Living My Purpose Despite My Job
"It sounds like you really enjoy your job at the hospital," said the interviewer. "Why did you decide to apply for a job here?"
I had just spent the better part of an hour recapping my various responsibilities and what that looked like as a patient dining assistant in an urban hospital setting. She was right. I did enjoy my job. It was not because of job dissatisfaction that I had applied to Nabisco.
"I'm not looking for another job, " I said. "I do love my job, but if I can get on here at Nabisco, it would be a great opportunity. But I'm not applying for a job anywhere else. If this door opens, great I'll walk through it. And if it doesn't, I'll happily stay put. I do enjoy the work very much."
The interviewer scribbled some notes on her clipboard. I felt confident in my answer. I was truthful and forthright. I did like my job at the hospital. I just didn't like the pay.
A few weeks later I got the job offer, and within a couple of months I said my good-byes to a job that gave me more personal satisfaction than any other job I've ever had. Except for pay satisfaction.... lol.... I have often said that if I could make the money at the hospital that I make here at the factory I'd gladly work there for the rest of my life. I L O V E D it. I know, I know, many people walk away from soul-sucking jobs for lesser pay in order to do what they enjoy rather than endure a daily drudgery. I get that, I really do.
But Money Gives You Options.
I raised my kids telling them, We do what we have to do so we can do what we wanna do.
Did you know that 80% of Americans do not like their job ?
The other 20% can sometimes come across kinda smug about it.
Hey, life is short, why work at something you hate ? Jump the ship and do what you really love !
That's cool that some folks can pull it off, I mean it, and I'm somewhat jealous about it. Yet I am grateful that I've been privelaged with a life rife with stability and financial security because I had parents who worked at their jobs and did not flit about, and I was married for many years to a man who had a strong work ethic. I once fretted about my job to him and in a fit of frustration was threatening to quit.
"Think about our family, " he said.
That was all. Personal satisfaction and soul-gratifying employment paled in comparison to the outright necessity of providing for our family's needs.
My 23-year old daughter is sort of going through this kind of stuff right now as she sorts out what she wants to do in her young life. We had a lengthy coversation about the actual privilege of even being able to think about having a job that brings personal enjoyment.
"In most places throughout time and the world people work out of necessity to feed, clothe and shelter their families. Many people do not have the luxury of sorting out if they're gonna quit and do what they really love even if it doesn't quite pay the rent.
I'm not advocating for a fatalistic surrender to the doldrums of the world's most boring job (paper clip maker, anyone ??). I am stirring up the idea that insisting our employment fulfill our need for happiness and significance may be off mark. Maybe if we settle those needs in our off hours the job remains just that : a job.
But what about pursuing passion ?
I love that there are those around us, those blessed 20 percenters, who have paychecks infused not just with dollars but also with joy. That is amazing and I hope with all my heart that both of my children get to have that, and maybe they will. Or maybe they won't... but more than discovering a job that they actually like and has decent pay, I hope they learn that living a significant life does not have to be limited to what you do for a living. A job does not have to fulfill us.
"Do you like your job?" people ask me when they discover I work at a Nabisco factory that makes the beloved Oreo.
" I love my paycheck," I reply.
I've been reading a book by an English author called F*ck It. He offers a few writing exercises to help the reader sort out what they love to do, what they used to love to do, and what they envision loving to do in their future. These lists are not limited to work, but rather to the realm of one's life. For example, some things on my Love to Do list included writing, kayaking, throwing parties, going to my cabin getaway, spending time with my kids and friends, making new friends, enjoying the first cup of coffee in the morning ... and so on. These enjoyments in my life are simple and not tied to my job, but neither are they hindered by my job.
My friend Deborah Loyd wrote a book aimed at people of faith about vocation. I love that her audience for her book is mostly Christian. When I used to be a devout Christian there was a lot of talk about knowing what your calling from God was for you life in order to fulfill your life's divine mission. I spent many a year waiting for the grand plan to unfold. I looked on with envy when others seemed to have a heavenly mandate and knew exactly what they were put on this earth to do. I prayed and prayed some more about what I was meant to do with my life. In her book, Your Vocational Credo : Practical Steps to Discover your Unique Purpose,
Deborah writes about vocation being about the whole of your life and not just divine calling or dedicated career.
Vocation is something that we would do whether or not there was a paycheck. It is a passion that exudes from our soul and transcends any particular job or career we may find ourselves in. Vocation brings joy in the midst of tedium and normal. It is simple and profound, hidden and obvious, natural and spiritual. (Deborah Loyd)
I've had several conversations with Deborah over the years about vocation versus calling versus career versus gotta-work-to-pay-the-bills. In one of those conversations she asked me to pay attention to the story arc of my life. "What do you mean ?" She explained that who we were and How we are reveals itself wherever we go and in whatever we do. For example, if you are someone who is naturally generous and attentive to helping people with resources then wherever you find yourself in the world, whether it be working as a clerk or a bus driver or security officer, your tendency to be generous will ooze out of you in all of those contexts.
I had to think about her question for a little bit and then the dots connected : since I was a little kid I am always for the underdog. When I was a teenager, I stood up with those being bullied; in just about every job I've ever held I tend to gravitate to the workers who are the least appreciated. I am an includer.
And I am a connector. I love, love LOVE to bring diverse groups of people together to enjoy one another and learn from one another. One of my most favorite ways to do this is to have parties and organize discussion groups. I am sometimes misunderstood as being spineless or lacking conviction due to my insane ability to hold multiple perspectives and respect others even when I deeply disagree with them -- I can be diplomatic to a fault -- but that is part of who I am and how I live my life in the world. It is my vocation. I love to create community, especially for those who are the most in need of community. And I tend to do that wherever I am, wherever I work and whoever is within arm's reach.
These days I am employed by a large international corporation and work in a factory making cookies and crackers (think of me when you reach for an Oreo.... just check the label and make sure they were not made in Mexico.... American made Oreos keep me employed !) I definitely have connected to a wide range of personalities and belief systems in this workplace. I have also become involved with the union recognizing the power of collective bargaining for workers, especially in today's globalized economy. Workers' rights has become an important focus of my job, and it is also a manifestation of my lifelong tendency for justice for the underdog.
My job is just a job. I don't need it to fulfill me with a sense of purpose in life.
My purpose in life is in Who I Am and How I Am wherever I go.
I know someone who is a healer. They did not go to medical school nor are they a nurse or healthcare provider. But wherever she is, she provides life giving words and helpful advice about nutrition and remedies to strengthen the body, mind and spirit. Wherever she is, she promotes healing and restoration. That is her vocation.
Another friend of mine is a teacher, though she does not have a teaching credential nor work in a school setting. But she passes on knowledge with ease and has a knack for helping empower those around her with useful information.
So.... Do I like my Job ?
Not particularly, but I do like my paycheck and the amazing diverse group of people I've been able to connect to.
But I do like my life. Very much.
I love my life. That is purpose enough for me.