“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” –Charles Bukowski
I distinctly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with my cousin about his job. We were catching up after years apart, and I asked him to tell me about his work. He described it in very neutral terms, not at all glowing about it but not hating it either. It wasn’t anything he had gone to school for or aspired to, and it didn’t light him up inside. It was just a job. A solid one, though, that paid well enough and had benefits and flexibility and all of that good stuff for a guy with a young family. To sum it up he said, “It’s nothing I’m passionate about, but I don’t think anybody really gets to do their dream job.” I nodded and let the conversation drift to other topics, but as it did, I was quietly dejected and indignant at the same time.
I was sad both because I hated to see this guy I like and admire settle for something that he didn’t love, and because I hated to even entertain the idea that he might be right. I was indignant both because I was sure that he had to be wrong and because I was determined to never fall into a mindset that would let me settle for “whatever keeps the bills paid.”
For all of the emotions that short conversation stirred in my heart–and that I stayed quiet about–I have never been able to forget it. If you have read my book or have been reading these letters for a while, you probably know that I am very much about helping people to find their passion and their purpose and then to pursue those things relentlessly for all of the days of their lives. I think it is of the utmost importance that we immerse ourselves in the activities and the people that fill and expand our hearts and minds. That includes our jobs, where we spend such a large portion of our lives.
That is why that conversation got stuck in my heart. I hated that this deep, talented man was settling for less, but I hated even more that he might be right in asserting that hardly anyone is working in jobs that they love and feel called to do. I was determined that I would not only continue to nudge people to uncover and live their purpose but also that my own career path would align more and more closely with my own purpose as the years passed.
As I look at my present situation, I wonder, “How in the world could I have missed the mark this badly???”
I am in the midst of a job search. Actually, I have been in the midst of a search for a long time now. It started off more casually, as my wife still had a nice job with health insurance and such. But after she left all of that security behind in order to start her own business–and since her company hasn’t quite reached Fortune 500 status in its first several months–there is a sense of urgency about the search that increases by the week.
The thing that I have noticed lately, though–and that I am becoming increasingly alarmed about the more I allow it into my consciousness–is that as the urgency is growing, my standards seem to be shrinking proportionally.
When I started my search, I was idealistic and had at least a shred of confidence. I knew that my resumé was not the most attractive for the kind of job I wanted–basically I wanted to do things that were unlike my previous work experience–but I also believed in my abilities and figured I had enough crossover skills and adaptability that I could learn to do almost anything (e.g. a type of computer software) quickly. I could definitely land a job that, even if it wasn’t my dream job, at least let me use some of the skills that I enjoy using and make me feel like my talents are not being wasted. I just needed an interview and I would convince them I was their man!
Fast forward to the present to find me wallowing in the self-doubt that comes from being ignored by just about every company who seems to have an opening for a position that appeals to me. When I send the resumés out and hear nothing back, that silence eats at my confidence and makes me question my abilities and my career outlook. More and more lately, as I have been scouring the job sites, I have been horrified to notice my eyes wandering to positions I would not ever have considered before. I hear my brain justifying how “It wouldn’t be SO bad,” or “Maybe my back could get used to standing for that long,” and other such dispiriting arguments.
Clearly I am not the same person as the one who was offended by the thought of doing work that didn’t stir my soul but merely paid the bills and was convenient for my family!
But which guy was right: the Idealistic Me who believed I had to be passionate about my job, or the World-beaten Me who is ready to settle for anything that keeps things flowing at home, no matter how uninspiring? Or are they both right somehow, depending on life circumstances? Does my job have to be a perfect indicator of whether I am living authentically and following my passion, or can it just be a job?
When I coached tennis for many years, I loved that I got to share my love of the game with people, that I got to motivate and share life lessons, and that I got to share in the best part of my clients’ days. It was a good job for me. However, I came to realize that, while I loved it, it felt like a shadow career to me (see “Are You In A Shadow Career?”). That is, it looked like what I really wanted to do in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t it. I wanted to write books and give speeches and be a Life Coach. That was my ideal.
When I left coaching and took a job managing a store, I knew it had even fewer elements of my dream job. I, of course, found the parts that made it meaningful to me, but I knew it was not my passion. I did it because it worked well for my family’s needs at the time and allowed me to still give energy to my other passions. It was a compromise I entered into with a clear head, and I knew it was not permanent.
When I started my current job several months ago, it was basically the same deal. It was not related to my passion, but I hoped it would work out for my uncertain family situation (and again, that was a compromise I was willing to make).
Well, as I explained above, the family needs something different now. And now I see myself defining what “the right job for now” is and how vastly different that looks compared to “the right job for me” in my idealistic mind. It is amazing how necessity can twist a person’s standards! Because when I notice how I am thinking about this now, and then I compare that to how I would be thinking about it if my wife had the same salary and benefits as she did last year, the difference is shocking.
I find it interesting to follow the history of my mind on this topic. Regarding which jobs to go after, my level of idealism has taken a steep decline over the years, and I also have a much more complicated view of what “settling” means. As is almost always the case, the deeper I look into it and the more life experience I gain, the more I recognize the answers to be in the many shades of grey rather than so black-and-white. I now think life circumstances have a huge impact on this “Ideal vs. Right For Right Now” continuum. (And yes, I am also open to the idea that I may be conning myself by justifying my failure to live up to my career dreams by claiming that I just did what worked best for my family.)
Another thing that has shifted my perspective was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert (of “Eat Pray Love” fame) called “Big Magic.” I read it last Summer. It’s about continuing to do soul-stirring things throughout your life. In it, she talks about how she had three novels published by major publishers and was still having to work her day job full-time. After years of feeling like I somehow deserved to be making a living with my writing as long as I was working hard at it, Gilbert knocked me back into my place. She made it clear that creative types are not owed work in their art and shouldn’t feel entitled to a consistent income, but rather they should assume that they are just going to continue to have to make the time for their passion projects outside of their “regular job” hours. That was a tough pill for me to swallow, let me tell you. But, especially since it came when I was looking frustratingly hard for work and feeling a little bitter about the whole concept, I did swallow it. I have been more accepting of the idea of getting a “regular job” ever since (even if I still hate it).
In the end, I guess I don’t know what role my next job will play in my life. At the moment, it looks as though it will be this big thing that I will basically just tolerate for years and years. Ugh!! I hate that I even thought that sentence, much less wrote it down as truth. I can’t stand the idea of settling, especially when it is something that takes up so much of my limited time on this Earth. But maybe, as I have discovered over the last few years, settling for a job is not as bad in practice as it is in theory. Maybe, especially if I compartmentalize it well in my mind, it will make the rest of my life easier.
This would be an easier sell if I were not so naturally dreamy and idealistic. (Oh, and there’s also that thing about me never actually wanting a job. I suppose that plays a role in all of this.) I can tell that I will be vacillating on this subject for a long time to come. Welcome to Life: it’s kind of messy here! I will keep working through it, journaling and pondering and journaling some more. That may be the only job I am truly cut out to do!
How about you? Do you have 1) your ideal job, 2) the right job for right now, or 3) something entirely different? Open up your journal and flesh out the role your job plays in your life and how well that sits with you. Describe the things you do for a paycheck. Now think about the things in Life that move your soul, that lift you up, that excite your mind, that get you out of bed in the morning. Do any of the things on that “Bliss List” match up with the things on your Job List? On a scale of 1 to 10, how closely do the lists match up? Has it always been this way, or has your job history moved you at different times closer to and further from your purpose? Has your level of job satisfaction shifted accordingly? How about your level of overall Life Satisfaction? To what extent do you associate your job with your identity (i.e., you answer the “What are you?” inquiry with your occupation)? Are you happier when you do work that is meaningful to you? How important is a fulfilling job, anyway? Is “whatever pays the bills” sometimes the ideal job, even if it doesn’t at all resemble the job you dream about getting one day? Do you have to take a job that looks like your dream job–or at least feels like it will lead to your dream job–in order to be authentically living your purpose and passion? Do you have a clear idea of what “settling” looks like to you? Where are you now in relation to that? How does that answer sit with you? In five years from now–and ten, twenty, and at retirement–do you believe that you will be doing something closer to your dream job than you are today? For the creative and entrepreneurial among us, should we be content with doing a “regular job” to keep the bills paid and then squeezing in our art or our side hustle at night and on lunch breaks, or should that thought torture us until we are so determined to “succeed” in our passion that that we somehow make it into gainful employment? Is there anything wrong with working purely for the money if it lets the rest of your life (family, hobbies, stress levels, vacations) run smoothly? Overall, how tolerant are you of work that does not move you in any way that is not financial? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the role of your job in your life?
Light your world,
P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your social media community. Let us live our authentic Truths together!