The consultant walks confidently out on stage, big smile on his/her face. “I LOVE my job! Do you love your job? If you don’t, why are you still there? You need to figure out what you love and start doing it!”
Umm… yeah. I’ve been lectured, hectored, and schooled by the best on that topic. I still don’t buy it. Look, don’t get me wrong. I know there are people who truly love what they do. Being able to have a rewarding career in a field that you love, while still being able to support yourself and your family is a noble and wonderful goal, and I salute every woman and man who has been able to achieve it.
I also believe that this goal is not one that everyone can meet; or even needs to try and meet. Further, I think the adoption of this as a corporate dogma is just another cynical attempt to make people feel that any problems with their jobs are their fault, rather than looking to the company as the cause.
At the heart of this screed are a few assumptions. Let’s examine them.
First is the view that your job should be a central (if THE central) focus of your life. You should be living to work, not working to live. This is the view that of course everyone should just love spending time at work, and if you don’t it speaks to a character flaw. A great example of this mentality is Fish http://www.charthouse.com/productdetail.aspx?nodeid=11010 . The great thing about this (if you’re the employer) is that all responsibility for providing a rewarding and decent workplace is now up to your employees. I mean, those guys tossing fish back and forth don’t work in the greatest environment, and look how much fun they’re having! If you aren’t happy about your job, it’s not because you’re doing the work of two people and earning less money than you did 5 years ago; no, it’s your fault.
Articles focusing on the best companies to work always list the great perks these places have. Mostly these seem to be things the rest of us look for in our own personal lives. Instead of spending time with friends hanging out, play Ping-Pong and video games at work. Need to pick up groceries to cook dinner? Don’t bother! You can stay late and have dinner at work. Reading between the lines, some of these great benefits make it easier and more comfortable for employees to spend 50, 60 and more hours per week at work. Personally, I’ll trade a more glamorous work place for an 8-hour day.
Second is the idea that your job should be a natural extension of what most interests you. It’s kind of an anti-hobby mentality; instead of pursuing interests on your own, you make those interests your life’s work; the “do what you love” idea, with the assumption that once you’ve honed in on what you love, you will be able to turn that into a viable source of income. This doesn’t always work. For every success story of a person who managed to create a thriving business based on their passion, more people tried and failed. If the thing that you truly love is corporate law or Wall Street investing, you have a much better chance of making a good living doing what you love than the person whose passion is music or art. Inherent in this assumption is that it is always possible to make a decent living. Keep in mind that the consultants lecturing on this are not making the 10 bucks an hour that day care workers make.
Finally, there’s the belief that your job should be the most rewarding aspect of your life. Fact is, there are a whole lot of jobs that may not be all that rewarding to the people who work them, but are still needed. Do you really think that everyone working as a hotel maid is doing so because of all the possible jobs in the world, cleaning bathrooms is the one they wanted more than anything else? I doubt it. I bet that most people doing that job are doing so because it’s all they could get. That doesn’t mean they can’t feel pride in doing the job well, or enjoy the people they work with, but to assume that everyone is going to be able to cherry pick only what they truly love is unrealistic.
Here’s what I think. All of us want to feel meaning and joy in our lives. The ideal is that you derive part of that satisfaction from your job, if for no other reason than most of us spend so many of our waking hours at work. If you are lucky, you get to work a job that matches your interests and skills, provides a supportive environment with enjoyable people, and pays a salary that allows you to live decently and to have a private life that is equally as fulfilling.
However, to imply that it is always possible to both find the exact perfect job that is the fulfillment of all your dreams and will allow you live a fiscally viable life, is ridiculous. Sometimes the best choice is a job that allows you to live a good and decent life but doesn’t match your dreams. That is not a bad thing. Providing a decent standard of living is worth a lot, and the only people who think money doesn’t matter are those who have never had a lack of it. If you end up in a job that doesn’t provide you with soul-full satisfaction, you can still find ways to make it through; focus on the parts you do like, but mostly focus on having a good life outside of work.
Because, in the end, it’s a lot better to have a life you love and a job you tolerate than the other way around.