I think back to my early summer trip to Australia, with friends Carole and Dee. One morning the two decided to kayak. I declined, wanting a little time one-on-one with Lizard island. As I took my walk, I ran into one of the guys who worked at the resort, and he’d just helped my friends into the kayaks.
“Your friends are out there,” he smiled and pointed to the ocean. “What will you do today?”
“Whatever I want,” I answered, smiling too.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” He looked at me, and nodded.
Here was a fellow, probably my age, who dove in oceans and captained boats and taught others what he knew. He seemed to have found a magic formula, which begins with knowing what you love to do. Then doing it, which transforms those 8 or 10- hour days to moments live with fun and purpose.
Really enjoying what you do starts with good “job fit”. In other words, doing work that’s true to how you tick. In my new book, Fully Human, I have a chapter about job fit. I kick it off with John Clark’s story, a friend who graduated college as an engineer and worked in his field for 20 years, but secretly yearned for a new start. While living in San Francisco he and his wife, Sue, fell in love with the coffee shops springing up there, and he conjured up a dream to start his own coffee line. To make the dream real, the Clarks cut up their credit cards, and moved to the southeast where housing was more affordable. John started with a used roaster he bought for a song on EBay, and eventually founded Vienna Coffee House, a hugely successful brand of coffee and teas in the southeast U.S.
Why can’t we do what we love, and love what we do? I know we all need a paycheck, but we can cut up our credit cards too; it’s just too important. The first job, our primary one, is to do the work of knowing ourselves. What fires you up? If you asked your best friend that question about you, what would they say? Then take some risk to follow that path, because the truth is, clinging to what you already know could be a greater risk: your work could become a life sentence.
The opposite can happen too—you can begin in work you love, and over time it morphs into a life sentence. My media distribution work changed over the years from relationship building, which I could do authentically, from the heart, to hard-core legal negotiations. I could do that work with forced effort and will, but my heart wasn’t in it. And truthfully, my DNA wasn’t well aligned for it. Fortunately I had plenty of things to do with other areas I supervised, so I staffed a distribution team who enjoyed the daily shenanigans with our irascible clients, and I assisted with strategy, resource deployment and being the final voice of the company when needed.
Work can be a vocation. The word ‘vocation’ is rooted in the Latin word for ‘voice,’ or calling. The Irish writer David Whyte worked as a naturalist guide on the Galapagos Islands until there came a time for him to transition to a “larger language than science.”(1) Today he is an internationally acclaimed poet and wisdom teacher. He found the larger language that was true to him.
If you’re lucky enough to consider not just the paycheck, but making work choices with heart, follow what it’s telling you.
(1)”Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity”