There’s a famous saying–If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. While this kind of thinking can be inspirational, it is also unrealistic. There’s the fact that your passion might not pay enough to cover your living expenses, or at all. Also, it’s extraordinarily rare to find a job you love 100% of the time.
Unless you are in a tiny minority of people, there will always be things that you don’t love about your work. You may enjoy the travel your job requires, but you hate tracking your expenses. You might like the challenge of working with customers but feel drained by the wining and dining. You may enjoy designing new solutions for your clients, but the processes of billing and invoicing aggravate you.
The trick to loving what you do is all about proportions. How do you find work that includes more of what you love to do and less of what you don’t?
Consider two elements of your work: First, there are things you love to do. Second, there are things you have to do. You can visualize these on a two-by-two diagram. Finding work that is the best fit for you involves having as much overlap as possible between what you love to do and what you must do. It also involves finding work that includes as little as possible of the things you don’t enjoy.
Every job will have tasks that you love and tasks that you hate. So here are a few questions to ask yourself to make your tedious job a little bit more exciting.
What is core to this job?
Consider what’s core to the job versus what’s peripheral. For example, working with numbers might be core to a financial role. Another role may be fundamentally about research but requires you to put together an annual budget.
If what you don’t love is core to the role, it might be time to consider a change. But if what you don’t love is just an additional part of the duties, it may be something you’ll need to learn to live with.
How much time do I spend doing the things I enjoy versus the things I hate?
It is also helpful to consider how much time you have to spend on your tasks. A good rule of thumb is the 50% threshold. If you’re spending the majority of your time doing something that you love, that’s great. On the other hand, if you find that obligations you don’t like are taking up most of your time, it might be a good idea to rethink your job choice.
What path does this job put me on?
Sometimes, you’re in a job with a bigger proportion of work you don’t love, but you’re on your way to bigger things. In this case, continue paying your dues and learn as much as you can in the trenches, even though your current proportion of work may not be compelling or stimulating. In some instances, it’s better to keep your eye on the bigger prize and buckle down.
Can I change the part of my job that saps my energy?
If the parts of your job that are necessary but not fulfilling sap your energy or run counter to your values, you may want to consider making a change. Years ago, a superstar on my team asked never to work with a specific type of company because its values were antithetical to hers. We regularly assigned those consulting roles to others who didn’t have the same disagreements. Bottom line: Ensure the parts of your job that are necessary, but not your favorite, don’t require you to compromise fundamental personal principles.
What to do when the answers don’t satisfy you
You might be wondering, what should you do when the mix of what you love to do (and what you have to do) isn’t to your liking?
First, do your less-favorite elements of your job brilliantly. Your credibility with leaders and teammates will increase when they can count on you to complete the most mundane tasks effectively. Few people want to work with someone who believes they are too good for some jobs. At the same time, you can also communicate with your manager about what you love to do, and share your longer-term goals with them. They may be able to help you develop in the direction you want to grow.
If you find the proportions of what you love to do and what you must do aren’t right, you could seek another role, or ask if your company can reassign you. You could also work with teammates to explore any potential adjustments–perhaps your colleague loves to do what you don’t and would be more than happy to do more of that type of work.
The key here is to be conscious and intentional about your work, so you can make choices and empower yourself about your short- and long-term opportunities. When you’re realistic about the mix of your job–and the less exciting tasks it may include–you’ll probably find that doing work you love is 100% possible.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.