Why I Am Excited About Work

Is your work a chore, or a privilege?

Work. We all do it. A lot of us wish we didn’t have to. It’s something I have personally been battling with for at least the last 7 years.
Work has the potential to make or break you, and impacts everything else you do. Work is incredibly important, and something I am really excited about. Let me tell you why.

Work Sucks?

Work is where most people spend the majority of their waking hours. Yet at the same time we live in a world where most people are not satisfied in their jobs. Most of us do work that we don’t really care about. We work because we have to. We live for our weekends, our evenings and our holidays. We work because it makes us feel secure. We work to pay the bills.
Does any of this sound familiar?
We live in a time where there is a lack of jobs and a worryingly unstable economy. We live in an environment where a degree no longer guarantees a “good” job, and a job is rarely for life any more.
Work demands a lot from us, and we give it (sometimes willingly, sometimes not). We’re more connected than ever and a lot of us are expected to take work home, to be on-call or to answer just one more email as soon as the dreaded BlackBerry blinks.
For many of us, work is where we find recognition and significance (or at least, it’s where we try to), and forms a huge part of our identity. Work defines us. When you’re meeting new people who ask things like “What do you do?” or “Tell me about yourself”, how long does it take to drop in your job title? If you’re anything like me, not very long at all.

So What?

Hopefully you’ll agree that work is pretty important. But why am I so excited about it?
The reason I’m excited is because work gives us all chance to be fully ourselves, and fully alive.
Work represents potential. As I said earlier, it’s what we spend most of our waking hours doing. Now, you may read that as really depressing statement, or you might find it incredibly freeing. It all depends what work is for you, and how you choose to do it.
The thing about work that I’m really interested in is the step from work becoming a chore, to work becoming a privilege. If you’re one of the lucky few who have always enjoyed getting out of bed in the morning and heading to work, then good for you. But it is much, much more likely that you have dreaded work at some point. It’s pretty likely that, at least some days, you dread work now.
If you are currently in either the “work is a chore” or “work is a privilege” camp, it might be difficult to imagine that the other camp exists and is even possible. But I assure you that work can most definitely take on both of these extremes. There are people all over the world living in each of these realities.

Taking The Step

If your feet are planted firmly in the “work is a chore” camp, it may be quite a leap to jump into seeing work as a privilege in one go. It may seem like that is an impossible step to take. If so, I ask you to trust me for a moment. In the rest of this article I’ll show you what’s involved in taking the first step.
There is plenty of advice out there about work. Whether it’s about “finding your passion”, “doing what you love”, “finding your niche” or “becoming an expert”, a lot of it has been said before, over and over again.
I’m not here to bash any of that advice. In fact, there are some great ideas and some solid, practical tips in amongst all of that. But taking any of this advice as the solution to all of your work problems just won’t cut it. Perhaps in seeking freedom or fulfilment in your work you’ve already tried following the common advice (if so, you’re certainly not alone). Perhaps it hasn’t quite worked for you. It would be very easy to spend a lot of money trying to buy the answer to your work conundrum – buying into other people’s vision of work. For me though, that would be missing the point.
I’ve reached the conclusion, after years of questioning and searching, that we each have to own our work. Work is far more individual than the generic advice offered by so many on the internet, or in careers advice services. Trying to find my passion and do what I love can often be a helpful approach, but at the end of the day, it’s not always as easy as that. There is more to work than that. I need to own my own definition of work. You need to own yours too.

Where To Begin

My first step in owning my work has been to change how I see it. Whenever I’ve talked to people who say that they really enjoy their work (those who are standing firmly in the “work is a privilege” camp, or, “camp privilege” if you will) I’ve noticed that they talk about work differently from most people. They rarely talk about hours, or money, or career progression. Instead they talk about expressing themselves, feeling like they were born to do what they do, and about their contribution to individuals or communities.
They seem to have an unrelenting energy for what they do. Some hardly take breaks or holidays, yet still seem rested. Most seem like they never switch off, they never tire. These are the people who would still do what they do even if they won the lottery.
That outlook on work is nothing like how most people see it. For most people, the only reason they show up at their job is because of the pay check. And this is part of the problem. In so many jobs, we turn up and do somebody else’s work. We chase their dreams (and freelancers, this goes for some of you too) instead of our own. We remain unsatisfied because, unlike those in camp privilege, we feel like there is no way to express ourselves, to contribute or to choose our direction.

The Road To Camp Privilege

This is why I’m excited about work. I have seen people move into camp privilege, and something brilliant happens when they do. People come alive when they see work for what it can be, and out of that, so much more is possible.
The good news is that shifting isn’t too complicated. You don’t need to quit your job. You don’t need to start again. You can probably do your work whilst you are doing your job (I’m not talking about skiving – there is probably a lot of overlap when you really look at it) , and you can probably do your work at other times too.
The one little thing that people often miss is this: Your job is not your work. You work is much, much bigger.
The dictionary defines work as “Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” That is quite a broad statement. But it’s true. Work is quite a broad thing. It means a different thing to each of us, which is why we each need to own our own definition.
Your work, your real work, is completely yours to define. You choose the purpose and the result. You choose how you get there. You choose what you do. Your job is part of your work, but it is only a part.
If you can do your work whilst doing your job, then do it. If your job serves only to pay the bills so that the rest of your time is free to focus on your work, that’s fine too. An important thing about jobs is to see how they fit in. Does your job serve your work directly? Does it get in the way? Is it ok for now because you’re learning skills required for the next step? There is no right or wrong here. Your work is yours to own. It is yours to express and to contribute. Your work is yours to choose.
If you don’t know what your work is, if you don’t yet have your own definition, don’t worry. I’ll give you some tools to help with that soon. For now, the most important thing is that you know you can choose.

The Dark Side

The flip side to all of this is that if you don’t choose your work, if you don’t define the purpose you are working for, you give your choice to someone else. You’ll end up doing someone else’s work which probably won’t be pulling in quite the same direction as your own. You’ll probably end up spending a long time in camp chore.
That’s fine if that’s what you choose, but I can tell you that camp privilege is a much nicer place to be.

3 Comment(s)

  1. July 3, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Great post. You’re dead right, work is a privilege. One thing to think about – if you aren’t happy with your current work, just being out there opens other doors. If you’re sitting at home wondering why the opportunities always seem to pass you by, you’ve just answered your own question – you’re sitting at home waiting for life to come to you. Go out and get it instead! Rod

    • July 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Rod. That is great advice – “Go out and get it”. It can be so easy to wait for the world to deliver something, to wait for permission. Actually, all we need to do is choose, then go out and get it. The great thing is that once we’ve made the shift, like you say, loads of opportunities miraculously pop up!

  2. March 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Hi Chris,

    I absolutely agree – my enjoyment of my job changed a lot when I started to see my work as an opportunity and to really own my work. In the end, the job wasn’t right and I’ve moved into trying my hand at forging my own way…but I think even in the worst job, owning it, seeing it as an opportunity and privilege can really change a lot and improve your life :)

    – K

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