After my last post, I thought of a few more things it’s helpful to consider when deciding whether to pursue a career that strongly interests us. Like I said before, I’m not specifically coming out for or against seeking the work you love — that’s a decision each person must make for themselves based on their own wants and needs. I’m pointing to questions it’s important to ask when making that choice.
Doing work we’re deeply engaged in usually goes hand in hand with being vulnerable — exposing parts of ourselves it feels risky to share. If you’re a blogger, I’ll bet you’ve experienced this sense of vulnerability when writing on something you strongly cared about. “Do I really want people to know I feel this way?” you may have found yourself asking.
Often, revealing these parts of ourselves feels risky because they’ve been criticized or ridiculed before, and they feel fragile. If you were told “no one thinks you’re funny” when you were little, allowing your sense of humor to emerge in something you’re writing is likely to feel unsafe. Someone might make a similar comment, and then you’d be forced to relive the pain of that old wound.
The Perks Of Disengaged Work
This points to a reason why many of us are doing jobs that don’t deeply engage us. In most jobs, we don’t need to bring out tender parts of ourselves to do our tasks. You don’t usually have to expose your sense of humor, your compassion, or some other vulnerable aspect of yourself to draft a PowerPoint, plug values into a spreadsheet, or review documents.
I know many people who prefer this approach to work. After all, they risk getting hurt enough in their personal relationships — why bring that vulnerability into what they do for a living? And it’s okay with them if working feels mechanical, because they find exciting things to do in their off hours. As the saying goes, they work to live — they don’t live to work.
Can You Separate “Work” From “Life”?
Although it’s easier in some ways to “work to live,” that approach, like anything, has drawbacks. For some of us, when we don’t bring all of ourselves to our work, we’re nagged by the worry that we aren’t giving our gifts to the world.
To take my earlier example, it’s true that, if you do work that doesn’t require you to express your sense of humor, you don’t take the risk that someone will criticize that part. But by locking that part away, you also keep people from enjoying it — you deny people a gift.
Also, the idea of “working to live” — disengaging from your work, but showing up fully in other activities — sounds good in theory, but the reality is messier. You can’t work for 8+ hours a day with a detached, emotionless attitude and expect that not to spill over into other parts of your life.
I know this from experience. I took pride in the work I did as a lawyer, but I wouldn’t exactly say my most vulnerable parts shone through in it. I spent my working days in a cool, rational headspace, which was ideal for what I did. The trouble was, I found myself, out of habit, slipping into this mindset with friends and loved ones — relating to them like they were colleagues or adversaries.
If you do something you really care about, you’ll almost certainly have to let others see parts of you that you normally keep under wraps. This involves a risk, but also a great reward, because offering all you have to give brings a feeling of aliveness that’s exhilarating.