At the age of 53, I can tell you that I have had many jobs. And over the years I have read many job search books and spoken with job coaches. Every single job coach I’ve heard and every job search book I’ve read has said to “Do what you love.” They appeal to the narcissism that exists in all of us – something most of us deny about ourselves. I think the biggest harm is that this approach raises unrealistic expectations – i.e. if you do what you love you can expect to love what you do. And I’ve done that – I’ve taken jobs doing work that I loved. So why have I ALWAYS been disappointed? Why do I always end up hating what I loved? Those are serious question and they are not addressed in any single job search book. Job coaches just dismiss the questions saying that I just haven’t found what I love yet. But, what if the point is to just work and it doesn’t matter what you do? What if you can find some sort of peace, satisfaction and consolation in what you do even if it’s not what you love? What if it’s not the job you do but HOW you do your job? The longest job I held was for 15 years. It resulted in a near nervous breakdown and personality shift. That was a job that I started because I loved that type of work. What job coaches and books fail to recognize that the work you do is not important because it’s the people you work with that make the job enjoyable and you can actually come to love those people instead of the work itself. It’s the people that make the job lovable or hateful and miserable. And unless you learn how to deal with the different personalities of the people you work with, accept them in spite of their values and practices you will never be happy no matter what you do.
At the time I left my previous job that I held for 15 years, I started to read the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It was in these Buddhist writings that I started to explore the ideas of mindfulness and adding that to my Christian faith. It not only helped me understand myself but from this also evolved the notion that it doesn’t matter what work I do. In spite of the tasks I can find enjoyment, happiness and even love based on how I was mindful of others and sensitive to their needs. Whatever emotion you attach to it – the job becomes meaningful because of relationships not the task itself.
At the time I came to this realization I was unemployed, between jobs. Disillusioned, tired, depressed and unsure of what I did want, I decided to look for work that I COULD do instead of work I wanted to do. It opened up a whole new realm of employment possibilities. The first thing I did is go over previous performance appraisals and made a list of two columns of things that previous employers thought I did well and things they thought I sucked at (although they would label it “needs improvement”). There were contradictions which is understandable because of two things. 1) We are contradictory beings in nature. 2) When you ask 10 people about something you’ll get 10 different opinions. Being fully aware of the contradictions and differences I started looking for work that would be acceptable based on the abilities perceived by others. I’d see a job description and ask can I do this job well based on my abilities and skill set. If I could answer “yes” to that question I would apply – even if I didn’t have the education degrees that the employer said they wanted to see. While an educational degree is helpful it does not ensure success in either obtaining a job or successfully doing the job. Once I had the interview I answered the questions by talking about my experience and skill set based on what the employer was looking for. Now, I’ve always hated interviews. But I found that since I already knew what I could do that it didn’t matter if I got the job or even loved the job. What mattered was I knew I could do the job and it was up to the employer to decide if they were going to take a chance on me or not. I took the same mindfulness approach in the interview which relieved the stress of the interviews.
What happened was something I was not expecting. I took a job doing something that had never appealed to me and would never have previously chosen because I would not have seen it as something I could love. I have found the job rewarding, challenging and just what I needed. I’ve worked this same job now for 5+ years and do not have any regrets about taking this job. Sure there are times when I wonder, “What the hell was I thinking” but that happens in every situation in life. Sure there are things that make me angry about work but I’m able to move beyond that not let it affect my work. It’s the people that matter more than the job itself. When I keep that in mind everything works out.
Now this may seem simplistic and like a bunch of malarky. But its worked for me.
(fyi – the art in this post is #77 from my Messages From The Future series which will be published in book form in 2014.)