Wrong ideas about work

This week I’m self-indulgently featuring my own tweet about work.

Here’s the tweet:

I need to clarify something about this tweet:

I didn’t mean you should spend 10-15 years looking for some elusive perfect job or work. That would be like looking for your soulmate – doesn’t exist!

Instead, my real point is to take 10-15 years to figure out how you can enjoy work. This might mean changing professions, but it might also mean changing your mindset. Usually, it means both.

You see, people generally hold a bunch of wrong ideas about work and that leads them to a miserable 50 year career.

So in this post, I’d like to expand on some common wrong ideas about work and how you can fix them.

Here’s the list of wrong ideas:

  1. Work is the soul-sucking thing I do every day to get money.
  2. I need to do work I’m passionate about.
  3. I need to know exactly what I want to do with my life.
  4. I’m not qualified to do this work.
  5. I need this job because I need the money.

Now you might think, “these are totally reasonable ideas!” And you’d be right!

Here’s the problem: These ideas can be right for some people, but wrong for others. The problem arises when it’s actually the wrong idea for you but you fail to see that. This means you get unnecessarily stuck by a self-limiting worldview that wasn’t actually true for you.

Personally, I fell prey the worst to 1. And stared into the abyss of ideas 2, 3, 4 and 5. Thankfully, I’d watched enough movies and read enough articles to know the dangers of them and proactively worked to circumvent them.

Let’s break each idea down:

1. Work is the soul-sucking thing I do every day to get money.

When it’s the right idea: Some people genuinely have to do shitty jobs because they need the money, are in a bad job market, need the insurance/benefits and therefore can’t afford to switch. This is an awful situation to be in. And the tiny handful of people who make it out of this cycle have my utmost respect.

When it’s the wrong idea: If you aren’t trapped by money, job market, insurance/benefits, thinking this way is self-limiting.

Basically, what you’ve done is put on garbage-tinted glasses (the opposite of rose-tinted glasses). So even if you find work that has some good in it, all you’ll be able to see is the bad.

This prevents you from enjoying the good things about your current job or finding a better job for yourself because you assume any job you find will be bad.

How to fix: Go find people doing similar work to you who have a rose-tinted outlook. Ask them how they see their jobs and why. See if you can step into their shoes, wear their glasses and view the world from their perspective. Do it enough times and you’ll find someone whose rose-tinted world view resonates and feels achievable to you.

At the beginning, this will seem crazy. But keep doing it, and soon you’ll have a path for how you can change your idea about work. This will take years. Worth it.

Personally: At my first job, I thought work was this random thing you do and that my career was a foregone conclusion. I was very ill-suited to my job, languished and was very unmotivated. Needless to say, I didn’t do a good job.

I can’t remember the day I realised this wasn’t the case. But I know that it felt like a switch had been flipped and once I realised I could actually find work I enjoyed, I became very motivated and have never looked back.

2. I need to do work I’m passionate about.

When it’s the right idea: When you’re already doing a job you love.

When you feel the need to do work you’re passionate about and you are indeed doing it, there is no better feeling. Jackpot! Keep going.

Just try not to be too smug about it or give advice along this vein. Most people aren’t so lucky.

When it’s the wrong idea: When you don’t know what work you’re passionate about and are doing some dumb ass job you’re most definitely not passionate about.

As a result, you feel dissatisfied with life or like you’re doing something wrong because the point of comparison you’ve anchored yourself to is “I must be passionate about my work”.

How to fix:

  1. Instead of passion, refocus on finding traction and momentum in your work instead. This can be internal = find yourself devoting hours to doing it and doing it well. Or external = find lots of customers or peers telling you you’re doing an amazing job. When you do, you’ll likely to find work enjoyable. This is easier to achieve than some vague notion of passion.
  2. Find parts of your job that you like and fixate on them. Try to nurture and grow yourself to get more of those types of projects.
  3. Find things outside of your work to be passionate about instead.
  4. Do random work-related projects on the side until you find something you’re passionate about.
  5. Read Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

When else it’s the wrong idea: You’re working in a job you love and are passionate about and it’s killing you and making you burn out.

How to fix:

  1. Realise there’s more to life than work.
  2. Do extreme things like quit – your mental health always comes first (assuming you have the financial buffer to do so).
  3. Keep being passionate about work but get better at delegating and accept that it’s okay if work is being done not as well by people who care less than you.

3. I need to know exactly what I want to do with my life

When it’s the right idea: When you’ve been a bum for years and have never done a job you felt committed to. And you need the money. (It’s totally fine if you’re a useless bum but filthy rich.)

If this bum is you, then yes, devote all your excess resources into finding a job/community you care about.

When it’s the wrong idea: When you have financial buffer and feel like the world is your oyster but you feel paralysed by all the choices you have. You feel pressured to pick the perfect option and end up picking nothing.

Why it’s the wrong idea: People always overindex on certainty. When in fact, you should prize optionality more highly. You’re actually in an amazing and enviable position of getting to try lots of different things. There will never be the one thing you do with your life. So just accept that and have fun at the buffet of life!

When else it’s the wrong idea: When you don’t need the money and have a job you’re reasonably content with but don’t feel like it’s your calling. You want to switch jobs but worry about switching in the wrong direction because your current job is actually okay. At the same time, you have no idea what the right direction looks like.

This is needlessly paralysing.

How to fix:

  1. If you definitely want to switch and are decently skilled, then accept that you’ll always be able to revert to your old job/industry and make the leap.
  2. Realise that making the leap in the wrong direction is fine because you’ve now gathered valuable information which will improve your chances of picking the right direction next time.
  3. If your job is fine, get better at practising equanimity, contentment and mindfulness.

4. I’m not qualified to do this work

When it’s the right idea: When you have an inflated sense of self belief. Understanding that you can’t simply waltz into any job you want is important. Sometimes people con themselves and their workplace into thinking they can do a job they can’t. That causes a lot of harm to everyone involved.

In those occasions, realising you aren’t qualified is a good thing.

When it’s the wrong idea: When you want to do a job you’re not qualified for and think you will therefore never be able to do it.

If so, you’ve accidentally subscribed to the end of history illusion. This is where you’ve tricked yourself into thinking your personal growth has stopped and where you are now is where you will always be.

This makes you give up on a dream job you might otherwise have easily gotten in 5-10 years’ time.

How to fix: Just add a “yet’ to the end of the statement: I’m not qualified to do this work yet. Recognise it might take you 2 years or 2 decades to get there. Then simply put in the work.

5. I need this job because I need the money

When it’s the right idea: When you have kids and a mortgage and debt and bills to pay and you’re barely making ends meet and have no savings.

When it’s the wrong idea: When you have 6-12 months worth of savings in the bank. But feel trapped because you need to keep up appearances and with your friend group and family.

This leads you to stay in a crappy job for no reason other than a big TV, fancy car and branded shoes.

How to fix:

  1. Find different friends. Social pressure is real. So in some cases, it’s actually easier to find new friends with a lifestyle you can sustain than try to keep up with richer friends.
  2. Find friends who define success non-financially and in the same way you do. So you can all chase after the same thing that isn’t money.
  3. Set clear boundaries for your family. Tell and show them how happy and secure you are (that’s usually what your parents really want for you anyway).
  4. Accept yourself and put your ego aside.
  5. Accept you’re playing the long game or a different game. Be clear to define what success means to you.

Here’s the list of 5 wrong ideas again:

  1. Work is the soul-sucking thing I do every day to get money.
  2. I need to do work I’m passionate about.
  3. I need to know exactly what I want to do with my life.
  4. I’m not qualified to do this work.
  5. I need this job because I need the money.

Like I said in my original tweet, fixing this stuff takes 10-15 years.

Sometimes it takes that amount of time to figure out what you want. Other times, you know what you want but it takes that long to get there.

Whatever the case it’s tough and the key is to accept that it’ll take time.

What wrong ideas about work do you have?

Are there more wrong ideas I’ve missed out? Please let me know!

Seeya next Monday,


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