Loving Our Work
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.” – Rumi
Marsha Sinetar, in her honest and challenging book, “Do What You Love – The Money Will Follow” says,
“We are meant to work in ways that suit us, drawing on our natural talents and abilities as a way to express ourselves and contribute to others. This work, when we find it and do it – even if only as a hobby at first – is a key to our true happiness and self-expression.”
Finding and then doing work we truly love, and feel passionate about is an admirable goal, and wonderful gift, when we find it. There are many books written about this, career counselors and personal coaches to help us find our way, and our own still, small voice inside just waiting for us to get quiet enough, pay attention, and hear it.
I began my own long quest to find work I loved in high school. Although I was an excellent student on the college prep/sports track, I didn’t particularly like school, so I began the ‘work study’ program, going to school in the mornings, and working in the afternoons. I was placed as an administrative assistant for an international corporation. My department was in one of the many multi-floored buildings, buried deep in the maze of gray cubicles. Weaving my way to my desk, I would think of the old song, “Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes ALL THE SAME.” Colorless. Soulless. I felt like my very being would become flat and plain, indistinguishable from any other, too, if I stayed in a work environment like that.
After college, I worked in a totally different environment, social services – programs for youth-at-risk in the woods, runaway shelters, and special needs schools, until a bad experience left me disillusioned with my ‘chosen’ path. Desperation for money drove me to a job in a call center. I was chained like dog by a headset cord to a phone 8 hours a day, answering 70-90 calls per day about European train schedules, rail passes, and ridiculous requests such as how to make the Spaniards stop smoking in the non-smoking section of trains.
Again, I felt the soul draining out of me as I paced back and forth at my desk quoting, for the thousandth time, prices for the Chunnel Train from London to Paris. I felt like I was wasting my time, my talent, and my life in this job, and yet I had no idea where to go or what to do.
I was directionless, worn down, and miserable.
So I started reading those ‘do what you love’ books, writing in journals, dreaming of ‘some day.’ I absolutely recommend, if you feel as I did at age 17, and again at 25, that “Work sucks!” that you pursue all or any of these paths to help steer yourself in a new and ultimately deeply satisfying direction.
However . . . where I found at least as much value in my working life, interestingly, is in learning to manage, and accept, those in-between times, in the jobs along the road.
The Rumi quote above continues with, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Perhaps the mystic meant that each soul’s unique gift leads to many honorable and valuable vocations.
To me, we can also read these passages as a reminder that we can still be reverent, thankful, and happy within whichever of the thousands of occupations we choose to inhabit right now. The work itself does not necessarily have to be the ‘beauty we love’, though it can be. I think our positive attitude, respect we have for ourselves and how we do the work, and appreciation for what the work does for us, can be the beauty, and, the way we ‘kneel and kiss the ground’, in service and gratitude.
Back in the call center, I still loved to travel, and hated the work. I did my best to fuel myself to do a good job out of my desire to earn my free 1st class rail pass to Europe, and, to help kindred wandering spirits plan their own grand adventure. Some days, though, that wasn’t enough. I had to read Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s “The Invitation” every morning.
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing . . . “
That was her challenge. And although, yes! I deeply wanted to find work I loved, I also had to remember that my job did not equate to my value, or my passion. Or at least, it didn’t have to be one in the same.
A friend of mine was even unhappier than I was in school as a kid. He was shy, scrawny, and got picked on. The only solace he had through elementary school was the kindness of the janitor. Did that janitor love cleaning up after ungrateful little rug rats? Did he take mindful pride in his small contribution to a safe and beautiful school? I don’t know, maybe he did, maybe he hated it. What I do know, though, is that he made my friend feel special. He was kind. He told him jokes. He’d bring him little trinkety gifts sometimes, a Matchbox car or a pen he probably found lost in the gym or hallways. In his kindness to my friend he ‘knelt and kissed the ground.’
Maybe he secretly yearned to be an inventor, and found expression for his true work in jimmy-rigging the cafeteria’s broken dishwasher. Maybe he loved kids, but lacked the money or encouragement to become a teacher, so he swept halls in a school and made sure he noticed the kids that needed to be noticed. Maybe he just needed a job, and befriending a kid made his own day a bit more bearable. Who knows.
My musings simply illustrate the opportunities and possibilities for service or finding things we do like in it that any job, for each of, presents.
For me, I suffered through my customer service job doing my very best to truly be of service until the opportunity for a trainer position came up, which moved me off the phones and into screening and teaching a classroom of new hires, where another path began. What I learned to do there – to find the value in each situation, and find the opportunity that exists everywhere to incorporate the things I love to do (like help people pursue things they love to do) – as been the ultimate beauty I came to love in that job. And since then, I’ve learned to find ways to help people feel more confident and realize their own gifts and talents, ways to organize and clarify systems, processes or information wherever I work. I’ve found at least an appreciation for jobs that provided me the resources – time, money, benefits of education – to pursue the real work or activities I love, too.
“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
Whether you love your work, or hate it, you can shape and fashion yourself to find something to like, if not love, about what you do in the meantime. I found it a sanity saver to do so.
However, if you deeply yearn for your true vocation, always remember that this approach is a tool along the path, not an end in itself.
I agree with Barbara Sher, who reminds us in her inspiring book “I Could Do Anything – If I Only Knew What It Was”,
“It’s always okay to take interim jobs that pay the rent even if they’re not exactly right – paying the rent is essential to success – but never forget what you really want. If you persuade yourself to love a career you really do not love – just because you think you should – you’re looking for unhappiness.”
Find a way to make, or discover, beauty to love in the work you have, while pursuing the livelihood your heart desires. This is the path to loving our work.
Find the wonderful and inspiring books mentioned in this post on our Recommended Reading page!