As we enter this new year many of us will have made our annual resolutions to start exercising, eat healthier, lose weight, read more and the list goes on. All of these resolutions are intended to bring about change that we hope will improve our lives. Yet for many the one resolution that is usually not made is how to change the way they look at work. It’s no secret that a very significant majority of people are not fulfilled in their jobs. In fact Gallup has been running an annual survey for over twenty years that consistently shows that around seventy percent of employees are disengaged from their jobs. When you consider the number of people employed not just in the U. S. but around the world that is a whole lot of people. And if you think that only the rank and file are the ones who have checked out the survey also shows that a significant percentage of management level people are also disengaged. Why is that the case? Why are so many people finding little to no satisfaction in their jobs? Perhaps the answer is that they have the wrong expectations for what work is supposed to be.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution the vast majority of individuals derived their livelihoods from agriculture, mainly from farming. This was grueling and backbreaking work. It’s hard to imagine that anyone engaged in that type of labor could find fulfillment from doing that. With the dawn of the industrial age many left the farms and went to work in factories. Here again the work was hard, the hours long and quite often it was dangerous. Before the implementation of Federal safety standards It was not uncommon for workers to lose limbs and in many instances their very lives. I can’t imagine that those individuals were feeling a whole lot of job satisfaction doing what they did given those conditions. So why did these people endure those harsh conditions? Easy it was how they were able to earn a living and support their families, which is what work was intended to be. You were paid for the fruits of your labor.
Enter the age of the white collar worker and the idea of what work is supposed to be changed. We no longer have just a job we now have a career. The dictionary defines career as one’s progress through life or in a particular vocation; a profession or occupation which one trains for and pursues as a lifework. The keyword to hone in on is the word life. Many people graduate from college and enter the workforce expecting to pursue lifelong careers that they imagine will lead to advancement, success and fulfillment. For many they idealize that what they do will have meaning and make a difference to society. After a few years they become disenchanted because they find that their actual work did not live up to their expectations. Another factor could be that many wound up in jobs that were not related to what they had studied in college. Accenture had surveyed a thousand 2012 and 2013 college graduates and found at the time that 46% of them were currently employed in jobs unrelated to the degrees they received.
Now I will point out that there are a good number of people who do find fulfillment in the work that they do. Why is that? Here again it comes down to what their expectations are of what work is supposed to be. Perhaps the best example that comes to mind is my own wife. She spent 18 years working as an executive assistant with a number of large companies, the last 10 of which were for various CEOs. One day she came to the realization that she was not happy and she quit. After several years of being a stay at home mom she decided that she wanted to do something outside of the home; however, that did not include going back to a corporate environment. One day she approached the administrators at our younger daughter’s elementary school and volunteered her services. Impressed with her energy and dedication the school principal offered her a full-time position initially doing clerical work in the office and subsequently working alongside a lead teacher in the classroom. For the past 23 years she has been an assistant teacher at an elementary school. She occasionally comes home grousing about things that are happening at the school and after listening to her vent for some time I casually ask her why does she put up with the drama if it is so frustrating. She’ll just look at me and say because she loves what she does. Heaven knows that she’s not in it for the money, and while she readily admits that there are aspects of her job that she can sometimes do without she doesn’t hesitate to say that she derives an enormous amount of satisfaction from working with the children.
There have been many books and articles written advising people to quit their job and pursue their passion. I just read an article where the 59 year-old President of the Americas for Billabong International Ltd. abruptly quit his job telling the board that he is going to pursue his passion for surfing. Wow! That’s gutsy. Then again at this stage of his life it is very likely that he has the financial security to be able to do that. I recall that the president of a bank that I once worked for decided to retire when he was in his early fifties to pursue his love of art. If anyone is fortunate enough to be in a position to follow their heart either because they have the resources to do so or are able to make that a second career then by all means they should go for it. However, one’s passion very often does not match up too well with an ability to earn a living doing it and while it may sound enticing not everyone is cut out for it. Going out on your own can be a daunting experience and many people after having tried it unsuccessfully ultimately end-up going back to a job. Now I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from following their dream, nevertheless, I do want to point out that there are risks that need to be carefully weighed.
The fact is that doing what you are passionate about does not have to be at odds with your job If you look at work for what it is. It is a way to earn a living, to provide for your family, to have health insurance and to afford a certain lifestyle. If looked at in that regard then you can decide to pursue your passion on your leisure time. If you enjoy art then paint on weekends or while on vacation. If it’s music then join a band, perform at a local pub or for a church group or simply play for the fun of it. There is no rule that says that you can’t find fulfillment in doing what you are passionate about because you have a job. If you look at your job as the means that enables you to enjoy those things that bring you pleasure then it’s quite possible that your whole attitude about work can possibly change for the better and your performance will likely reflect that. Considering the amount of time that people spend at work it’s certainly worthwhile to resolve to do that. There is no downside that I can see to taking that approach and who knows you may find that it brings you happiness and fulfillment and in the final analysis isn’t that what life is all about.