"I can't wait until I don't have to work anymore," the 30-ish year old hipster in a beard and a Pi t-shirt moaned to his friend over coffee.
"I know," his pal said. He was wearing a grey suit. "This job business is for the birds. Totally sucks." They stared out the window, splashed down a final swig of their espresso, said good-bye with big flashing smiles and high-fived.
As a rabid eavesdropper I had to bite my lip to keep from interrupting with, "Really? What would you do instead? What's so bad about your jobs?"
When I do get a chance to ask people what they'd do if they didn't have to "work," there's usually a really long pause or a bunch of mumbling. I get it--I do! It's only human to spend time wishing away something we feel indentured to, and forget to focus on creating something from our heart's desire. (And, just going with the flow in a neutral rhythm is A-OK too, btw.)
I have a theory: Because of a long-standing societal habit, most of us talk about disliking our work more than we really do.
And something else: Our job satisfaction or dissatisfaction comes from how we think about our work--not the work itself. Because, as humans we are experiencing our thoughts every waking second of the day.
What is this thing we call job?
Do you know where the word "job" comes from? I looked it up. It's not the biblical Job (no matter how much you associate grueling testing grounds with the words "J/job").
Online sources say the word "job" originated in the mid-1500s as "a jobbe of worke", or "a piece of work." About a hundred years later, it came to mean "work done for pay."
I like the "piece of work" definition, because it tickles me. I immediately hear a colleague describing someone they know as a real "piece of work" (with eye roll). Then the rest of the us snicker in unison, because we know about these "pieces of work" types. And, yet--this is similar to how we might talk about our jobs. Our jobs come with interpersonal challenges, humans with competing commitments, the undulations of fulfillment and disappointment. One day up, another day down; there are re-orgs, management changes, buy-outs, layoffs, unexpected promotions and financial boons. In other words, your job, like that complex character we eye-roll about in hushed conversations, is a real "piece of work."
Whether you have a company job, you're an entrepreneur or a contractor/freelancer, we love to complicate our relationship with the work we do--and then we compartmentalize it. There's life, and then there's work.
"What should I do about my career?"
"I'm stuck in my job."
"I think I want to change my work situation."
Sometimes more questions come pouring in:
Is this career right for me? Do I love my job--should I? Is it my passion? Is there a better job? Should I be running this freak show? Do I even have that kind of ambition?
All of these thoughts--thoughts that create our experience of confusion or existential-funkiness--are part of the game of being human and doing this "jobbe" thing. We draw a line around this parcel of our life we call "work" or "career" and then poke it with a stick like it's a sea anemone. See what it will do.
But what if you make work a part of the larger life-human experience? (And I'm not talking about taking work home with you and ignoring your family.) But drop the work you do into a much vaster context. And don't make such a big deal out of it. Don't look for passion, don't stuff it with the purpose, passion or meaning.
Because purpose, passion and meaning is something that comes from you--within. You define passion and meaning--not your job. You define what you are passionate about, what gives you meaning, and then you bring it into your work. That means if you're working somewhere as an accountant, bring a slice of "ole!" to work and crunch those numbers with all your heart. I'm serious! No one's holding you back.
Take the Game of Life to Work
Imagine if you looked at that thing you call "work"--career, job, business--as a play field for exploration and discovery. Like every day you're going on a little trip to a place you're getting to know pretty well and you're going to keep getting to know it. What if you looked at your work space and team members as a way to explore what being human feels like and looks like--for you and others.
If you're working on your own, as a solopreneur or entrepreneur in a small office, then you are your own experiment. Go on a scavenger hunt to find and build a community, create connections as you build clients and customers. Make it a game. Put on your pretend backpack and see what awaits you. Put on your invisible super power lab coat and be a human scientist.
This doesn't mean you have to like what you're doing all the time. Life doesn't work that way. Even in the BEST job or relationship--even sitting on a beach with a fruity drink and page-turning novel can invite a moment of aggravation (too hot, a flash of a thought, sand in your face).
But every time you get a thought that leads to you doubting your job, your place in the world, the people around you--don't blow it up. Just watch it float on by and count it as one of the 70,000 thoughts you'll have on this day.
The thing about our work is this: We demand much of it while allowing it to fall short day after day.
We can't win, and the work we do can't win.
Instead, let your career be more than just a confined piece of work you judge in your own special way. Rip open the edges and let it be an enormous sand box of human experience. And when you want something different, then turn to the GINORMOUS world around you and go on a treasure hunt.
I often ask people about their days at work--whether it's at a company or on their own. I ask for details starting from the moment they leave home or enter their office. There's usually some peaceful moments of personal time, even if it's ten minutes. A podcast on the way to work. Coffee with co-workers. Meetings. Clients. Writing an email or crafting a letter. Lunch. Laughter. A pep talk during tough times. Tender interactions.
"I have to admit," a new entrepreneur told me. "Sitting down opening my email with my latte and the whole day in front of me. I have a bit of nervousness in my stomach but if I"m honest, there's always a bit of excitement of what lay ahead: Who emailed me? What's going down today? How will my colleague handle the meeting?
Really, it's not so bad this work thing."
If you want to talk more about how to rip open the seems of your work life, I'm game. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get down and philosophical--and see how you can hurdle a few speed bumps for a better experience.