Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Don't Love Your Job

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Choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

I am certainly not as insightful as Confucius but I think this statement is wrong. Not in the sense of accuracy but because such a powerful, and motivating statement is far too easy to misunderstand. I may just be sensitive now, because I blame this quote for setting me back in my pursuit of happiness, enjoyment and love.

I build software products and have been teaching myself how to write code since I was a small child. I love writing software. I don’t always love writing software while I am writing software. Did I choose the wrong job?

Pleasure. Enjoyment. What am I doing?

Pleasure, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is merely the feeling that comes from satisfying a basic need. I’m hungry, I eat. I feel pleasure.

Enjoyment is something distinctly more human. Enjoyment comes from transcending the basic need and entering a realm of luxury. I may eat the same meal as someone else and experience pleasure. My dining companion, however, experiences enjoyment. It’s all in the mindset and perception. Were they exploring their senses, leveraging their imagination to discover what made the meal so good? If so, they were enjoying the meal. I was simply taking care of a basic need, one spoonful at a time.

But what does pleasure and enjoyment have to do with loving a job?

Love must grow, jobs don’t

Love is a touchy subject. People love the idea of love. Our fairy tales obsess over it and assume Happy Ever After. This is where Confucius leads us astray. Love is not a state of being; love is not like happiness. Love is not even an emotion. Love is an activity. Love requires enjoyment, otherwise it dies; pleasure alone is not enough to sustain love.

When you choose a job you love you must reinvest your energy to continuing to love it. Regardless of what Confucius says, that reinvestment is work. It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s terrible.

I experience this in software development and I’m sure it’s not much different in other professions. Things change so quickly. I have to spend hours each week reading through new ideas and new techniques. Many of them are just fads; fads that die within the month.

It’s inappropriate to think that love alone will keep away work like some good luck charm. There are no lucky rabbit foot here. Life is hard and requires work.

Choose a job you love, and you may enjoy the outcome of the required work. Without work there will no longer be any love for the job. This is not discouraging, or should not be. There is so much enjoyment to be had in the work itself if you aren’t chasing fairy tales.

Enjoyment begets creativity

Psychologists have long inspected the links between creativity and insight. I’ve even built a silly tool to test this notion, priming myself and others and seeing how quickly people traverse through problems of insight. While it’s completely unscientific, I’ve definitely observed that people in a positive state of mind perform better.

The best way to find ways to rejuvenate the love of your job is to first identify what problems you face. Write down the sources of discontent or obstacles. Next, find a pleasurable place to be and unleash the creative aspect of your mind upon what are likely trivial challenges.

Creativity begets enjoyment

When creativity and insight are leveraged to solve challenging problems we often times feel overjoyed. I’m not necessarily talking about the often quoted Flow. The other day I slogged through some thoroughly mundane work to get me back to a good place. I enjoyed the victory, but there wasn’t one moment that went by where I wasn’t wishing I were doing something different.

If it weren’t for stepping back and discovering creative ways to get through it, I may not have made it. I may have given up. If I gave up, I wouldn’t be doing a job I loved. I would have failed at that and it would be Confucius’s fault.