The key to happiness, they say, is spending each day doing what you love to do. Since most of us have to spend much of our time making a living, we’re urged to find a job we would do even if we weren’t getting paid. It’s even been boiled down to a variety of pithy sayings, such as “find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. The devil, however, lies in the execution.
Even once you figure out what you love to do, and how you can make a living at it, the bloom can come off the rose over time. One of my uncles started selling insurance for Allstate out of a booth at Sears. He was 22. He worked hard, did very well, and was able to start his own brokerage just three years later. The brokerage prospered and he was making great money by the time he was 30. The problem was, he hated selling insurance. It took years, but he finally decided to give it up.
By that time he had figured out that he loved sailing and he was really good at it. He moved to the coast, secured a great sailboat and started running local charters. He was taking groups of 4 vacationers on week long excursions and teaching them to sail in the Gulf Islands. For the clients, the real draw was a week of sailing, gourmet meals off the back of the boat and lots of nightcaps. And he was great at hosting too. Demand soon outstripped his ability to deliver, so he secured some more sailboats, hired some captains and the bookings flowed in.
Fast forward a couple of years and he had 8 boats, and was working night and day on bookings, turning the boats around, supervising the sailing instructors, buying the food and libations, and every other detail that goes into running a vacation sailing business in the Gulf Islands. And, you guessed it, he hated it. My uncle is a talented entrepreneur, but that’s not what he enjoyed doing. He did love sailing, but it turns out that’s not what the job entailed.
The challenge is to figure out what a job (or an opportunity, if you’re an entrepreneur) actually entails. Not the big picture, but day to day. It’s pretty hard to know whether you’d enjoy spending your day doing something, if you don’t know how you’d be spending your day.
Look, this obviously isn’t easy. If it were, there would be a lot fewer people who hate their job. But it’s worth the effort. If you live for Friday; can’t wait for quitting time; get depressed as your vacation is coming to an end; spend much of the work day surfing the internet; you really need to start planning a change.
If you’re ready for that challenge, don’t just look for what you’d “like” to do. Don’t settle. Figure out what you “have” to do. What you were born to do. Take some time and put in the effort to figure out who you really are.
Stephen King credits his staying power to finding his calling:
“Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”
Is King right? Is it really that simple? I believe it is. But if King is right, why don’t we all just find jobs that we love to do? It’s because “simple” is not synonymous with “easy”. It’s not easy to figure out what you were born to do. It requires work.
We all know people who dream about being a writer. They fantasize about book signings, six figure advances and the New York Times best seller list. About being recognized in public. But if they don’t fantasize about sitting in a windowless room in front of a keyboard for multiple hours each day, or spending days in the library researching their topic, then they probably don’t want to be a writer. They really just want to be rich and famous.
I know many lawyers who don’t like their job. On one level that’s not surprising. Long hours, lots of stress, conflict on a regular basis and the work is often very tedious. Yet it is a job that many lawyers love. They have more control over their time and work environment than the vast majority of employees. Many make high incomes and a lot of lawyers love being able to help people — to have a job that means something.
Just like lawyers, pretty much every job is loved by some and hated by others. So the difference lies not in the job, but in the individual. If doing what you love to do each day is the key to happiness, you have to figure out what that means for you. No one else can do that for you.
What could you do each day that would fulfill you? Give you a buzz? Bring you pure joy? We may not all be as fortunate as Stephen King — to find our true calling in life — but the first step is in knowing that we should be looking.
Oh, and my uncle? He went on to find happiness in public service. Turns out he was good at that too, but more importantly, for him, it was a better reason to get up in the morning.