Studs Terkel’s book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” was originally published in 1972 but its message still resonates today.
Here’s a short excerpt from the introduction of the book It is a quote from one of the people interviewed and featured in the book. Her name is Nora Watson whose job was writing literature for a health care institution. She was the daughter of a preacher.
“Nora Watson may have said it most succinctly. ‘I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.’”
This quote has always stayed in the back of my mind ever since I read it in college in the late 1980s. I grew up with parents who didn’t just have jobs but were pursuing callings. My father was a labor organizer and civil rights activist and my mother was a lobbyist for gender equality and juvenile justice issues. Prior to that she also worked in the labor movement. That is how my parents met.
Growing up it didn’t occur to me some people just had a job where they clocked into in the morning and clocked out in the evening. I thought everyone found work that they loved and were inspired by a calling.
But that is not true.
It can make a real difference to have a calling. My first jobs out of college were working in arts administration. It was an interest of mine because I loved the arts especially dance. I had danced since I was a child. It was an activity that lit me up from within.
I didn’t do that well in those arts administration jobs. I was actually laid off from my first job post college.
In my early twenties, I met a fellow dancer at my next arts administration job. We decided to leave the organization we worked for and start a dance and drama studio and we did it. She was in a dance company that I soon got involved with. I loved the teaching and choreographing. I was all in.
Unfortunately, when I was thirty, I had a back surgery that did not go well. I ended up with chronic pain and balance problems. I had to quite dancing and could not longer teach dance. This was hard because dancing was my intrinsic interest so I had no trouble being motivated to get my work done.
So I decided to go to graduate school while I worked on re-habilitation of my body to see if I would dance again. The answer turned out to be no. However, graduate school was the best I ever did academically.
After graduate school I really struggled to figure out what to do. I worried that if I didn’t find something else of intrinsic interest I would fail. Having ADHD makes it hard to get things done. I was scared to work in a job that didn’t inspire me. I felt I would fail.
Here I was without a job, with some physical limitations. I realized one of the reasons I was successful in graduate school was because I had some coaching. I thought about coaching as my new calling. I could do it from home or over the computer or phone that would allow me to have some control over how long I sat, when I could lay down, etc.
So I got trained as a coach. In the process I learned about ADHD coaching and that became my new occupation. Dance was dance, and indescribably important to me. But I found out that I also loved coaching those affected by ADHD. I had an intrinsic interest and once I knew about the field, I felt called to become a coach and work on my own.
While being an entrepreneur was scary, a third of those affected by ADHD become entrepreneurs by their early thirties. This is contrasted to the 14% of the general population that become entrepreneurs.
Not everyone should work for themselves. It is risky and scary.
For those of you not interested in starting your own business, please at least try to find a job that has at least a great level of intrinsic interest. As I said before and we all know – we struggle to get our work done, working in a job of little interest to you just makes it even harder.
You probably won’t like all aspects of your job but that is true for entrepreneurs and just about anyone who works. But if there are certain aspects you enjoy and care about it will be easier to get the work done. That will make your work environment more pleasant.
Whenever possible seek out positions that are of great interest to you. We struggle with just working 9 to 5 where we are not enthused about what we are doing. It just makes it that much harder to be successful.
You spend a lot of time at work, make sure it is enjoyable if possible. Seek a calling versus a job if possible.