Choose yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you that you should quit your job.
Why do we think that we need to have a romance with our jobs?
My job is not my passion. No, I don’t hate my job. I am just not in love with it.
This is what Psychologists call black and white thinking: Either you love your job and it is the best thing that ever happened to you, or you hate it and it sucks.
I often hear professional speakers talk about how 20% of people love their jobs but the other 80% live in quiet desperation in a job they hate. A large international Gallop poll of 25 million people revealed:
- Only 13% felt engaged by their jobs
- 63% are mildly to moderately unhappy on the job, and
- 24% actively hate their jobs
I am in the 63%, but that doesn’t bother me because I don’t expect my job to make me happy. My employer gives me a wage, some benefits and respect, but the happiness thing and even the passion are part of what I need to bring every day. If you add the Gallop numbers, 76% of us either love our jobs or don’t mind our jobs and stay for our own reasons… not necessarily because we “love” our jobs.
I think those are pretty good numbers.
The one question that Gallop did not ask is, “Do you think your job should make you happy?” or “Do you think your job should be your passion and why?”
Get engaged, but don’t marry your job!
If someone is not engaged in their job, it’s time to wonder if they are engaged in their lives at all? Part of a job is work. And the work may involve intentionally bringing yourself to work each day, even if you would rather be on the golf course.
At risk of repeating myself, I will: My job is not my passion. I have many passions that include my family, writing, creativity, personal development, exercise, learning, pizza, beer and the art of telling stories. I used to expect that my job would be my passion, but honestly that led to some job hopping and a great deal of dissatisfaction on my end.
Most people that I know don’t mind their jobs, and have other passions that fuel them. In other words, they don’t have to be married to their jobs. It makes sense to me, but why do some people call this this settling, or mediocrity?
The myth of Quiet Desperation
I first heard this quote in the 1989 movie, Dead Poet’s Society: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
I wanted to know more about the quote by Thoreau, so I found the entire paragraph. If you don’t like prose, just skip this part. I wanted to include the full quotation for the geeks out there:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
Thoreau has many ideas in the piece that relate to our day, but it is important to geek out a little and understand his context.
Thoreau was born in 1817 and did most of his writing in the mid 1800’s. He and his family manufactured pencils and were very poor, as most families were at that time. Slavery was still very much alive and most people were stuck in various rigid class, political and religious structures. The idea of choosing a job was impossible for most people, because if they were lucky, they worked for the family business making items to be sold for pennies.
Thoreau wrote in a time when injustice, rigid structures and an utter lack of opportunity were rampant. Today, in some countries, structures continue to be rigid and authoritarian. In many countries, however, the structures are changing or have changed dramatically.
In Thoreau’s time, oppression was how society functioned. Most people literally lived lives of quiet desperation. From this context, Thoreau wrote the piece that I cited above.
I find several relevant themes that emerge from understanding his piece in it’s historical context. Many of us:
- Have the freedom to choose where we work, but we may still feel unfulfilled.
- May face injustice, which will generate a sense of unvoiced hopelessness.
- Minimize mundane work, boring work or labor. We do not see that we can bring dignity to our work.
- Feel unable to play, or be creative at our jobs, and this can lead to frustration.
- Avoid dreaming of more and settle.
- Console ourselves through addiction or entertainment after work because our work is unfulfilling.
It is important to put Thoreau’s quote in context, otherwise we perpetuate a stigma against work. Work is not a prison sentence. Our politicians may be galvanizing and biased, but in the West we still have the right to vote and we remain relatively free. We have choices that many people can only dream of.
Yes, there is oppression today, and this needs to be exposed and resisted. But one type of oppression is an anti-work bias. If you work at a job, people assume that you should hate what you do and want to get out. If you are a “lifer,” that should feel sad and depressing. Real freedom, we are told by speakers and books, comes from working for yourself.
Sorry for my language, but I call bullshit. Most people have many choices as to where they work and what they do. Even if we have few choices, we have still have some choices. That means you and I can find untold ways to bring dignity, personality, creativity and soul to our work – even if it is mundane, boring or annoying. Especially if it is mundane, boring or annoying.
Thoreau dreamed that people would have the choices that our society takes for granted.
Call for interviews: We want to hear from you!
Over the past two months I have been interviewing people who I call “Creative Stayers.” A Creative Stayer is someone who remains in a job they may not love, for their own reasons. No, they don’t hate their jobs or hate their lives. They just have other passions and work may not be one of them. They bring dignity to their lives, their work, their world by how they stay even when it may feel mundane or boring.
I am hoping to end the stigma of hard stuff. Having to work hard at something brings dignity to it (check out this piece featuring Mike Rowe), just like having to work hard at love will teach us the really important lessons.
I would like to interview you. Three questions is all that it will take. If you are interested, email me at [email protected] and I will send the questions. It will take you just 10 minutes but it could help to change your view, and the views of so many, about the dignity of work.
Keep it Real
Photo by Richard Elzy