First Off, Are We Entitled to Have Jobs That We Love?
This is such a tough question. Before I give my thoughts on it, let’s start with a couple of assumptions I have about the readers of this blog. Given the fact that most of the people who are reading this post live in the United States, we already have an advantage in life over most people in the world.
Add to that the fact that many readers are law students and lawyers. Well, you can’t get much more privileged than that. We are in a fortunate position where this can even be a discussion.
Since the question – are we entitled to have jobs that we love? – is one we are privileged enough to ponder, I’ll try to answer it. My opinion is the following (let me know in the comments below if you agree, disagree or have an alternate viewpoint):
We all deserve to have jobs that, at the very least, are not detrimental to our health (either mental or physical). Beyond that, having a job we love is a bonus.
I think workers can be put into four general categories with respect to whether or not, or how much, each worker “loves” his or her job. Here they are:
Worker Type #1:
These are the lucky ones. The ones whose passions align with a job that provides them income. These people truly love the work that they do and are able to financially support themselves and their families with that work.
Worker Type #2:
These are the people who make the best of their jobs. The ones who might not be working day in and day out at what they are passionate about, but who are able to find meaning and importance in the job that they have.
Worker Type #3:
These are the people who dislike their jobs and whose jobs are negatively affecting their health (either mental or physical), but they stay at those jobs not because they have to (more on that below) but because…well, why do people stay?
Whatever the reason (and there are many), these people stay and remain miserable at their jobs because they can’t or won’t let themselves see that there are other jobs out there that wouldn’t make them so unhappy. Maybe even jobs they would love.
Worker Type #4:
These are the people who dislike their jobs and whose jobs are affecting their health (either mental or physical), but they stay at those jobs because they legitimately have to.
These people are suffering but have to stay at their jobs, at least temporarily, to support themselves and/or their families to ensure that their basic needs are met. I wish it were different, but this is the reality of our society.
To better describe the various types of workers, below are examples of how each one shows up in the world. Which type of worker best describes you? Are you satisfied with where you stand?
Worker #1: The Candy Merchant – He Loves His Job
After years of hearing about it, I finally got around to reading Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” after I’d decided once and for all to quit my Biglaw job. I brought the book with me on what would be my last vacation as a Biglaw associate.
While the book wasn’t quite what I imagined it would be (I was expecting to be spiritually changed, whatever that means, which I realize now is a lot to expect from a book), I’ve since come to realize that I have learned a great deal from it.
As I read, certain quotes in particular jumped off of the page at me, like this one:
“This candy merchant isn’t making candy so that later he can travel or marry a shopkeeper’s daughter. He’s doing it because it’s what he wants to do.”
You don’t need to know anything about the story to be able to read that sentence and grasp what Coelho means by it. When I read it, through the lens of a burned out Biglaw associate, I aggressively nodded my head and wanted to scream out in agreement with him to nobody in particular.
The candy merchant works as a candy merchant because that is what he loves to do. Does he love it every second of every day? Of course not. But he isn’t working at that job, biding his time so that in the future he can do something else. He is doing it because it is what he wants to do, at that very moment.
When I read this quote, I couldn’t help but think of the countless hours I spent working as a Biglaw associate (which was taking up the majority of my time and my life) so that one day I would be able to do something else that I enjoyed. The lesson: life is too short to spend it working so that we can save money to do something else, someday. Find the work that you love to do, now, Coelho reminds us with this quote.
Worker #2: The Janitor – He Loves His Job, Too
Many people think that having a job one loves and that brings happiness is only for a select few. For a select, privileged, few. Or, perhaps, only for the selfish. Or the unrealistic. Or for the out of touch millennials.
I disagree with all of that.
A job like the one the candy merchant has – one he is passionate about and truly loves because he loves making and selling candy – might be hard to come by. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot find a job that brings you purpose and joy. Take, for example, a janitor.
A few studies have been done comparing groups of janitors at hospitals. The janitors who viewed their jobs as more than just cleaning rooms, the ones who sang to patients, interacted with the comatose ones and joked with families visiting sick loved ones, were the ones who reported the highest levels of job satisfaction and happiness. These men and women had jobs that they probably weren’t passionate about (namely, cleaning) but they nonetheless found meaning in the job.
(This recent New York Times article mentions these studies about half-way through and is worth checking out and pondering. In fact, the whole article is worth a read, as it discusses why so many elite professionals (we’re talking Harvard Business School grads) who have all the money in the world end up miserable.)
Maybe you feel the same way about your job as those fulfilled janitors do. The job itself is not your passion, but you find a way to make it a joyful and meaningful experience for yourself, day in and day out. If you have a job like this, there might not be any reason to leave it to find something that you truly “love” (like the candy merchant). Being this type of worker might be enough.
Worker #3: The Biglaw Associate – He Is Burned Out
Our next worker is the Biglaw associate who hates his job, whose his stress levels are through the roof and whose physical health isn’t what it should be, but who makes more money in a few years than the candy merchant or janitor ever will see in their lifetimes. He definitely doesn’t “love” his job, but he has to do it, doesn’t he?
People like this Biglaw associate can justify with a million reasons why they stay at a job when they are miserable. To name just a few reasons that I’ve seen (and perhaps even told myself along the way): we stay because we are “supposed to,” because our family is dependent on our high salary or because we have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle (trapped by the golden handcuffs we’ve put on ourselves), and many, many more reasons.
What is the tipping point? When should someone like this Biglaw associate leave? When the job has begun to affect your health. I’ve written many times before about burnout, which in my experience is the number one health issue associates in Biglaw face.
Burnout isn’t something to just “push through.” In fact, the World Health Organization just classified burnout as an official medical diagnosis. It’s real and it’s a real reason to leave a job. You wouldn’t stay at a job that gave you a broken leg every time you entered the office, so don’t treat burnout that way, either. A big salary is not enough to sacrifice your health. One day you’ll be able to spend that money, but what if that one day never comes?
Worker #4: His Job is Physically/Mentally Harming Him but He Simply Cannot Quit
I want to acknowledge that there are many people who cannot leave their jobs, even if the job is detrimental to their health, because they desperately need the income. All the more reason that if you find yourself in category #3 (the Biglaw associate above), you should consider yourself very lucky and strongly consider finding a way out.
Finding Your Candy Shop Job
We aren’t entitled to a perfect job or one that we love, but we do owe it to ourselves to try to find one we love if we’re in the lucky enough position where this is an option.
I started “The Unbillable Life” because I realized that there is so much more to life than your job, especially one that burns you out or that otherwise negatively impacts your health. I left Biglaw, am on my way to finding my candy shop job and haven’t looked back once.
What about you? Have you found your candy shop job yet?