At dinner on Sunday evening my father in law says, from nowhere, that the way to enjoy your work is to make sure it doesn’t involve other human beings. I tell him that, for me at least, the opposite is true.
In a way I can understand his jaundiced view because he worked most of his life in the prison service. He spent his days with outliers, and outliers can be troublesome and challenging as well as brilliant and fascinating.
Before that he’d driven buses.
“Did you enjoy that?” I asked.
“No”. Then, after a moment of reflection,
“It would have been fine without the passengers”.
“Perhaps you should have been lorry driver”, I offered unhelpfully.
The feeling that working with other people is a problem stems from an inability to separate ourselves from them. People can only genuinely effect us in a sustained and damaging way if we are unclear about where we end and they begin. If I could not detach myself from the stories people tell me I would not be able to remain standing beneath their combined weight.
It is healthy separation which gives birth to genuine empathy.
If you ever heard yourself say “everything would be fine if it wasn’t for you”, you probably don’t look at yourself as closely as you might. Taking responsibility for the path we take is surely a better strategy than bemoaning the drab landscape of the one we actually walk.
So, perhaps the route to an enjoyable work life is to do something you’ve chosen, rather than something which seems to have chosen you.
I am walking through the woods with the dog. It’s barely 8am but it almost feels springlike. The path winds around next to the motorway along a stretch of road I used to drive every morning to my job in an office. Today the cars are nose to tail and nothing is moving. Picking my way through the muddy path I am aware of the metaphorical juxtaposition between my life in the past and the one I have now. This didn’t happen by accident. I made it happen because I decided to. That’s how we enjoy our work, by determining it and accepting that little else is, or need be within our control.