Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Loving Your Job: An Exploration of Utility, Passion, and Genocide

I have thinking about the topic of "what I want to be when I grow up" a bit more thanks to your great comments.

I think I left a very important point unaccounted for in my previous post. That is: should we pursue something we love as our career? And, if we happen to not be working in a field we love, is loving our job the most important thing?

It would be nice if what I loved was law, or medicine, or math, or business -- something marketable. But, what if the thing that you really love is not marketable? Then what? Do you settle for something you don't love to pay the bills and do what you love as a hobby? If that is the case, still 80% of your waking life is doing something you don't love. Depressing.

So if you are not doing something you love, then you probably settle for something you are at least pretty good at. I read an article recently called "Work Rules" by William Grieder (a prominent American journalist and economist) and he said something that punctuated this point for me. He wrote, “The inner narrative of one’s life often is embedded in one’s work, in the satisfying routines and sense of fulfillment, in the sheer pleasure of doing things well.” I think that is pretty true.

Taking Grieder's quote as being something pretty true, let's examine a few interesting scenarios:

* What if you are not that good at your job? You don't love it and you're not that good at it. You do it because you are stuck in a niche, and/or you need to work in order to live. Depressing, really.

* Would it be worse to love something, but not be very good at what you love? The thing you loved most you would not be able to derive satisfaction from in the way Grieder suggests. That would be pretty depressing also.

* Do you always love what you are good at? Maybe you are good at math, so you pursued it as a career, but you hate it. You would realize your talent was marketable, you were successful, you derived satisfaction in the workplace because you were successful, but you hated the work. I envision this being the case with some S.S. soldiers during World War II (or even some American soldiers now), or the person that flew the Enola Gay. Let's take the case of the Enola Gay pilot. Here the guy is, an esteemed and accomplished young military pilot, good at the job of flying, and thus being tasked to drop a bomb that decimated over 80,000 innocent people.[*]

[*]In these cases, it is easy to think that the person dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, or the S.S. soldiers, might have had some humanity. Maybe they thought, "I am good at being a soldier, but I HATE what I have to do." Sadly, many of these executioners were very willing and proud. Colonel Paul Tibbits, the American pilot of the Enola Gay, waved and smiled for cameras right before he took off to bomb Hiroshima. He had no regrets about what he did. In fact, he was quoted in 1975 as saying, "I'm proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it, and have it work as perfectly as it did... I sleep clearly every night." In March 2005, he stated in an in interview, "If you give me the same circumstances, I'd do it again."...Add this asterisk section([*])to the list of depressing things.

So, again, I am at a loss. Any thoughts on these things, my dear readers? Are you all working in fields you love? If you are not, do you care that you are not? Or are you okay with just makin' the buck? Comments on these, or other issues are very welcome and helpful in our exploration of adulthood.


  1. I have two observations: 1 - I think I remember learning in history class in college that the pilot of the Enola Gay had no idea what he did until after the fact, that was why he named the plane after his Mom. I'm sure your quotes are correct so maybe this is a moot point but just something to think about...

    Also I learned in a Sociology class in college that there was once a study of people who fell into two groups. One group started jobs right after highschool or college or whatever it was to make money and another grouup went after a life of doing the thing they loved, whatever that was and they hoped the money would come later. The only millionaires were those that pursued what they loved first and foremost.. Of course I can't quote the study

  2. Thank you! You are such the great commenter!

    Here is the source from his quote in 1975:

    You may be correct that he didn't know at the time, I don't doubt you are. But, later in life he was very proud of his role, and so were many others, as he was hailed by many as a war hero.

    You are right though, if he didn't know, that may change my claim a bit. But, he must have known he was dropping a bomb of some kind. Maybe he was just not aware of the magnitude. I will do some further research on him. Now I am just getting curious.

    Your second point cheers me up! But, alas, maybe those people in the study who didn't have to work to pay bills after college didn't have to pay back their student loans... :)

  3. I used to love the idea of being a reporter or journalist. I wanted to write, and have it be both meaningful and useful. Two years stringing and contributing and I was DONE. Done. I hated it. I could live a happy life never writing news copy again.

    Did I just have an idealistic view of the whole thing and became disillusioned, or did I stop loving it once it started to be work? I don't know.

    I think it's more complex than finding the right amount of interest and marketability in a profession. Even just outright following your passion will probably fail more than succeed, even if you're good at it. How many failed, passionate entrepreneurs are there for every successful one? I really just believe that people who truly enjoy their work on all levels can chalk it up to luck.

  4. I don't know this yet, but I think I would rather be a failed passionate entrepreneur turned something, anything else than someone who shoulda would coulda