For many people in the first camp, any task they don’t enjoy or see inherent value in is out of the question. If it’s not purposeful in and of itself, no amount of money is worth the time and effort.
Meanwhile, for many people in the second camp, any job can be a means to an end. As long as it pays the bills for things—or experiences—they like, then there’s no problem giving up around eight hours a day doing it. The rest of the day, as they say, is theirs to enjoy.
Liking our jobs, then, can either be a prerequisite or a privilege. It can spell the difference between taking pride in the way we put food on the table, or completely dissociating from our trade. But like the many pending meetings on my Google Calendar, the way we look at jobs is not set in stone.
“Liking our jobs, then, can either be a prerequisite or a privilege.”
Jobs can be viewed in ways that best serve someone’s needs at any given moment. At some points in a person’s life, jobs can feel like avenues for doing what they “were born to do.” At others, jobs are necessary for survival.
“The way you view your job can, of course, change over time. There is no right or wrong way, as we all have different circumstances,” said Aurora Suarez, a life and career coach from the Philippines. Suarez created Good Job: A Meaningful Career Journal, which helps people find clarity in their careers.
Suarez said that people’s 20s can be a time of exploration and curiosity, where they try many things to find out what they like. As we get older, jobs might become less about self-discovery and more about ways to support our family. Towards the end of our career, we might focus more on leading, mentoring, and building a legacy.
“And again, this can also shift. Your 40s or 50s can be a ripe time for exploration, while your early 20s are a time for survival and paying off debts. Everyone’s career journey and the lens through which they view their career are different, and we should learn to adjust our perspectives as we evolve, and our needs and wants change,” said Suarez.
A more productive question than whether or not you have to like your job, said Suarez, is why you’re choosing that job at that moment—out of all the jobs in the world, why this one?
The answer might be passion, or survival, or a blend of the two, or something else entirely. But Suarez said that there is ultimately no wrong answer. As long as it’s honest and clear.
“He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how,’” to quote my man Nietzche.
I once worked for a social enterprise that had the main goal of reforesting a rainforest and providing sustainable livelihoods for the indigenous community that lived in the area. I was, of course, paid very little. But it was, or it felt like, a noble pursuit. I genuinely enjoyed doing it. Except when people asked me when I would give myself a sustainable livelihood.
Suarez said that people working a job they like should consider themselves lucky, as not many can afford that privilege. Many people struggle with things like family expectations, financial instability, and the weird and wonderful concept of career growth. To this, Suarez said people can ask themselves two things. The first: Will staying in or leaving this job make my future self proud, or will it disappoint my future self? The second: Will staying in or leaving this job help me grow, or will it diminish me?
I also used to imagine that nobody in their right mind would work a job they didn’t enjoy or find meaning in—until I took a job in e-commerce. Between typing product codes into Excel sheets and aligning text boxes in PowerPoint decks, there was little to enjoy, but plenty of money (and discount vouchers) to be made. I realized then why, and how, some people can view their jobs as means to an end. I dissociated from 10 in the morning to 6 at night, then blew all the money on things I did enjoy.
“Again, it’s important to know your ‘why.’ If this job is a means to an end, and the end is giving your life joy and fulfillment, then stay and earn that stable paycheck,” said Suarez.
Whether or not you have to like your job all boils down to your attitude. You can question why you’re working the job at all if you’re not exactly passionate about it, or you can be grateful for it because it allows you to do things that you are passionate about, like providing for yourself and the people you love.
“People are storytellers. We view our lives through certain lenses and that’s also true in the way we view our jobs,” said Suarez. “The stories you tell about your job are incredibly powerful, and happily, you have the power to always choose that story.”
If you actually do like your job, then great. If you don’t, it doesn’t have to be a problem. Jobs, after all, are just part of who you are.
“It’s not your entire identity… So there is no need to burden it with unrealistic expectations—including the idea that your work is your purpose,” said Suarez.
“It’s not fair to burden one aspect of your life to provide whatever it is you’re looking for—fulfillment, purpose, creativity, love. Give attention to other parts of your life as well, [like] your relationships, your hobbies, your spiritual life, your creativity.”
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