Loving Your Work

Photo by Mayu Shimizu

I read the following words and every fiber of my heart sang “yes yes yes” with the energy of a little kid bursting out of her seat in class:

“I meet all kinds of people who don’t enjoy what they do. They simply go through their lives getting on with it. They get no great pleasure from what they do. They endure it rather than enjoy it and wait for the weekend. But I also meet people who love what they do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If you said to them, ‘Don’t do this anymore,’ they’d wonder what you were talking about. Because it isn’t what they do, it’s who they are. They say, ‘But this is me, you know. It would be foolish for me to abandon this, because it speaks to my most authentic self.’ And it’s not true of enough people.” – Ken Robinson, in one of his TED talks

This theme, this question, of why some people do work they love, and why others don’t, is one that obsesses me. Clearly, it takes a certain amount of privilege to even be able to contemplate getting fulfillment from our work beyond a paycheck. I am absolutely aware of this. Still, I’d really like to explore: For those who are privileged enough to choose a career with some consideration of personal fulfillment…why do some people do work they love, and others not?

Last year New York Magazine published a story about the rise of stay-at-home moms in a certain hipster demographic, and nowhere in the article did the writer acknowledge that maybe one driver of this trend was that these women hated their jobs outside the home…or, at least, found no fulfillment from them. I wrote about this here on my blog, and said:

“Think about it: How many people do you know who like their work, let alone love it it? How many of your friends would say their work is aligned with their values, allows them to fulfill their unique purpose in the world, and also compensates them fairly?  

If you love your work — if your work is your calling — then balancing it with the rest of your life isn’t such a chore. In fact, the very phrase, “work/life balance,” is so telling, in that it defines work as a category separate from life.” (read more)

Do you love your work? If so…how did you find your path? Please tell me in the comments below. We need to share more of these stories, so young people know it’s not just possible, but also critical, to love what you do. Why is it critical? Because, as I’ve quoted before and will undoubtedly quote a million times more:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it — because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

So tell me: Do you love your work? If so, how did you find your path — and what advice would you offer young people trying to find their way to work they love?


8 thoughts on “Loving Your Work

  1. I happen to love my work, really. I've always been an environmentalist, it's as fundamental to me as breathing, and I've always done something related to the environment in every primary job I've ever had, although some were further away from "me" than others. I've also had jobs where I felt like I was doing environmental work, but doing it in a way that sometimes felt like it helped someone else do just enough to not get in trouble, as opposed to actively choosing to do something good, and that was really difficult for me, but I was the family breadwinner and needed my job. My current job, without getting into too many specifics, is to make sure that a large project that benefits emergency responders gets done in as environmentally sensitive a way as possible. I believe in the project and I believe in my place in it. That's a privilege. My commute is terrible, but I love the substance of my work, I love the people I work with, I'm learning every day, I'm challenged and growing, but I am also inhabiting my expertise (which still feels strange sometimes), I feel like we've got the opportunity to do our work the right way, and it's just a fun, unique challenge.


  2. Mandy – I relate to so much of what you say, and it's not just because we have the same name :). I'm not an environmentalist — I give money to Friends of the Earth, I recycle, I try not to waste water, etc, but I don't identify with protecting the environment being my primary calling. But in a bigger way, the sense of it being in your blood — as fundamental to you as breathing…that, I get. Because even when I didn't know what I wanted to do, job-wise, I always felt a deep conviction that my work needed to align with my values and with who I was in some kind of core way. I sensed it had to do with communication and creativity. I didn't see anyone, then, who has the job I have now, today, so I needed to feel my way into it, but all along the path I knew when something was fundamentally off or wrong, when I was getting further rather than closer to the thing I was meant to do. Conan O'Brien came to talk to my college senior year and told his story about navigating his way to "the thing I wanted to do" — it was almost like a Spidey sense… "this is a great opportunity, but it's not the thing I want to do…time to move on…" How do we help more young people develop both that "Spidey sense," and the confidence to listen to it? Also, did you literally know as a child that you were an environmentalist, or do you remember some sort of moment or experience that woke you up to that part of yourself? Thanks again so much for sharing.


  3. I get to work for an improv theater. Sometimes it doesn't feel like a real job and I feel guilty. It feels like in order for a job to feel legitimate and for a paycheck to be earned, there must be some sort of suffering involved. After making it through high school, you get to feel like you can't have accomplishment without a long, tedious slog. But I'm better at this than I've been in any other job. There are plenty of spreadsheets to look at, etc. but its a lot easier to swallow when you're excited about the ends.


  4. Hi Amanda! I love my work, and it surprises me that I found this particular mix of responsibilities. I liked medical school, sort of hated residency, and didn't know if I'd find work that lights me up on the inside. Somewhere along the line I discovered that I love teaching, so tried to find more opportunities for it. I asked to give more talks, I offered to teach medical school small groups, I met with the dean of students to ask how I could enter her world of medical education and student affairs. She gave me wonderful advice: tell people in that world that you're interested and eager, and when there's an opportunity, they'll think of you for it. That's exactly how I got my current job as an assistant dean right out of training – there was an opening, I was looking for jobs, and they thought of me because they knew I was interested. How incredibly fortunate! I share that advice with students all the time. I love that I can help patients but also teach and guide students and residents. The variety keeps each week fresh and interesting. I think your project is a wonderful one… good luck and let me know if I can offer any other details!


  5. Good questions! I remember always loving being outside and caring about "how things worked", and then one day when I was about 9 or 10, someone said "well, you're quite the environmentalist, aren't you?" and I remember thinking "YES. Yes, I am." I had a name for that thing inside me. But for a long time after that, counterintuitively, I still thought I was an "English person", meaning that I was a writer and should be doing some kind of communications work, instead of a "science person". Turns out I wasn't quite right about that. Although I still am a writer, I learned that there are lots of ways to be who you are, and being open to unexpected definitions of "who you are" is essential. I've learned that I really love ecology, and I'm actually a really good teacher, something that never would have occurred to me before I tried it. I think the Spidey sense is more about listening to what piques your interest and being open to the possibilities. I thought I was an "English person" because I loved reading and literature. I still do – but that's not what gets me out of bed in the morning. I was moved to tears the first time I was in a rainforest because I was just overwhelmed and awe-struck by my surroundings. Kind of like a convergence of science and poetry. So, also be open to the cumulative effect of your passions. I think people veer off course when they listen to someone else's vision for their life – when you spend time worrying about what people "expect" of you instead of what you expect for yourself. I don't know how to instill the confidence to dismiss someone else's vision if it doesn't align with your own. I've come to care less about the opinions of people who don't matter as I've gotten older, and I think it's a thing that comes with age. In any event, I'm happy to discuss this in more detail if you'd like! I'm lucky that I've always been able to do work relevant to my passions. I've also seen how it drains people when they get pigeon-holed into a bad fit – it's never worth it, no matter what the compensation is.


  6. Neda: YES. Saying what you want out loud is key… first, saying it to yourself, then finding the courage to say it to those you love and trust, and then daring to say it to people in a position to help you. This is so, so important. And here's the thing: I've found, the world is full of helpers. If you run into an asshole in a position to help, who doesn't want to help, or who shuts you down… that is about them, not you. Because there are people in positions of incredible power and prestige who would always take the time to help a young person finding their way. So keep reaching out until you find those people. They're the ones you want on your journey, anyway…not the assholes who think they don't have time for you. Young people are always so grateful to me when I take the time to talk to them, and I think — it is truly, genuinely, my pleasure, because I was SO lost for so long… if I can help minimize that pain for anyone else… it brings me great joy. I think it's so important to share these stories so young people can see how others have navigated the twists and turns and ended up somewhere that brings them great fulfillment. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Your students are so lucky to have you.


  7. Mandy – such thoughtful answers…thank you again, so much. I really think this will help people on the cusp of building adult lives for themselves. I'm so moved by the story you tell about the rainforest. I also love this line: "I think people veer off course when they listen to someone else's vision for their life – when you spend time worrying about what people "expect" of you instead of what you expect for yourself." I'd only amend it slightly — for myself — to say… for me, it was about letting go of what other people told me I was good at, and paying attention to what I loved to do. And you are so right about letting it evolve and not getting locked into one notion of what makes you happy or who you are. Allow yourself to be surprised by yourself…YES. Thanks again for sharing :).


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