140: What is the right work for you?
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People often say you should work smarter, not harder, and that makes total sense. But there is value in hard work—regardless of how intelligently you did it. Did your work get you further? Did you make a difference to yourself or someone else? Hard work gives you the feeling that you accomplished something.
And if that’s not how you feel after a hard day’s work, it might not be that you’re not working hard enough. It might be that you’re doing the wrong work.
Working hard in the wrong work?
You might be busting your butt doing something that at the end of the day you feel like it doesn’t matter or you’re not making headway or you’re not growing as a person or whatever your definition of accomplishment is. And there’s nothing worse than being worn out at the end of the day and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere.
Before I was married, I worked as a customer service representative for a medical supply company. I had a desk, I answered phones to take orders and schedule shipments, and I got paid decent for what I did. I worked there for awhile, but eventually felt like something was missing.
It wasn’t the people, I liked the folks I worked with. It wasn’t the commute, even though it was almost an hour both ways. What it was, was I realized I wanted to work with kids again and go back to being a preschool teacher—really just a fancy way of saying being in charge of ten kids at a daycare center. So I found a job as a preschool teacher, took a $3 an hour pay cut, and something inside me felt fulfilled in a different way when I went to work with those kids.
Now, I’m not knocking on customer service reps in medical supply companies, and you couldn’t pay me enough now to go back and work in a daycare center—19 year old me was a different person. But do you see what I’m saying? You have to know what fulfills you.
I believe people are made to do different things. We need people who understand medicine. We need people who are willing to go out and protect others. We need people who grow food and raise animals. We need people who provide music and writing and art to the world. We need people who will talk through issues with individuals who are frustrated, confused, angry, depressed, anxious.
Your hard work isn’t necessarily measured by how much you physically sweated or how little sleep you got. Did you accomplish what you set out to do and did that make you feel good?
Now, let’s be real—sometimes you’re at a place in your life where the only accomplishment you’re reaching for is, “I got a paycheck and I can pay my bills.” And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’ve all been there.
But I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it makes me wonder: what is the right work for you? What is that awesome, perfect career for you? Is it just what you really enjoy doing? Is it that thing you’re passionate about?
Actually, I don’t think that’s always the best thing to do for work.
Should you turn what you love into a job?
My boys love working on cars. They get talking with my husband about car stuff, and it’s like they’re speaking a language that’s way over my head.
So the other day, I said to my sons, “if you like working on cars so much, why don’t you think about doing that for a job?”
And my 17 year old said, “because I don’t want to hate working on cars.”
I thought that was pretty insightful.
My kids are at a point in their life (17 and 18) where they just want a job they can clock in to, do what needs to be done, make a paycheck, and then go home to work on the fun stuff—the stress relieving stuff—like cars and music.
There is something to be said for turning what you love into a job.
People will often joke that a plumber always has leaky pipes, or a roofer always has a leaky roof. Why is that? It’s because when you’re spending your time doing that as a job for other people, you don’t have time or inclination to do it for yourself.
I have a friend whose brother is a hunting guide and he admitted once that although he loves hunting—absolutely loves hunting—taking that love and turning it into a job and doing it as a guide wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
When I think of myself, as someone who loves to write as is lucky to have writing as her job, I can tell you there are times I don’t want to write. I don’t want to be at the computer anymore. I don’t want to make another sentence. There are times I hate writing. And there are times I don’t want to have to deal with the junk that comes along with having writing as a career.
I know people who have moved to homesteads and started veggie CSAs or opted to do big time farmer markets, and a few years into it they quit. Why? Because growing veggies for other people just ain’t the same as growing them for yourself.
Same with raising chickens or pork or beef. Raising it for yourself is one thing. Raising it for other people and dealing with everything that comes along with it—even without all the legalities and red tape—can suck the love right out of it.
That thing you love is different when it’s a job.
Now, you will never find a job that’s perfect. There is stuff that comes along with any job or career or wonderful life path change you come up against. So this is not to say that people should search to find the tasks that never rub them the wrong way. You won’t find that.
But I do think it’s worth exploring what is the right work for you, and how does it feel when you work hard at that? And that thing you absolutely love to do, is that the right thing for you to do as a job?
Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.
It’s important to feel fulfilled in some way with your work whether that is, “yay, I made a paycheck” or “yay, I made all these connections” or “yay, I’m using my hands” or “yay, I’m making a difference.” But you also have to ask yourself the question: “if I turn this passion into a career, will I kill the very thing that I love?”
— Amy Dingmann, 4-28-21
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