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March 19, 1999

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Subject: Re: Enjoy the job or merely endure it?
Author: QuestorTheElf

So here's my question. Am I aiming too high? My wife says I expect too much from my job. Am I? I just want a job that make me look forward to each morning with enthusiasm rather than dread. Am I alone in this struggle, or do most people hate their jobs?

Maybe you and your wife would find it helpful to do some of the projects spoken of in the book "Repacking Your Bags" by Richard Leider. This book set me straight to not search any more for the "perfect job." As somebody who was originally told perfection brings happiness, I've realized seeking perfection is an extremely miserable way of living. It means you don't allow for tolerance and variation in anybody, least of all yourself.

Page 93 of this book talks about "the perfect job." What would it mean if we had a perfect job? All our joy and satisfaction would be derived from it. We'd never have hobbies of any kind because the job provides all entertainment. We'd also never have relationships with other people like wives, family, neighbors, etc. because everybody at work would be our friends.

"Many in this world believe that work by definition must not be enjoyable. They believe that since the best things in life are free, one doesn't make money while playing."

That got me to think about the many other things I valued outside my job (or jobs, for that matter.) I've consequently set much lower expectations of full-time and other jobs I do on the side. I also stay away from jobs where the company states the pursuit of perfection is a prerequisite for hiring; I love how 3M says it's okay to make mistakes on the job, such as the faulty glue which led to PostIt notes.

Many in this world believe that work by definition must not be enjoyable. They believe that since the best things in life are free, one doesn't make money while playing. (Often, an artist says something like, "If I got paid for this, I'd lose my creative touch.") Therefore what you do get paid for, like work, must be a struggle.

I myself have never really bought into this idea of "leading a balanced life." It implies that my work life is one thing, my play life is another and never the twain shall meet. It says that if I get a great business idea while in my hobby of hiking the Big Sur coast, I can't think about it because I'm away from the office. Why then is it that some people admit their best thoughts came not in the cubicle but in the shower?

Still, I do respect the many people who do decide they'll be one person at work and they'll be one person elsewhere. In fact, I've had to do keep certain things away from the corporate world. When I've tried making the workplace more enjoyable, I've been written up as another one of those noisy, unruly Elves even though my message was as per Sheryl Crow, "All I want to do is have some fun."

You asked several questions about what motivates one to work. That's very interesting because it varies from person to person. That's also why many new managers are incredibly frustrated. They inherit a team of 11 players and want to find the one silver bullet to energize them all. The classic example given is money -- although everybody may get a bigger paycheck, some employees still feel empty. Companies think all they have to do is throw more money at some people who end up leaving nonetheless. It never occurs to these left-brain bean counters that some employees actually want to find meaning in their work, that they want their work to serve higher purposes beyond just the bottom line. (Yet as a man, you probably also know that many men in this culture would never talk about any other pursuits via work besides money and possessions because doing so would paint them as touchy-feely wimps.)

"Maybe your wife is onto something when saying you're expecting too much from work. Maybe both of you can simply help each other "repack" and travel light."

I'd like to encourage you and your wife to check out that chapter from "Repacking Your Bags" and do some of these exercises together. Don't be surprised if your wife's motivations are different than yours. But the key word there is different, not "better." The other thing is that the "repacking" idea says you don't have to throw everything you've got away. Maybe your wife is onto something when saying you're expecting too much from work. Maybe both of you can simply help each other "repack" and travel light. (It's helped a little guy like me!)

And one other thing -- when you do discover your newfound happiness, don't expect everybody in the workplace to join in your jubilation. I wrongly thought others would be excited by my excitement. You asked about how many people are dissatisfied with work; I've heard figures between 68 and 80% of all Americans fit that description. I've noticed some don't know how to be happy. Others resent those who are happy. So another great part of the repacking is that it's encouraged me to allocate room for my cheerleaders.

Best of luck!

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