“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ― Thomas A. Edison
The average person will spend 20% of their lives at work. This statistic factors in 21 years of preparing for work and 13 years afterwards (retirement). During our actual years of working (ages 21-67), this percentage goes up to 25-30% based on a typical 40-45 hour/week. Subtracting sleep, on average, we spend 33% of our waking hours working. You can find more details on these statistics here. But don’t worry too much about the method of statistical computation. They tell us what we already know:
We spend a significant amount of our life working. It is a large piece of our life. And it is important to think thoughtfully and intentionally about it.
I have known countless people who are happy with their work. They find meaning, significance, and joy in it. Additionally, I have met many people who are unhappy with their work and choose to spend an additional percentage of their life complaining about it. Interestingly enough, these differences in attitudes have little to do with the actual work being done—in fact, two people in the same field can have completely different responses to the same job.
This is helpful because it means enjoying work has less to do with your actual job and more to do with your attitude towards it. And changing our attitude towards work is often far easier than changing jobs. It also means that, with only a few exceptions, you can be happy in your work today. You can find joy and fulfillment in it. And sometimes, this can come with a simple change in thinking.
A 7-Step Path to Enjoying Work
1. Realize you were designed to work.
Whether by creation or evolution, humans are designed to work. This is an important part of our nature. It explains our drive to grow as individuals and as a society. It explains the internal satisfaction we experience when completing a task. It makes sense of the positive emotions we experience when resting after a hard day of work. And it may help us understand why some studies indicate early retirement has an adverse impact on physical and mental health.
The realization that we are designed to work is an important first step in finding fulfillment in it–even though “work” looks different for each of us. If we are designed to accomplish work, it is not something to be avoided. Instead, it is something to be sought, welcomed, and enjoyed.
2. Understand work takes place in an imperfect world.
Our world is imperfect because we exist in a universe full of people who often fall short. Though we each have an ingrained desire to accomplish good for the sake of others, in reality, we often function with selfish desires and intentions. These imperfections always lead to less-than-ideal working conditions. As a result, work includes overbearing bosses, deadlines, stress, under-resourced projects, tasks we do not enjoy, and often, anxiety.
The realization that these imperfections are always going to be present in our workplace allows us to accept them and move forward. Now just to be clear, this present reality does not mean we don’t fight for equality and justice when appropriate. But it does mean we can stop looking for joy in the perfect work environment because it doesn’t exist. And it opens the door to finding joy in our existing one.
3. Use work to make money to supply provisions for myself and my family.
In its simplest definition, work is a bartering tool. We work our jobs in exchange for money. This money is then given to another in exchange for growing food, producing clothing, building shelter, or discovering new medicine to keep us healthy. Because of work, we are freed to spend our days doing what we love and are good at. In exchange, we receive goods (money) to trade with someone else who used their giftedness to create something different than us.
This is the goal of work. This is also the prescribed means of providing for those who are dependent upon us. Looking for shortcuts (lottery, dishonest gain, unnecessary dependence on others) to supply provisions is often a foolish direction for life.
4. Notice how your work contributes to the common good.
If the goal of our work is to contribute good to society in exchange for provision, then our work ought to benefit society. We should spend 40-45+ hours/week producing a benefit for others. We should grow healthy food, produce quality clothing, intentionally parent children, create beautiful art, build strong shelter, develop new life-enhancing technology, research medicine to prolong life, educate others, govern society honestly, or any other countless opportunities to contribute to the common good of our neighbor and our society.
This step results in 1 of 2 possible outcomes: First, it forces us to view work differently. It allows us to wake up on Monday morning with a positive attitude and opens up the door to finding new joy in our role. We are not solely working for the Net Income box on our paycheck… we are working to benefit society. Or second, this truth forces us to find new work. If, for whatever reason, we do not believe our job is contributing good to society, we must find a new one. No dollar amount can ever equal the satisfaction and joy experienced in contributing good to the world around us—for this is the purpose of work.
5. Work ethically.
Work done ethically and honestly with proper balance will always result in more enjoyment than the alternative. These same principles of life hold true to every aspect—including the 20% we spent working.
6. Humbly and proudly accept honest compensation.
We each have skills and talents this world needs. There are other people willing to compensate us in exchange for them. Therefore, we ought to work hard at proudly developing our craft and humbly learning as much as we can from others who have gone before. It is also wise to discipline ourselves around the improvement of these skills and talents. The greater we develop them, the greater worth we are to others. And the greater worth we are to others, the more honest compensation we should receive for providing them.
7. Remove the pursuit of riches.
While honest compensation should always be sought with both humility and pride, the pursuit of riches and wealth as an end goal is always a losing battle. Riches will never fully satisfy… we will always be left searching for more. People who view their work as only a means to get rich often fall into temptation, harmful behavior, and foolish desires.
The intentional understanding of steps 6 and 7 provide great freedom for us to enjoy work on a whole new level. When we replace the desire to get rich with a more life-fulfilling desire to receive honest compensation, we open our hearts to find peace in our paychecks and greater value in our work.
Indeed, may each of us find greater value and fulfillment in our work. And in so doing, may we increase joy in this important (and essential) aspect of our lives.
Image: Vince Alongi