April 3 – Finding joy in work

“Enjoyment is not a goal. It is a feeling that accompanies important, on-going activity.” (Paul Goodman)

We all want that feeling, don’t we? We all want to take part in activities that give us a feeling of joy just to be doing them. I want to wake up in the morning eager to get to the day because I know that the things I do will keep a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and a warmth in my heart.

It has been said that if you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. This aphorism isn’t true because the chosen job isn’t hard, or because it doesn’t require great effort. It is true because the joy of performing the job is so great that the work seems light.

I have never been in a job that gave me that sense of joy every day. In fact, it is hard for me to imagine a job like that. In my experience, every job has an underbelly of work that isn’t particularly enjoyable. There will always be some set of tasks associated with a job that will cause you to have days that are not filled with joy.

One of the best jobs I ever had was when I ran a help desk in the early 1990s. I had a very motivated team working with and for me. The work was challenging and always changing. There was a great sense of accomplishment every day because I and my team had the opportunity to help people be able to get their jobs done. We solved problems that made people happy and more productive. Sometimes the problems we were called upon to solve were difficult, and would take far longer than we would have liked. But there was still that sense that we were making a difference.

Part of the job involved maintaining early file servers. We ran a series of small computer rooms around our building, and had hundreds of people who attached to the servers. The servers weren’t always reliable, and we would sometimes even be called upon in the evenings or on weekends to make things work well.

I think everyone on that team enjoyed the job. We were known to be a happy, boisterous bunch that had many laughs along the way, and produced at a very high level.

Even this job, though, had days that were less than enjoyable. Part of my job was to manage the budget and to buy new equipment. I had to deal with vendors on pricing, delivery times, and features for hardware and software. We had to create purchase orders by hand on multi-part forms, then walk them around for signatures. No matter how important the items we were buying, every approver had a set of questions. For larger purchases we had to include memos that were drafted, and re-drafted. As we’d be going for the next signature, there would be a question that required a new memo and more justification. At the end of all this we would usually end up buying exactly what we set out to buy, but in the meantime days, weeks and even months were wasted.

As enjoyable as that job was, it had an aspect to it that made it less than enjoyable on some days. What got me through the drudge side of the job was the joy I had in working with my team on our daily work. That joy sustained me through the plodding work of budgets and purchase orders.

There is no such thing as a perfect job in life. There are always going to be aspects that are just, plain work. For me, what gets me up in the morning is the notion that I can get through those moments and days of drudgery and get back to the enjoyable part of my job. These days it is knowing that not every day will be filled with budget and forecast assignments, and that there will be many days of working with my team to help make those whose projects we manage more productive and successful.

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