Archive for July, 2009

July 13, 2009

How To Love Your Job

A former colleague recently asked for some advice about a career change –and – whilst I was thinking about my answer, a bunch of people actually provided their answers – most about what degree, program or opportunity to dive into next. For what it’s worth – I’m confident ALL of them missed the mark.

(They all are more successful my most normal measures, by the way – better titles, better salaries, bigger houses, blah, blah, blah. But I’m happier, and better adjusted, methinks).

Anyway – I was thinking about MY work –and –after about 25 years in the work force – I’ve changed my mind about how to assess what is important – so – here we go:

My first work was in youth ministry, for a Catholic parish. My job was to engage and work with young people, and to help them feel happy, comfortable, challenged and a part of that catholic community.

At the time – I was pretty sure that it was young people and the Catholic tradition that made that such a great job. And while some of that is true (I did enjoy both) – the truth is that I had a GREAT manager (yes, a Catholic priest) and terrific co-workers. We worked really hard, for about 14 grand a year. It was fun. We even did a fake exorcism for someone’s 40th birthday, and once rented a hearse for another 40h. I don’t want to discount either the young people or the catholic tradition –but having fun, funny, smart and energetic co-workers was terrific. The fact that some of the young people were also fun, funny, smart and energetic was also terrific.

My next work was for a group home for adults with developmental disabilities – also connected to the Catholic tradition. I was running a home, balancing the books, tracking down board members and volunteers and doing some direct work with adults with development disabilities.

At the time – i was pretty sure that it was the catholic thing and the adults with developmental disabilities that made me love that job. In hindsight, though – I was working with musicians, artists, writers,poets, philosophers –and while we all shared a common goal (a better world for those folks with disabilities) – it was the work that we made fun because WE were fun. We grew up, we made mistakes, we learned, we fixed those mistakes and made new ones. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll ever have a soft spot in my heart for adults with a developmental disability – they need and have earned my respect and support. But it wasn’t a career in developmental disabilities that made my happy – it was my community.

Of course – all good things end or change –and when that goodness changed (exceptionally poor leadership) – I began work at a theatre company, raising money for after school and main stage programming.

At the time – it was easy to think that fundraising was the cool part (believe me – not so much) or the theatre. And to be sure – both of those things were great. Better yet, though – I was surrounded by people that loved to read, experiment, act, try out new things. The fact that some of them ended up being more narrow in their beliefs about theology than I brought that work to an end – but  -you can see why I enjoyed that work.

I spent 6 years after that working for a nonprofit tech firm. I love technology – I’ve been a geeky toddler, kid, teen, young adult, and now middle aged man. And I was helping nonprofits – my do-good streak runs deep.

At the time – I thought it was just the technology, or the nonprofits – but – not so much. When the leadership suffered, when my heart and brain were no longer engaged, when work was all work and no fun – it was time to move on. But it wasn’t the work per-se that changed – it was a lot of the people. A lack of humor, not wanting to learn, unable to cheerfully make a mistake, unable to thoughtfully consider a different opinion – that all added up to not a great place to work, even though that agency is still DOING good work, if you get what I mean.

And now? I’m at a small for profit company. Still doing tech. But here’s the difference – my co-workers are (again) smart, funny, really good at their work. They own their own mistakes, and try to own mine, too. They like to learn. They like to try new things. They acknowledge the past but don’t live there. They hope for (and get) new opportunities, options, ways to grow.

SO – when you next start thinking of a career – consider the who more than the what. We all read Tom Sawyer as kids – he made painting a white picket fence a community activity – and everyone wanted to be a part of that. So look for that in your next work: Community, a place to laugh, learn, grow. A place where you can make a mistake (or two or three) and be embraced anyway. Maybe you’ll be licking stamps, coding the next search engine, writing the next great American novel, or saving the world. But pick your co-workers first.