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Should You Keep Your Day Job?

How many truly content people do you know? If you can tick off your answers on one hand, consider my second question: Why are so few people truly satisfied? One reason is our natural, insatiable sense of curiosity. Discovery is an essential part of life. When we stop exploring, we start dying. Much of today’s workplace dissatisfaction stems from our innate desire to discover new roads or new ways to travel old ones.

How many truly content people do you know?

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If you can tick off your answers on one hand, consider my second question: Why are so few people truly satisfied?

One reason is our natural, insatiable sense of curiosity. Discovery is an essential part of life. When we stop exploring, we start dying. Much of today’s workplace dissatisfaction stems from our innate desire to discover new roads or new ways to travel old ones.

When discovery ceases, aliveness dies. And, even if no one else notices the death in your soul, you notice. At those times in our lives, we wonder where the road less traveled might take us. We are sure that alternative paths exist, but we’re not sure how to find them.

We need a “Trip Checklist” to help reevaluate our load and repack for a new adventure. You’ve seen trip checklists at luggage or camping stores. They suggest essential gear and preparation for various trips and help lighten the load by eliminating unnecessary stuff. They demonstrate that the key to good packing is asking good questions.
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The inquiry, “Should you keep your day job?” strikes some people as a romantic fantasy, but I cannot fathom why. After all, it is an essential question. We spend sixty percent of our most precious currency working. Work both gives life to personal enthusiasm and vision, and kills our independence and spirit or even makes us wish we were dead.

In “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC” (Harper Books, 1993), author and spiritual thinker Frederick Buechner offers a compelling image of work as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Does your job meet these criteria?

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If your job is your right livelihood, it will make you glad over the long haul, despite its daily challenges. Even the bad days will ultimately gladden you, because they offer the kinds of challenges that help you to discover, grow, and meet a need you feel passionate about.

If your day job does not gladden you in these ways, you need to consider quitting. When you devote sixty percent of yourself to something that does not align with your talents, passions, and values, or that is not true to your nature, you are most likely deepening the world’s hunger rather than helping to alleviate it.

At times we trade our passions for the practicalities of making a living. We wanted to pursue a career in art but our parents (attorneys) encouraged us to attend law school. Of course, there are times when we must work for money rather than meaning. We may not be able to simply quit a job that does not make us glad. But financial concerns do not excuse anyone from continually reviewing their Trip Checklist. A livelihood that is not yours, no matter how secure or how highly valued by society, parents, spouse or others, devastates your self by violating your natural talents, passions, and values.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.” I received an e-mail from a Fast Company reader who felt her music was still playing somewhere deep within — unrealized. She wrote:

“I just got through reading your interview and for the first time in my life, I understand what I have been feeling — the music inside me. What I didn’t realize is that many of us feel this way. I am at a crossroads. I’m looking for a job — not just a job, but something I can give my talents to, give my sixty percent to. I’m searching the Web for that new job. Is it reasonable to assume that I might find it? Do some people actually find that music? Should I quit my day job to look for it?”

The answer to the first two questions is, Yes! To answer the third question, this reader had to turn her gaze inward.

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To know where she is on the trip, where she wants to go, and how to get there, she must learn to rely on an inner sense of direction. She must go through her own Trip Checklist. She must learn to unpack and repack her bags.

Unpacking simply means taking a long, hard look at what she’s carrying — her day job. She must determine whether her talents, passions, and values are aligned, or if they’re unnecessarily weighing her down.

The road ahead can indeed be the best part of her journey. It can present a chance to discover and play her music — an opportunity to connect her deep gladness with the world’s deep hunger.

The discovery road has many detours. When you consider keeping or quitting your day job, don’t just consider primarily what you ought to be doing with your life and don’t allow outside expectations to distort your true nature. There is much that we all ought to be doing in the world. But is it your vocation? Are you gifted and called to do it? Is your particular career a place of intersection between your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger? Or, is it someone else’s perception of how your life should look?

What brings more contentment in the long run: keeping your day job or honoring your soul? You decide.

by Richard Leider

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