Your personal happiness is not a career nor is your career the end-all-be-all to your personal happiness.
Yes, I know that happiness is your job and that you’re the CEO of your own fulfillment. I’ve read a copy of Happiness is an Inside Job too, but I’m not playing semantic games here. I mean business.
There are two fundamental truths about work that you need to realize and accept as early as possible:
1) No one is going to pay you for your positive emotions (ie. “Wow, you look happy. Here’s a six-figure salary.”).
2) Nothing that you ever get paid for will be responsible for every positive emotion you feel (ie. “Wow, I have an awesome job. I will never ever need to eat food, listen to music, converse with friends, meditate, exercise, or seek out entertainment because this new career path literally meets all my needs for laughter, love, and life fulfillment.”).
Your happiness and your job will always be separate things even if you have the happiest job in the world. Why? Because the universe is bigger than your job. It’s bigger than your job plus all the other jobs that will ever exist. Hence, there will always be interesting, exciting, and inspiring possibilities to explore that are not directly connected to the work you receive paychecks for.
I don’t get paid to drink water, but I do it anyway because it keeps me alive. Ditto for eating food, sleeping at night, taking walks, watching stand-up comedy, checking sports scores, reading graphic novels, studying philosophy, taking hikes, visiting botanical gardens and a host of other activities that are essential to keeping my body, mind, spirit, and relationships alive. No one wants to give me money for these things, but I absolutely have to do them. And guess what? I love my job.
I wake up every day and I get to do professional work that I deeply believe in. And the following still remains true: the sum total of all my coworkers, customers, company mission, compensation, and creative activities related to my job will never be big enough to capture and satisfy the full range of my diverse interests.
Expecting my job to meet all or most of my needs would be as unfair and unrealistic as expecting my spouse to exclusively and exhaustively fulfill my needs for community, conversation, and camaraderie. Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t force a single relationship to be your everything and you can’t force everything you love to fit into a single relationship.
I don’t know where it originated, but there seems to be this popular misconception that you’re wasting your time if you’re mastering skills, tackling challenges, developing expertise, building your network, and playing around with ideas related to a passion or pastime that you don’t get paid for. You are now considered to be a total loser if you do any recreational activities without getting paid for them.
Similarly, there’s a common fear that if you’re getting paid for something that leaves out other important interests (ie. you’re paid to be a programmer, but you also love to dance), then you’re missing out on an authentic human experience.
We’re hesitant to pursue our passions if we aren’t sure we’ll get paid for them and we’re hesitant to get paid for something if we aren’t sure we’ll feel passionate about it. We feel frustrated when no one wants to give us money for things we love doing and we feel guilty when we accept money for things that are not the things we love. No matter what we do, we’re constantly plagued by fear and guilt on all sides.
We’ve bought into the self-defeating proposition that there are only three possible roads in life:
1) Find a job that completely eliminates the distinction between work and play.
2) Sell your soul for a job that doesn’t satisfy your passions.
3) Refuse to commit to anything that threatens to interfere with recreational time.
Here’s a fourth possibility: Realize that being human means you’re bigger than all the jobs and all the passions you’ll ever have. And no matter what you do for leisure or labor, there will always be more to who you are, more to what you want, and more to why you’re here than any specific activity you’re engaged in at a given moment in time. There are parts of you that are just too big for any one job or hobby to fulfill.
Instead of looking for your job to meet all your needs, you can give yourself permission to simply enjoy and explore things outside the context of your professional life. And instead of requiring all your hobbies to be profitable, you can let go of the need to justify everything you do in terms of dollars and cents.
The people who tell you to “do what you love” have always been right. After all, what’s the alternative? Refusing to do what you love?
Where you’ll go wrong, however, is if you make the mistake of equating “do what you love” with “If you don’t find a way to get paid for every single thing you love, you’re wasting your time.”
Keep it simple: Get paid wherever and whenever you can. And even when you can’t, enjoy life wherever and whenever you can. Never resent your profession for it’s failure to satisfy all your pleasures. Never resent your pleasures for their failure to become a profession.
You don’t need to make a career out of all the things you love, but you do need to make a life out of all the things you love. And if you’re doing it right, your life will always be bigger and better than your career.