Finding Fulfillment at Work
Theodore Roosevelt said this about work: “The best prize life offers is
the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I don’t agree with him
entirely. I think that dynamic relationships are probably the best that
life has to offer, and I suspect that having children and grandchildren
probably rank somewhere near the top of the list also. But I do agree
that one of the best things in this life is the chance to work hard at
something that is actually worth doing.
When I reminisce about my time in high school and the friends
I made during those years, I am always amazed at how so few people
end up doing what they thought they would do when they were
in high school. Most people seem to find their way, but very few do
exactly what they imagined they would do when they were in high
If you had told me while I was in high school that I would become
a successful author and speaker, the idea would have seemed nothing
more than absurd to me. Luke, one of my best friends from high
school, often reminds me of an incident that took place in my English
class during my senior year. Our teacher, Mrs. Grace, was handing
back our latest papers, reflections on The Heart of Darkness, I believe.
For some reason, I was never able to find my way into the good graces
of that teacher. I had tried hard in the class, and for the first time in
my life I was struggling—hopelessly, it seemed—to get a good grade.
Nothing I did was ever good enough in that class. Mrs. Grace walked
around the classroom handing out papers. She dropped mine on my
desk, and I discovered that she had awarded me a grade of one out of
a possible twenty. This seemed like the final straw. Surely putting your
name on the paper and demonstrating that you had actually read the
book, both of which I had done, was worthy of at least five, maybe
even six. But no, apparently not. Luke reminds me that I screwed the
paper up into a ball and threw it over my teacher’s head and into the
trash can in the corner of the classroom. My classmates roared. Yes, if
you had told me in high school that I would become a writer, I would
have just laughed.
Today I spend my life speaking and writing. What an enormous
privilege! I never lose sight of that. I am constantly in awe of the life I
am living. Day after day, people seek me out to ask my counsel on any
number of issues, but after relationships, the most common struggle
in people’s lives today is with their work. They don’t feel appreciated.
They don’t feel that they are living in their genius. They feel that they
are wasting their lives and that they could be doing so much more.
They feel that their creativity is not being tapped, and they yearn to
make a more meaningful contribution. The world is full of people
who are miserable at work.
I love speaking and I love writing. The speaking comes much
more naturally to me than the writing, but I love both, and they seem
to feed off of each other in a rather dynamic way. Is everything about
my work life perfect? Of course it isn’t. There are a lot of hotels and
airports, it’s always a hassle to find a good meal, something or someone
is always running late, and the glamour of travel wears off very
quickly. There are a lot of wake-up calls at 3:30 a.m., and on those
days it often takes me a little longer to grow into an attitude of gratitude
about my life. A couple of weeks ago, I was at home and had
decided to sleep in a little. I was lying there in bed semiconscious,
and the phone rang. I picked it up, said, “Thank you,” and hung up. A
minute or so later, the phone rang again. My mother said, “Why did
you hang up on me?” I had forgotten I was at home and thought her
first call was my wake-up call.
But I love my life and I would never trade it for anyone else’s. I
have found something I am passionate about. I get to do what I love,
and for that I am so grateful. I never wake up and think, Oh, I have to
go to work today! In fact, I very rarely think of what I do as work, but
I suspect that the people who surround me would probably tell you
that I work harder than anyone they know.
We all spend too much time working not to be able to experience
a deep sense of satisfaction from our work. Fulfillment at work and
enduring happiness are inseparably linked.
The words of Lin Yu-t’ang, a writer, translator, and editor, lend a
powerful perspective to our reflection at this point:
So much unhappiness, it seems to me, is due to nerves; and bad nerves
are the result of having nothing to do, or doing a thing badly, unsuccessfully,
or incompetently. Of all the unhappy people in the world,
the unhappiest are those who have not found something they want to
do. True happiness comes to him who does his work well, followed by
a relaxing and refreshing period of rest. True happiness comes from
the right amount of work for the day.
Let us endeavor to find the right work and then seek to do the right
amount of that work each day. With all things, let’s turn to God and
ask him to lead us to the work he created us to do, the work that will
grow us in the ways he wants us to grow. Prayer in all things. It is so
easy to set God and his help aside, and it is always a mistake.
From Perfectly Yourself
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