Finding Happiness: Do You Love Your Job?

Wall Street Journal (emphasis mine):

Mr. Magness’s parents say they no longer ask when he’s coming to visit or about his plans. “You can’t buy him the things you might buy a normal kid, since he doesn’t live in one place,” says his mother, Linda Magness. Mr. Magness’s father, Mark Magness, a retired Air Force lawyer, says he spent 23 years in a job he couldn’t stand. So he avoids pressuring Mr. Magness to find traditional work. He admires his son’s resourcefulness and spirit, but says he still struggles to accept that Mr. Magness lives in a van. “It pushes all these buttons,” he says. “There was part of me that said, ‘You need to be secure; security is important, happiness can wait.’ Though watching him, that’s become less obvious to me.”

Happiness can be esoteric. It encompasses such a wide range of quality and intensity that the word is only the briefest introduction to the experience itself. Finding happiness in what you do for a living is an integral part of the art of living. It delights in the unexpected.

Just over a year ago, I was fired from the first real job I ever had. I had been there for just over two years. Two years in which I poured myself into my work, and struggled to survive and then excel in a job I would have been barely qualified for had it made only normal demands of my ability and energy. One would have expected this to have been a jarring and painful experience. Yet it was deeply liberating, joyful, and ultimately very satisfying. I found myself able to compete for positions that offered far more flexibility and pay, with healthy work environments.

The one year anniversary of this would have been enough to have reminded me of this. But my friend Brad recently left the same company, and his experience echoed my own in many ways:

Thursday marked a major event in my life. Not only was it the day that I quit my first job, but it is also the day that I learned how awesome it feels to know you don’t have to go back to a place that was sucking the life out of you.

I should have this sadness about me because this was three years of my life. This was three years that I poured myself into my work. Three years that I gave everything I had and then even more to do my part to make this company kick butt in the IT space. Three years that I sacrificed sleep, vacation, health, friends, family, and everything else imaginable to do a job. But aside from missing a handful of people there, I don’t have any sadness at all. You know why? Because after these three years, this company refused to even acknowledge my 2 week notice, refused to pay me out upon leaving, and refused to even acknowledge that me not being there might have a slight impact on them.

There is, of course, more to both of our stories. But the essence is that when we are able to free ourselves of negative attachments, the experience of that is not a wrenching sadness, but rather a mix of calm and happiness. Which brings me back to the story of Jason Magness. His life isn’t perfect by any means (he himself worries about how to balance his urge to be with people and to be free to explore). But that freedom he experiences goes beyond feeling and escapes into a kind of conviction, a way of approaching life.

For me, I’ve found that in a number of places. One is in cultivating a sense of detachment at work (which can be quite difficult at times). I find this allows me to see the situation I’m in with greater clarity, and to be able to respond appropriately.

I wish Brad the best of luck in his new job, although I know he won’t need it. Great skill comes from a mix of natural talent and hard work, and he possesses both virtues. I also wish for him the same thing I wish for myself. The chance and ability to better see what happiness truly is, and find more of it in how we spend our time in this life. To that end, while I am not quitting my own job by any means, I have taken the first steps towards reawakening the burning purpose that has been patiently simmering on low since I moved from Massachusetts down to Virginia. Perhaps I will post more on this later. It is a spark of an idea that seems impossible at first blush, and upon introduction finds a warmth, curiosity and interest that suggests a world of kindling.

And I seem to have meandered off a bit. So I’d like to pose my question again, but phrase it with a little more courtesy towards its meaning: Are you happy?

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2 Responses

  1. Your grasp on what matters in life is both refreshing, in that not many people nowadays understand this simple truth, and comforting, in that knowing you I know that you will spread this truth like wildfire to anyone who will turn an ear. Kudos to you.

  2. My mother, grandmother and I had an awful tri-generational argument recently about more or less these questions/ideas. My grandmother is angry that I’m living with my girlfriend and going to art school instead of… Whatever it is she wanted me to do. She was a doctor. She’s still mad at my mom for being a mother/painter/free-lancer instead of having a high-powered career. Now all that anger is doubled, since I’m going even farther down the path my mother started.

    What I realized is that it comes down to a fundamental, irreconcilable difference in our worldviews. If I had to choose one thing to value above all others, one thing to measure the success of a person’s life, it would be happiness. I would much, much rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable, if I had to pick one.

    My grandmother, on the other hand, would choose money — undoubtedly she would choose money. And she is, by far, the least happy person I know.

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