Author Brianna West recently wrote in Medium Daily Digest “We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate between what they really love and what they love “the idea of”.
In doing so, she reminded me of the diversity of purposes for work among my clients and the courage it takes to pursue the right fit whether it’s what they love or not.
Doing, of course, can be a huge, sort of collective verb. It can mean anything from professional activity to avocational experiences to caring for others to stealing time for yourself and doing absolutely nothing with it if that’s your intention. Having to love what you do as a condition of validation can be such a burden!
For purposes of this blog, I’m going to confine myself to Professional Activity as the designated form of doing. And I’m going to tell three short stories.
Bella is 59 and involuntarily retired 6 years ago when her job was eliminated. Her husband, Bob, died last year and when he did she lost the medical insurance benefits that went with his employment. She qualified for Cobra, but it was nearly beyond her means. Her solution: take a lower paying, ¾ time job that would be accompanied by health care benefits until she qualifies at 65 for Medicare. She had already had a high pressure retail career. She didn’t want that again. In the years since her involuntary retirement Bella had grown used to having discretionary time and was loathe to return to having none. She had interests but was leery of passions because every earlier time in her life she had pursued them they ended up owning her instead of the other way around. Instead, she wanted to sell what she wanted to offer: experience, maturity, reliability, good critical thinking skills, and the ability to get along with all kinds of people.
As Bella and I created her vocational search action plan together, we were both clear that she wanted “Right Fit Employment” that would meet her needs but NOT look or feel like her next, all consuming career. This meant her story would be different, her networking would be different, and her resume(s) would have to be tailored to the opportunities she discovered. In the end she discovered 3 job opportunities that met all of her needs and she knew she could have a fine time at any of them. She chose the best one, free of the burden of failing or having made a bad choice if she didn’t absolutely LOVE her work. She – and her new employer – had made a fine, best-fit-work job.
Kevin, 47, was the “survivor” of several different high tech jobs. His wife, Lisa, was too. Between them they had amassed a fair amount of savings. They were both hard working professionals with absolutely no expectation of permanent employment. And they thought they needed to take a year off regularly, maybe not the same year for both of them. In our work together to create a dual vocational plan, we discovered that they both wanted “shorter term” jobs of 2 years max followed by a year off followed by another couple of years of work. They weren’t worried about not being able to re-enter the workplace and they also weren’t worried about whether or not they totally loved their work. Their network was full of younger people not confined by the old employment rules. Instead they were, frankly, motivated by money and the opportunity to participate in something that could be built and sold. Their passion was focused on the end, transition state of the game, not the 2 years it would take to get there. In fact, they were incredulous about the notion that they should LOVE their work. Being good at it plus the financial end state were what motivated them. And they really liked the idea that they would have different years off so that whoever wasn’t working could be home with the kids, maintaining their home, and being supportive of the working one.
In the end we developed a model of “right fit” employment that rotated, allowing each of them to work and then take time off from work. And they weren’t driven by the total love of their work. This was true for their friends and colleagues, too, one of the possible freedoms of high tech and entrepreneurial lives.
Rhia, 60, is a family law attorney. She thought making Partner in a big firm would be the epitome of success and she could coast from there. She would love her life. That was 18 years ago. What she knows now is that loving her work isn’t the primary metric. Instead the primary metrics are 1. Building/being in control of her own calendar and work load, 2. Having her clients write her performance review through referrals rather than the Managing Partner doing it, and 3. Finding some greater work/life balance than she was experiencing.
When we did the vocational work together, we were not particularly surprised to discover that she had lost her need to love or dislike her work, as if those were the only two categories. Instead she wanted “best fit” work that matched her primary metrics. She was tired of other attorneys asking her if she was burned out. She no longer needed to love or hate it. Instead she wanted it to be a match for her now.
In the end Rhia chose to leave the partnership and join a national online law firm. Kind of like a private practice with colleagues and referral systems. It has turned out to be a great solution for her.
If you LOVE your work that’s great. We are all happy for you. If you like it but don’t want to measure that part of your life by the LOVE Standard, you won’t be alone. You have lots of options.
What role does LOVE serve in your professional life and how is it a benefit or a burden? If it isn’t love, what are the best metrics for you now in your work life?