In my last post, I asked if “do what you love” was good career advice. We had a fantastic conversation in the comments, discussing everything from the costs of doing what you love to the danger of attaching our self-worth to our jobs.
On Twitter, Mara Pina pointed out that we can derive a lot of benefits from jobs that have nothing to do with our passions. That reminded me of a post I did a couple of years ago with advice for newbie writers, and I wanted to tie these ideas together.
Endless advice exists telling us “life is a journey; enjoy the ride” and “happiness comes from within.” On some level, we’ve probably heard that advice so much that we dismiss what it really means.
But (and here’s where I let my inner-Pollyanna shine through *smile*) that advice is true and valid. Life is what we make of it.
The Grass Isn’t Greener on the Other Side
The reason we struggle with this concept is because of simple human nature. We think “if only xyz, I’d be happy.” Or “if only I had abc job, it wouldn’t feel like work.”
In the comments of the last post, Amanda K Byrne linked to an awesome post by Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs host, Mike Rowe. He’s met people who work in what many would consider the worst jobs, yet he says:
“Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.
Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way they feel. … Those people are mistaken. That was a big lesson from Dirty Jobs, and I learned it several hundred times before it stuck. What you do, who you’re with, and how you feel about the world around you, is completely up to you.”
In other words, it can be work to be happy, no matter our circumstances. It’s not automatic or handed to us. No wonder we’d prefer to find the shortcut, the magic job, the perfect relationship, etc.
Not to mention that mortality makes us impatient. It’s easy to feel like we’re wasting time if we’re not doing exactly what we want This. Very. Minute.
But those feelings don’t help us find healthy ways of dealing with life’s setbacks. Even in our perfect job, life wouldn’t be perfect every day.
What Makes a “Good” Job?
I’ve enjoyed plenty of jobs that weren’t connected to my passions or my degree, so that brings up the question of why. What makes a non-perfect job tolerable, or even good for us?
In a conversation with my tech guy yesterday, Jay Donovan shared his perspective on what makes a job “good.” He said: Pay, Perks, and People. He suggested that if we have two out of three of those, it’s a good job. Three out of three is golden.
- Pay: Obviously, this refers to monetary reward. We can put up with a lot of crap if we’re paid well. *smile*
- Perks: This one is tricky. Perks could refer to tangibles (free meals for restaurant waitstaff, insurance benefits, free T-shirts or other swag, etc.) or intangibles (public recognition, learning something new, advancement opportunities, etc.). I think what we talked about last time—loving the work itself—falls into this category as well.
- People: This includes any work relationships, like our boss, our coworkers, our vendors/suppliers, our customers. If we like the people we’re around, we’ll put up with a lot of crap there too.
For my writing, I love the work itself and the people I’ve met have become some of my best friends. I’m still working on the Pay part. *snicker*
“Crap” Jobs Can Teach Us Just as Much, If Not More
All that got me thinking about my own work history. It took me six years after graduation to find a permanent job. During those six years, I worked part-time, often through temporary agencies, doing any kind of office-work I could.
Many would be discouraged by that experience. It’s possible I felt discouraged as well, and I’m just blocking it from my memory. *smile* But what I remember most now—years later—are the experiences.
I learned so much during that time, despite the fact that I was earning barely over minimum wage and working only part-time:
- The temp-work aspect exposed me to multitudes of different office cultures, management styles, etc. Looking back now, I see how that exposure helped me understand real-world psychology, learn how people interact in healthy and unhealthy ways, and introduced me to countless character inspirations—er, I mean, people. *grin*
- Temp-work is based on skills used, so I earned raises by making myself more useful. Trying to prove myself worthy of a direct hire or more hours taught me to take initiative and look for opportunities. Constant learning—constant growing—is a great way to create a mindset of pushing ourselves to do better.
- Those opportunities turned into projects that I managed from beginning to end. Most of my long-term jobs ended up as positions where the work had never been done before. I invented the job. That was great preparation for learning to manage responsibilities and for not being intimidated by the unknowns we face in this ever-changing publishing industry.
That list isn’t even counting the fact that one of my invented projects turned into technical writing, which eventually led me to discover my love of fiction writing. So I might never have discovered what I love to do without that experience.
(Like many young people, I picked a degree that’s unrelated to what I’m doing now because I was clueless about what I enjoyed. So we might not actually love our dream job the way we think we will.)
Experiences lead to discoveries about ourselves. I wouldn’t have been as successful in my eventual permanent jobs or in my current writing path without those experiences. Any job, no matter how crappy, can become a learning experience for our life.
The Most Important Ingredient for Writing
That brings us back to my advice post for newbie writers. Writing full-time and supporting ourselves and our family might be our “dream” job in line with the “do what you love; love what you do” idea. But there’s a step we need to take before we’re ready to write.
“If you have never lived, how are you going to write characters that live?”
In other words, in order to reach our dream job, we often must go through these other experiences. “Crap” jobs aren’t a waste if we’re still finding ways to learn and grow and experience.
This attitude of looking at life as one big learning experience is a choice, just like happiness. If we have a boring job, we could do the minimum and go through the motions each day, or we could choose a different attitude.
We could look for opportunities to do more and earn trust (potentially leading to more Pay), learn new things or improve processes to make the work itself more enjoyable (Perks), or make new contacts and explore friendships with those we work with (People).
Improvements in any of those areas will help us like our job more. If we like what we do, our foray into the writing world comes with less pressure for sales numbers that allow us to quit the day job. And if nothing else, we can make note of the things we don’t like about our job for future story fodder and character ideas. *smile*
Have you held “crap” jobs? If you found value in them, what made them worthwhile? Did those experiences help you as a writer? What do you think of Jay’s “Pay, Perks, People” idea? Do you agree that happiness and our attitude are choices? Do you try to look at life as one big learning experience?Pin It