“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
2,500 years ago in China, Confucius was a scholar, a philosopher and, presumably, a pretty great guy. But on one thing — loving your job — he was wrong.
It’s one of those sayings I’ve heard repeated dozens (if not hundreds) of times for as long as I can remember, and it’s one that still gets my attention. What do I love doing so dang much that it wouldn’t feel like work?
Let me be clear: I have a nearly daily love affair with this world and all its opportunity and wonder. But I am certain that everything — everything — feels like work sometimes. Sometimes it even feels like hard work. Like draining work. Like not-sure-if-I’m-working-or-dying work.
The most loved job may be planning, creating, teaching, parenting, designing, serving, or performing. It is that thing that resonates deep inside your being, with reassurance: “This is what I was born to do.” But sometimes it’s still work. If you love to design buildings and your client is hard to please, it’s work. If you love to bake bread and one day the flour delivery is spoiled, it’s work. And if you love to parent, you know that there are moments in each day that are work, often in the hardest possible ways.
Right now, the job I love is work, every day. And it requires me to make an effort, every day. When I get home, I feel like I’ve worked hard all day. I know this time will pass, but right now, it’s work, and it’s hard.
I’ve had jobs where I regularly imagined myself doing something else — in some cases, anything else. But this is different. This is the job that I honestly cannot picture leaving. When openings are posted across listservs, I usually don’t even open them. I can’t imagine a job that is more rewarding, both professionally and personally, than the one I’m in right now. I’m very lucky, and I don’t take that for granted.
My husband teaches, and early in his career he was wrestling with the question of whether or not he would be a career teacher. (It’s scary and sad, in fact to know the alarming rate at which new teachers leave the profession over the first few years.) One night he posed this question:
“For me, is teaching like a car? Or is it like a marriage?” Because when a car breaks, or gets old, or requires unpleasant effort, you buy a new car. But when a marriage requires effort, you get to work and do your best to weather the storm.
There are plenty of people with enjoyable jobs that aren’t a calling, or that are more “car” than “marriage.” But the key is to remember that all jobs — loved or not — are work. And if you come home at the end of a day feeling like you’ve worked, it doesn’t mean you don’t love your job. Perhaps the Confucius quote reflects a simpler time, or a different interpretation of the words “work” or “love.” But his words have become a sort of subconscious truth in our culture, while at the same time minimizing the value of hard work. Loving a job and working hard are not mutually exclusive; they are two sides of the same coin.
Confucius was a brilliant man. But I propose a more realistic and holistic view of having a job you love:
Choose a job you love. Keep working, even when it’s hard. Your rewards will be great.