Advice for the Long Haul – What Do You Love?

We use the word so casually. Love. I love my family. I love pizza. I love my job. It’s all about context, right? How it is said, the moment it is said, who else is around when you say it – even the tone and inflection you bring to the words when you say them.

After over 38 years in the workplace (I won’t count the years of dish washing at the catering house and clerking at the local drugstore) I have come to one very important distinction for the “I love my job” crowd. When someone tells me that, I frequently ask – what do you love about it? And this gets to the key element – what is the work that you love?

I used to say I’ve had an accidental career, now I can see it is not so much an accident and I was following a path. It wasn’t a planned path, but it wasn’t accidental either. I was doing work I enjoyed. I was doing work that challenged my current knowledge and led me to new learning and new insights. I was loving the work itself. The problem-solving and solution creation. Those times when I was dissatisfied – the learning had slowed and I needed to find something new to stretch further.

If you think you are “right on track” for your career plan – then good for you. For many, I suspect, you may feel good about where you have been, but uncertain about the future and what’s next. These tips are for you.

  • Your job is a set of tasks and outcomes that someone is holding you accountable for. Inside that mess is the treasure – figuring out how to continuously improve upon the work itself. Exploring how others have conquered the work and identifying tools and techniques that may even eliminate the need for some of the work. If you hate the to-do lists of tasks you are accountable for, then do something about it. I have had a few jobs I hated, but I still loved the work inside of solving the puzzle.
  • Do you like to build things? New systems, processes, or approaches? Great, but don’t get bogged down in finding an ultimate solution. Almost nothing you create today will stand the test of time. Your legacy will ultimately be in who you are and how you work, not in what you created.
  • Incubate, don’t obsess. I have had many difficult issues to work on, and many of them take months. I am content to let the facts emerge and roll around in my head until the picture comes clearer. I don’t open my work computer at home and spend an hour or two in work every night. Your brain is an amazing tool, and it’s still processing while you engage with your family and with other non-work activities. Things get solved over time, and not always in the immediacy that some might like.
  • Be realistic, and listen to feedback. I was determined, early in my career, that I could be a manufacturing plant manager. I had the precursor roles, leading units within a plant and filling in for managers when they were on leave. That was a realistic goal. At the same time, I listened to those leaders who pushed me toward the work I do today. They helped me see the difference between a tangible role that looked like “the top” to me and how I could better serve my work needs by continuing to develop organization design capabilities. The people who work with you know what makes you tick better than you do. Listen to them.

That’s it. Solve problems that interest you, don’t throw yourself into work at the expense of your family, and listen to those who have experienced you at your workplace best.
Love your work, not your job. And I mean that kind of “love” that is somewhere in between love of family and love of pizza.

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