If you’re trying to find your bliss in your work, you’re looking in the wrong place

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For the last few decades, there’s been a certain breed of self-satisfied would-be life coaches out there spreading this idea that the key to professional happiness is to “follow your bliss,” that if you “do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I get the feeling this quote was written by someone who literally never worked a day in their life, at least not at a real job. Nevertheless, it has been a very popular saying among people who like to present themselves as wise in a wind-chime tinkling, “embrace the universal energy” metaphysical kind of way.

But, here in the physical realm, Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And for every herbal tea-sipping spiritual healer type, there’s a coffee-swilling cynic hell-bent on bringing the conversation back down to Earth. Ironically, at least in this situation, a lot of us gravitate to journalism.

For several years there’s been growing pushback in the form of counterarguments to the “Do what you love” concept. First of all, it just isn’t practical. Many jobs – check that – most jobs aren’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but they have to get done. That’s why people get paid to do them.

And even if you did find something you really enjoy that you can get paid to do, once it’s your job obligations get attached, as well as standards, rules and deadlines. You can’t always do things the way you want; you have to answer to other people. Soon that thing you love doing isn’t the thing you love doing.

Oh, you still may enjoy doing it compared to a thousand other kinds of drudgery you could be stuck doing, and at least you have that going for you, but don’t kid yourself. When you’re doing it for a living, it’s work.

But for a long time now, we’ve been fed this idea that self-fulfillment should be part of the compensation package for any “good” job. This creates a smug, sanctimonious class who spread the “follow your bliss” mantra, the implication being that it has worked for them, the further implication being that their success is due to some innately superior aspect of their character or force of will, rather than admit the role that life circumstances and dumb luck have a lot to do with how our lives pan out.

The “do what you love” philosophy also implies that anyone who’s doing a job that isn’t their “passion” is, at least on some level, failing at life. This leaves a lot of people put in a position where society sends them a subtle message that they should be ashamed of the way they make a living.

This attitude had caused a lot of people to have a hard time handling the frustrations of the working world. I see a lot of that among truckers. Even among truckers who like most of the daily aspects of the job, there’s a frustration at feeling like they are looked upon as second-class citizens because they do a job that isn’t society’s image of bliss.

Recently, while doing my job, I’ve met a couple of drivers, Dave and David (yeah, that’s their real names) and when I compare my impressions of the two it brought the issue to mind. I interviewed Dave as he ate at a truck stop before heading out on an overnight drive. He said he drives at night by choice because there are fewer hassles – less traffic, less trouble finding parking when it’s time to knock off. He’s figured out how to shave the stress off the job.

Dave started driving 10 years ago out of necessity when his business went belly-up. He does it because it’s the best paycheck he can make, plain and simple.

A week or so later, I spoke with David in a morning phone interview as he was also starting his daily run. He was still basking in the glow of a major award he’d won a few days earlier that recognized his long, successful career.

David has been a truck driver since the mid-’70s, and he told me if the Good Lord himself came down and give him a chance to go back and do it all over again, he would – exactly like he did it the first time.

They do the same job, and they seem to live on opposite ends of the occupational bliss scale. But they are more alike than you might think. For one thing, they’re both grandfathers – in fact they have the same number of grandchildren. And on any given day if you gave either one a choice of being on the road or hanging out with the grandkids, they would immediately hang their truck keys up on a nail somewhere.

Dave and David are a couple of graybeards, they came up in an era when people were taught work was for making a living, not to make life worth living. Relative job contentment aside, they both know the real happiness in their lives lies in what they do off the clock, once the paycheck is in the bank.

You know, I’ve met all kinds in my profession, from some of the most famous movie stars in the world to street-corner panhandlers and all points in between. No matter what their position in life, I never know how well I’m going to click with them until we start talking. Interviewing people can feel like happy hour with an old friend or like a nightmare blind date.

I can honestly say I’m glad to have met both Dave and David. They gave me something to think about, and that’s when this job is a pleasure.

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