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Some thoughts on Work + Love

Exasperated, my client said to me on the phone, “I don’t get it… after all these years, all these moves, why can’t I find something I love to do? I just want to love my job!”

This is why she’d reached out to me for coaching help. Work didn’t feel good.

More specifically, it didn’t feel like love.

She had checked the boxes she’d planned to - a post graduate school job in her industry, and then a series of strategic career moves that got her more title, more money, more visibility, landing her at one of the world’s great dream companies (more on that later). On paper, perfect, but it still didn’t feel right. Work wasn’t delivering the emotional punch she was expecting.

What was she expecting? Some of the same things we expect from romantic love.

The initial turn on: “Tell me everything I need to know about you, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about me”, the flutters and giddiness when we feel someone - or someplace - really gets us, cares about the things we care about, sees us in a similar way to how we see ourselves, as capable, devoted, original, important.

The transition into the comfort of mature love: I get you, you get me, you appreciate and cherish me, and I’ll do what it takes to make you feel the same. Even if things start feeling a little predictable, we’re grounded in something sincere, lasting. We’re in this together.

But this client, like so many, wasn’t getting either the rush or the long term fulfillment of love from work. It was fine, but disappointing.

What gives?

Are we all to be kissing frogs for the duration of our careers? Are some of us just luckier in love than others? If we find love, can we keep it?

There’s not one answer about how to fall and stay in love with our work, or even if it’s necessary to love our jobs to have a wonderful life.

If your love story feels a little messy right now, here are a few thoughts to keep you company:

We were sold a fairy tale…

It’s not a surprise you think you’re supposed to love our work all the time. We’ve had the message presented as true north for years. Consider the common advice given by well-intentioned parents, advisors, teachers and mentors, the fodder of graduation cards galore:

Find what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life!

Yeah, but how?! I’ve written before about the pressure to figure out what you love early and then devote your life to it, while the truth is that most people take a long time to sort out what it is they love (or even like) to do professionally.

My friend and fellow coach Jamie Holbrook likens the expectations that we’ll fall in love with work to the Disney princess myths that shaped our distorted understandings of what romantic love would look like, except this version goes like: girl meets work she can’t resist, work shows it loves her back through promotion, pay and lots of perks, she and work build a beautiful life together.

Reality is a lot more complex.

We don’t fall in love, we grow in love…

Love at first sight isn’t something we can count on. The things we love take effort, commitment, forgiveness, and a choice to invest.

Think of anything else you love: Your partner or your family. Your hobbies - gardening, cooking, travel. The home that you’ve set up, repaired, updated, maintained. A community at your house of worship or your gym, or in your book or hiking club, the crew from college who have been with you through ups and downs, and who are still the people you turn to when you need a laugh or some support.

The love you experience from those parts in your life comes as a result of effort. You expend energy of all kinds to build and keep that love. Maybe you love the effort itself (the time in the kitchen, the phone calls in between reunions, the drives to and from school with your kids in the car), or maybe you love the outcomes (the spring garden in bloom, the holidays when the family reunites, the trip to the Grand Canyon). Either way, love doesn’t just happen, we make it happen.

So it is with work + love.

Your frog is someone else’s dream match…

Simply said, it’s easy to borrow someone else’s dream without knowing we’re doing that. We wonder why we can’t love what other people so clearly love. My client mentioned the dream company over and over again, the one where she’d finally landed, the one where she currently feels so empty.

“What makes this the dream company?” I asked, genuinely curious.

She responded with silence for a few minutes.

“It’s the one everyone I went to grad school with had on their list. It’s the one everyone wants. I don’t think it was my dream at all, but I didn’t have an ideal place in mind, so this one fell into that spot.”

It’s hard to grow love with something that’s not intended for us.

Yet so many of us are looking for love in all the wrong places, thinking there is a fixed list of must-have requirements for the perfect professional match, leaving out the opportunity to be surprised, or to find good things where we least expect them.

What if it’s not only love we’re after, after all...

Being hooked on the idea of love can prevent us from experiencing other good things work has to offer.

Ask yourself: If there have been periods of my life (maybe now?) when I couldn’t say I loved my work, what other positive or useful experiences were available through that work?

How about satisfaction or creativity, appreciation or connection, meaning or purpose? Being challenged or learning? Doing something important to you, where you could feel the impact of your work?

Revisiting the idea that loving our work is the only way to go is not about lowering our standards, or letting ourselves ignore important signals from the lack of love, or deciding that we should settle because the idea of love + work is so far-fetched.

It’s only to offer that it’s important to understand our expectations (their power, their biography, their malleability) and to use discernment in our quest to feel a particular way about work.

I hope that there is a time in your career when you can honestly use the word ‘love’ to describe your experience of work - it can do the good things for us that loving something can do.

And if that’s not where you are right now, I know there is a path to create more of the experience you want.

Let’s talk about it.


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