Do you love your work? In some circles (like in Silicon Valley), this is the expectation—that you should love your work and if you don’t, there is something wrong with you. (I, personally, hate reading those glowing, seemingly exaggerated reports.) But I’m here to proclaim: If you don’t love your work, relax. You are normal. This is true not only for the present developed world, but also for the vast majority of the workers across the world today, and especially when you consider the human experience over history. It is a privilege and a blessing to enjoy your work—but being enthralled with what you do is not normative; nor is it typically sustainable and long lasting for those who currently love what they do. Need some data to support this in addition to your own personal experience?
- 50% of workers report they have left a job due to a disagreeable boss.
- Less than 20% of the US workforce report they are actively emotionally and psychologically engaged in their current work. (I’m thinking it is hard to love something you are not engaged in.)
Add to this your own reality checkpoint: Out of all the places and the years you have worked, how many of them and for how long did you truly, completely love what you were doing? We must remind ourselves that the first and primary purpose of work is to provide for our (and our family’s needs—food, shelter, clothing). You have to live to enjoy life, and meeting one’s physical needs precedes being emotionally and physically content. Additionally, work, by definition, is providing goods and services that people need or want and are willing to pay for them. By its very nature, work requires activity and effort that someone else wants you to do (and to do it in the way they want). When I coach individuals regarding career direction we start with what is needed (or wanted), not with what they want to do. Virtually everyone, when starting his or her work career, starts by doing work that is needed and usually has some unpleasant component to it.
Four Categories of Work Experience
- “I hate my job.” Some workplaces are clearly less desirable than others; hence, our research on toxic workplaces and what makes them so unhealthy. Sometimes we truly hate what we do or who we work with. The work is hard, unrewarding, and has little to do with your abilities or interests and people treat you like dirt.
Even though a lot is written about people hating their work, clearly this doesn’t appear to be the majority of individuals in the workforce. Some initial research we have conducted shows that 18% of employees report they work in either a truly toxic or deadly work environment. Conversely, 23% indicate they believe they work in an unhealthy workplace, and 59% believe their workplace is a normally stressful environment.
- “I just work here because I have to.” Many times we endure our job. We don’t like the work and we hope to move on to something better relatively soon. We can survive for a while but the work clearly does not give us a sense of satisfaction or purpose. In fact, the work is draining and takes our energy for pursuing other things we’d prefer to do.
- “Yeah, I generally like what I do—sometimes at least. There clearly are things that bug me, too.” This is not a bad place to be—sort of liking your job, sometimes. And many people in their mid- and late- careers reach this experience. Work is still “work” but they are able to use at least some of their skills, training, and provide valuable service to others.
The problem with this level of job experience is that if you think you should love your job, you are at risk for becoming dissatisfied with your current experience.
- “I love what I’m doing right now. I’m learning a lot and feel like I’m using ‘who I am’ to help others.” If this is where you are, I am really happy for you because in reality, many, many people never experience this in their lifetime. Be thankful and enjoy the experience. Who knows how long this set of circumstances will last?
If you are not loving your job, relax. Take stock of the aspects of your work (and your life as a whole) that you do like and be thankful for those. Learn what makes a task fulfilling or enjoyable for you and pursue opportunities to make these more frequent for you. (It will take initiative and effort.) Remember you are not fully in control of your life, the world, and what happens to you. But you are in control of growing and being thankful and content for what is going on in your life right now. Pursue this. If you are interested in improving how you feel about work, I have a new book, The Vibrant Workplace, coming out in April (but that can be ordered now) that will help you make your work environment more enjoyable!