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Home > Blog > The Forum: What Makes You Love What You Do?
Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, May 18, 2004 9:37 AM
The Forum: What Makes You Love What You Do?
Anita Sharpe on Passionate Work

America was founded on the Puritan work ethic, which can be roughly defined as: If you like it, stop doing it immediately.

It's this philosophy which has given rise to much of our thinking about work, including the currently popular 'work-life balance' -- as if the two were as polar opposite as good and evil. How many of you have heard some variation of this line from parents or teachers: 'You're not supposed to like it, that's why they call it work.'

Nevertheless, the notion of loving what we do has not only taken hold (must be the French influence on our culture), it's now provably linked to that Holy Grail of the U.S. economy: PRODUCTIVITY.

Last week, a half dozen Worthwhile writers gathered in our office and this subject came up. Here's a partial list of qualities that make us love our work: sense of community, spirit of fun, growth, learning, challenge, creativity, freedom.

What's on your list?


Ty Moddelmog - 6/10/2004 3:14:53 PM
Interesting take on the concept of Puritan work ethic. But to look at Puritanism holistically, consider John Winthrop's emphasis on 'bonds of brotherhood,' that as individuals profit, the community profits. That said, I find nothing more fulfilling than feeling like part of a community. Puritanism died when Winthrop's 'city on a hill' died, when jealousy started brewing in Salem and Anne Hutchinson got excommunicated...when the city on a hill became several individuals scattered on a hill.
Janet - 5/26/2004 2:10:26 AM
I am in business which happens to be in education. I remember using up all my years gazing up at the ever present round school clock hoping to drown out the din of classroom noise. 'How many years, months, hours, and seconds do I have to endure this torture?' Today, I received a 15-year token thanking me for my service in education. I made a difference. With the help of great people, I opened a charter school eight years ago. Serving 1,500 students, we enjoyed every single day. We were able to create an atmosphere, a feeling, an experience. When a student walked through those doors, we were 'there'. Eye contact, a smile, commitment, and lots of laughter. Our school scores climbed the charts. I loved every second that ticked away. Our students loved it too. What a difference!
Stuart - 5/21/2004 12:59:31 PM
But where and when did it change? In Europe now, they have the worker's-rights concept. Part of that is a basic right to more vacation time than in America. Vacation that is effective immediately, not after 5, or 10, or 20 years of service. England and Europe appear to have got over Puritanism, in religion and in the work-place. Why is is still prevalent in the USA?
Laura - 5/19/2004 8:49:03 AM
How about a 'vocation' instead of 'employment' or 'jobs' or 'work'? My vocation is all about who I am and why I'm here. Who wouldn't rather have a sense of purpose and follow their destiny, rather than merely chase a buck? The 'work-life balance' becomes a quaint/silly notion when you realize that 'doing' is a creative extension of your very 'being'.
Curt Rosengren - 5/19/2004 1:10:27 AM
Andrea, sounds like you made a great choice! I think part of the trouble is that people too often evaluate potential careers only in terms of financial ROI. Bringing personal ROI into the equation - the joy, meaning, and fulfillment you get from your work - can make all the difference in the world.

Anita, I've mentioned this before, but this question gets to the very heart of the matter. Figuring out *why* you love doing what you do will help you identify the underlying characteristics that are consistently there in the things with a high personal ROI. Once you have that insight, you can apply it to both coming up with new directions and evaluating choices and options as they appear.

As for me, some of the core pieces of what lights my fire about my work are:

* Exploration and discovery: Every client is a new journey of discovery. There's always something interesting and surprising waiting just around the bend, and no two are alike.

* Social good: I'm a chronic do-gooder at heart. I get to make a positive impact on people's lives that I can see. How cool is that!

* I get to be me: I just wasn't cut out to wear the uniform of corporate America. What you see is what you get. I get to be authentic, I get to do things the way that is right for me, and I get to set an example in the process. Again, how cool is that!

Lots more that I could spout about (I talk about this stuff for a living, after all!), but you get the general idea.
lee - 5/18/2004 6:42:28 PM
Seriously, I spent 18 years in an industry that I did not love, that did not share my values, that ate away at my soul. However, I can now use some of the knowledge and experience to work with organizations (I am a consultant) and non-profits (I am a volunteer) whose values I do share. Would I rather have worked in a better environment for all of those years? Sure, though I don't know whether or not my sense of values would have been as strong as they are now. I really understand the dark side and really know how we should live our lives. What advice will I give my sons who are 17 and 21? 1. Understand the trade-offs; 2. Understand that nothing is forever; 3. Do not lose sight of your worth, your sense of reponsibility; your potential; 4. Make sure you have fun.
anita - 5/18/2004 6:08:54 PM

I had strong math/science abilities in school and my mom talked a lot about how my late father -- an engineer -- would be so proud if I followed his path. The funny thing is, I don't think my dad liked engineering all that much; I think he chose that career because he was good at math and science and it seemed like the financially smart thing to do.

Often it's very hard to know what you really love and even harder to stay the course, especially when you have the potential and opportunity to do something where the social or monetary payoff appears greater.

Thanks for the note. You're singing our song. . .
Andrea - 5/18/2004 5:24:10 PM
As an idealistic undergrad, I fell in love with my job at the campus newspaper and declared my journalism major sophomore year. A week later, I got an interesting letter in the mail.
'Dear Daughter,' it began. 'I want you to have all the facts on the table before you make a decision that will affect the rest of your life.' Two pages of charts, graphs and carefully cut out news stories followed. Dad -- a corporate VP -- wanted me to know that journalism was documented as the lowest paying career for a college grad. Was I sure I wouldn't like to go into sales? How about marketing?
Five years later, I don't own a fancy car or big house. But I still wake up every day wanting to go to work.
The people you work around are important, but I think the satisfaction and joy you get out of what you do -- whether it's cooking, dancing, number crunching, writing -- makes the time you spend there worthwhile.
Lee - 5/18/2004 2:25:00 PM
really, really good coffee is important


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