This might sound strange – or even obnoxious — from someone who helps people find more meaningful lives and clearly (I hope it’s clear?) loves her job, but here’s the truth: you don’t have to love your work.
It also might sound odd to hear that said in an era where we’re taught to optimize every moment of our lives, lest we waste one of our precious years doing something that doesn’t fill us with joy.
But hear me out.
First of all, there is an important difference between not loving your job and actively hating job. Not loving your job might look like complacency or wistfulness about doing something different. It might mean you’re feeling bored or uninspired or even easily agitated. Hating your job, meanwhile, might feel like nails are being stuck through your eyes when you open your inbox. Or you might be feeling stress so strong that it’s making your sick, or that you’re stuck in a toxic and dehumanizing environment.
If you hate your job, or you feel unsafe, get out as quickly as you can.
If you don’t like your job, let’s slow down and think for a bit…
Some of us can pinpoint what it is that we don’t like about our jobs: There’s not enough flexibility. I’m not using my creative talents. My manager is a dud. And then there are plenty of us who feel so wholly uninspired that it’s become hard to really identify the root of the dissatisfaction. That’s a tough place to be, and worth spending some time really investigating.
I’ve worked with people who discovered that their job dissatisfaction had very little to do with the role and much more to do with their own aptitudes, or their marriage, a coworker’s influence, or a particular season of their lives. That’s not always the case, but if you can’t seem to get your arms around what feels wrong, it’s going to be hard to avoid repeating similar patterns in another role.
Similarly, many who find themselves working too long or too much in one job will find themselves overworking in another job too. Again, there are always exceptions and some jobs put much greater expectations on us. But patterns regarding our own boundaries are frustratingly consistent unless we work intentionally to change them.
If the work itself is what drains or bores you, consider whether there is something else that feels compelling right now. If there is, great! Is it something you can make money at, enough that you need to survive? If yes, fabulous!
If there’s not, or you can’t figure out how to earn a living with the things that most inspire you — or at least not yet — consider whether doing your job is offering the space, energy, or resources to invest in things you enjoy outside of work. Maybe the fact that your job doesn’t require much concerted effort gives you the brain power to serve on community boards. Or perhaps your position is giving you enough extra income to travel with your family or buy supplies for the art you love to make.
The point is that tying the job that you don’t love into the purpose that you want in your life can be a powerful perspective shift. Instead of frustration that our job is not the thing we love, we can think about our job as the vehicle toward the things we love. And yes, sometimes what that might be just that we like to eat and clothe ourselves.
Consider this too: I’ve seen so many people doing the jobs that they love and combusting from stress when they were barely getting started. Sometimes making your passion your paid work is actually a recipe for burnout. Caring a lot but getting little organizational support — as so often happens in purpose-based careers — can create a lot of stress and strife.
Not loving your day job might actually be protecting your passion and purpose from becoming what drains you. It can give you the chance to engage in your passion in a different way, one that might actually be more meaningful to you and the contributions you offer the world.
Purpose is important, but your day job isn’t always.