A month or so before Christmas a young lady came to see me seeking help with her fear of flying. She was due to go on a trip to visit Poland’s Christmas markets but was terrified by the thought of stepping onto a plane. It reminded me of all the years I struggled with travel. Constantly living out of a suitcase and wondering why on earth I continued to put myself through it when there was clearly a huge part of me that just wanted to get out and run free.
For years I laboured under the misapprehension that what I wanted was to do something that I love. A chef, a musician, an actor (eating, writing words and singing them, or pretending to be someone else) and to be paid for it. I imagined that doing one of these things I love for a living would naturally lead to an enjoyable and happy life.
The idea of spending every day in a perfect idyll emanating from having found a way to be paid for what we like doing is a pretty compelling idea. The problem is that you’ll do those things you love anyway, regardless of whether or not anyone pays you. Conflating the idea of doing something you love with the need to earn an income is often a bad idea.
The coals in the fire of contentment are made up from purpose and contribution. We feel better about our lives when we are doing something which makes some sort of difference to the world, and so being rewarded for this is an important mark of our personal influence on the world.
For over twenty years I worked in a corporate environment that I viewed with some contempt. But it was only after I left it that I realised my disdain was misplaced and self defeating. I struggled with an inner conflict between the part of me that said I should be doing something I loved, and that making money for other people was a worthless and shameful way to live my life, and the part that said, “but you’re good at it Graham”.
Much more important than doing something you love is doing something which suits you, which you can be effective at. Something which fits your skill set. Once you find that, whatever it is, the final and most important part is to learn to love it.
Looking back on my years in corporate life I can acknowledge that I learned so much about myself, about other people, about motivation, about drive and purpose. I learned skills I could never have learned in a kitchen or on a stage, and I met challenges which gave me the opportunity to grow and develop, even if I sometimes refused to accept them. I also learned to take a broader view of contribution and to avoid the narrow and ill informed notion that working in the corporate world just makes rich men richer. What I failed to do was learn to love it simply because I could do it well.
Just before Christmas I had a visit at the clinic from the young lady with the fear of flying. She’d brought me a postcard from Poland, along with a delighted smile. These days it’s much easier to love my work. It’s easy because there is a tangible line between what I do and the difference it makes. There is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that people trust me with their innermost secrets. But more than all of this I remain totally aware that I love it because it’s what I do and not because I had to love it before I started.