“Do what you love and love what you do.”
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
There are so many men I’ve met over the years who have struggled to find contentment in their jobs. And boy, do I get it. There’s this latent feeling of discontent, that what we’re doing isn’t good enough if we’re not following our passions. We need meaning and purpose in our daily grind, or else each day grinds us to bits.
Guys, I feel ya.
Every. Single. Day.
Yet, I know we’re missing something. Really, how many of us are living our dream, doing what we love and finding full peace and joy so that we never feel the drudgery of work? While I see the quotations and I hear the stories, I don’t think I’ve actually met anyone who has arrived. I think the twelve or so who have are the ones who wrote books about it. The rest of us are left wondering: what happened?
Five Ways We’re Robbing Our Work of Joy
1. We put our hope in better circumstances
When we put all our eggs in the basket of the passionate job, we’re desperately without hope till we find that perfect job. In other words, we can’t be happy until we’ve reached the perfect occupation. From a very realistic perspective, it means we spend our life waiting for the moment when we can finally be happy. College is the pathway to real joy. “Lower” jobs are the stepping stones to the one, true job. What happens if we don’t make it to that job till we’re forty? Fifty? Sixty? Is there no joy to be had before that time? Circumstances alone can never be the joy we wait for—because they may never come and we may waste away waiting.
2. Passion and reality frequently don’t match
This is the one we don’t want to acknowledge. We love the story of the man without legs becoming a basketball star or the homeless college dropout turned bestselling author. And yes, it’s extraordinary when it happens. Truly. But they’re extraordinary because they are by definition not ordinary. Ordinary is that all of us are unsuited for a whole number of jobs. I’m 5’ 10”, can’t jump, and my reflexes leave a lot to be desired. Most sports are just not in the picture for me. I knew a guy in college who loved choral music with a passion, but God didn’t give him the vocal cords to pursue singing to the level necessary. His passion and his abilities didn’t match. This isn’t settling—it’s trusting in God’s good providence that he made us the way he wanted us to be, each gifted for different things.
3. It’s a dream that comes with a certain economic status
I’ve spent enough time around people in lower classes to understand that the dream of following your passions is a luxury. This isn’t some rant against the poor or a political statement. It’s just that when you have no resources, awful credit, no connections, and a system stacked against you, there’s simply the need and desire to survive. The dreams are dreams to not die, go to prison, or end up addicted to drugs. It takes a certain level of financial stability to be unhappy with a job simply because there are things you’d like better.
4. Our identity comes from what we do instead of who we are
The first question to ask when you meet someone: “What do you do for a living?” Our primary way we view ourselves and others is by the occupation we hold. And how nuts is that? Jobs change, layoffs happen, illness strikes, injuries spring up. Work isn’t a constant, as much as we may want it to be. Besides, if the goal of the American dream is to spend no more than 27 years working between college and retirement, then less than half the average lifespan will be spent in that occupation. And even then, something like a quarter of our week is spent working and the rest is spent…doing other stuff. That amounts to something like 8% of our lives is spent “living the dream,” assuming we spend our whole career doing our dream job. It’s just insane to let that be the marker of who we really are.
5. Work is good, just cursed
The assumption in these inspirations quotations is that there are certain types of work not worth doing. A dispassionate job well done has no value. If you’re not doing what you love, you’ll spend your life “working” instead of…what? Living? Thriving? How dare people settle for being a trash man or a fast food worker?!? So says the people who pay others to pick up the trash and fry their food. What we really mean is finding the work we believe we’re worthy of. And doesn’t that turn the conversation on its head? What pride and contempt do we display when we disparage some professions over others?
What work needs to be
What we’ve missed is that all work is good and noble, made by God for us to do in service to one another. Every job is important. And work is part of what God made us to do. He created us to work, to tend the garden of his creation. We each have our role in it and each role is soaked with dignity.
But we have to face the reality of a broken world. What we’ve missed is that the work we dream of isn’t different than what we’re already doing. Each job is filled with thorns and the thorns will always make us bleed. What we really want is to stop bleeding. The empty offer the world is peddling is that if you just find that perfect job, then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll have glory. But the glory comes from being exactly who and where he wants us to be. That’s so much more than the place you earn money. Because glory also comes through the friendships, the family, the neighbors. Each act of love, each menial task done in obedience shines with glory. “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”
What makes this so hard and so discouraging is that we’re asking the Father for inward change, which is so much more painful and difficult than outward change. And it has to be something we ask for and receive. I could give you all kinds of tips about how to tough-guy your way through a crappy job: Don’t complain. Count your blessings. Refuse to give into negativity. Consider those who have it worse.
But it’s so much more than that. It’s about having a better view of history than just your current place in it. It’s about seeing that God is not as dumb or incompetent as we think. He knows what he’s doing and it’s exactly the right thing. We serve a Savior who took the road of suffering to give us a future of glory. Yet we’re surprised when he’s invited our road to glory to be filled with suffering, too. And our suffering is far less than anything he encountered. I plea for all of us to consider ourselves as less and others as more. We need to see the dignity of all work. We need to find joy in service, not in fulfillment. And perhaps, just perhaps, a fuller fulfillment will meet us through our own personal humiliation.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Dads, glory in this: in Jesus, we are so much more than what we do.
We are sons of God.