want to perform, and provide people with satisfaction, for example achievement in work, recognition, promotion opportunities. These motivating factors are considered to be intrinsic to the job, or the work carried out. Hygiene factors include aspects of the working environment such as pay, company policies, supervisory practices, and other working conditions.Job Characteristics ModelHackman & Oldham proposed the Job Characteristics Model (JCM), which is widely used as a framework to study how particular job characteristics impact on job outcomes, including job satisfaction. The model states that there are five core job characteristics (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback) which impact three critical psychological states (experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility for outcomes, and knowledge of the actual results), in turn influencing work outcomes (job satisfaction, absenteeism, work motivation, etc.). The five core job characteristics can be combined to form a motivating potential score (MPS) for a job, which can be used as an index of how likely a job is to affect an employee's attitudes and behaviors. A meta-analysis of studies that assess the framework of the model provides some support for the validity of the JCM.


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