I was one of the lucky ones. I ended up in a job I truly loved, through serendipity one might say. I worked hard, including many/most evenings and weekends, because there was always more than enough to do to keep going past the 9-5 routine. I loved the sense of purpose, the sense that I was contributing to a larger good, and the sense of community. I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it. Not everyone can say that, I know. But, as well, not everyone would say that working that many hours each week at the expense of what else you could be doing is the smartest thing in the world. Because …
Even the best job will never love you back! That is so important to remember. An article appeared in the Guardian that grabbed my attention a few months ago with that exact title: Even the best job in the world will never love you back. So where do we find our life’s purpose? One day later an article (and podcast) appeared in the New York Times on the same theme: Why do we work so damn much? Hunter gatherers worked 15-hour weeks. Why don’t we? And news articles these days increasingly point out that large numbers of people – employees and potential employees – have started asking themselves this very question as the pandemic has dragged on, thinking, hey, perhaps there’s more to life than working so hard after all. The beginning of wisdom, even if a scary thought for employers.
The reality is that for many people, their work is/was/has been their life’s purpose. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not at all. It’s certainly better than waking up every day to a job you hate. And having a sense of purpose is what gives our lives meaning. But, whatever you do, be prepared for the reality that one day, for most of us, the work will end and we’ll have to find a new sense of purpose. This is a challenge for many who retire without having giving this any thought in advance, for those who haven’t found the time to develop any non-work interests. So, pre-retirement folks, please keep this in mind.
I won’t try to give suggestions for finding purpose in your life. We each have to find our own path. And I won’t relate the history of how we ended up working so much harder than our hunter-gatherer forebears; I’ll save that for another blog post. I’ll just give a hint that it all started in the early years of the new stay-in-one-place agricultural era thousands of years ago when someone decided to take charge of storing the harvest and realized that he (yes, a he) could get everyone else to do the work while he and his fellow leaders reaped the rewards.
I won’t try to give suggestions for finding purpose in your life, but I will try to encourage you to find that purpose. Find your passions and nurture them.
A friend posted a story on Facebook yesterday that I hadn’t heard for a long time. It’s very apropos of the question of what’s important in life, and I think one well worth sharing, even if many of you have heard this before. It’s another version of one of Stephen Covey’s seven habits for highly effective people: First Things First. As Covey advises, attend to the big rocks first; in this case the big rocks are golf balls!
The Jar of Life – Determining Your Priorities
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee….
A professor stood before her philosophy class and had some items in front of her. When the class began, she wordlessly picked up a very large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. She then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. She shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. She then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. She asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions – and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”
“The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car and so on.”
“The sand is everything else – the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” she continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”
“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Spend time with your parents. Go out to dinner with your spouse. Go for a run. Take time to read a book … or write one. There will always be time to clean the house and weed the garden, or whatever else you’d rather not be doing. Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities … The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised his hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.”
“It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.”
P.S. Some versions of this story substitute bottles of beer for the cups of coffee. Now that I think of it, glasses of wine would work well, too. You can set your own priorities!
Image sources: blogher.com, 3cheaprunners.com