Embracing Work That Sucks

I love my job. I get to travel and speak for a living…and I love to talk so it makes a lot of sense. At the same time, like everyone else, there are things about my job that simply suck. At times it seems like expense reports, pain in the neck people I have to deal with, and the days I just don’t want to get out of bed are all conspiring to tell me I am not, in fact, doing what I am “supposed” to be doing.

I hear people talk about finding “work that they love,” “following their bliss” or “finding their passion” and, when I am doing the work that sucks, I begin to feel like maybe I am off track. I am inundated with the message that I should be excited and jumping out of bed every morning wanting to do nothing else but my passion (and yes, I am passionate about speaking). But those days when I have to drag myself out of bed because everything on my schedule seems like suck work, I begin to question the message.

Recently, while delivering a workshop to a group of coal miners in the Australian outback, I was given a slightly different perspective on doing work that sucks. One of the participants waited to talk (or have a yarn as they say) after the workshop. He shared with me a story about his son who had had a traumatic brain injury. How he was teaching his son to run the horse breeding business back home, and how he hoped one day to be able to have the horse business be his son’s business.

I listened earnestly, compelled by the care and compassion in the man’s voice. When he talked about working at the mine as the way to make that happen for his son, he spoke with a passion that was instantly inspiring. Interestingly, toward the end of the conversation, he made a statement that provided a different angle for my focus on finding work I love. When describing what he did at the mine, he looked right into my eyes and said, “I hate working at that mine, but I love my son enough to make it exactly what I want to do.”

In my job, I have to travel to some parts of the world that I don’t care to travel back too, I have to take time away from my family, and I have to do reports and other paperwork that are so boring and mundane I swear I would rather pound my head against the wall and listen to pop music for three hours than type one more word. At the very same time, I have people and dreams in my personal life that I love more than my job.

What the coal miner reminded me about was how easily it is to lose sight of this perspective. When in the middle of the crap-tastic daily duties that occupy a percentage of any job we do (or business we run) we can be so focused on the reality that this is not the work we love that we forget to remind ourselves of those things that we love more than work.

At the end of the day, I, like many people that I know, am pretty lucky. We get to have jobs that are part what we love and part putting up with the annoying drudgery. We choose to do this because there are people and things that we love more. Understanding that choice, can help us be as passionate about that work as we are about the work we do love.

It seems doing the work we love and loving the work we do are simply two different ways of bringing passion to what we do because we are paying attention to why we do it. We don’t have to wait to find the right work so long as we can identify why the work is right for us at this time. The miner does not love his job, he did not find his passion. At the same time, he loves what he does because he has identified a reason to be passionate.

We all bounce between loving what we do and doing what we love. If we can identify where the work we are currently doing lies on this continuum, we might do a better job at embracing the work that sucks.

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