For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me to lighten up — to work less, to relax more. And I think the hearts of these friends and family members are in the right place. There’s just one problem: I love what I do. And, most of the time, I love doing it at this intensity.
It’s just how I’m built, I guess. And because I’m working in a company of my own creation, I’m also wired directly into the circuit board of a business that’s making and doing things I really care about.
So, while I definitely see the value in taking breaks, in regularly getting out of the office and into nature, and especially in having fun with loved ones, I also genuinely enjoy cranking away at work. Best of all, I don’t feel stressed out and worn out by it; I feel energized and inspired.
I do know the feeling of being overburdened and under-rested, though. And as I’ve shared in the past, I’ve sometimes had to learn the hard way the limits of my own capacity. There’s no doubt in my mind that finding a balance between exertion and recovery, between intense focus and relaxation, is one of the most powerful keys to a good life.
There’s another key that I think is often overlooked, and that’s finding the perfect vocation: work that you enjoy so much it doesn’t really feel like work; work that gives you back more than it drains from you.
When people come to me for advice on sorting out their professional path, I like to ask them two questions:
If you were to line up in a race with 1,000 other people, what is the race you could expect to win? In other words, what is your best gift — the thing that comes so easily to you and at which you so naturally excel, very few other people could ever beat you at it?
Keep in mind, the answer to this question may not look like “a job,” per se. It may be that you have a knack for putting other people at ease, or that you are great at finding bargains, or that you know more about jazz than most other people will ever forget.
My guess is, though, somewhere in the answer to that “winning race” question is a clue to a gift, or set of gifts, that are uniquely yours. And using those gifts (and the signature strengths they represent) is probably going to be an important part of how you create a professional path that leads to a happy, healthy, rewarding future. Which brings me to my second question:
What would get you excited to jump out of bed on the day after you won $50 million? Meaning, what would you genuinely want to do even if money were no object, and you had total freedom in how you spent your time?
I like how Brian Johnson puts it in one of his PhilosophersNotes podcasts (find his Big Ideas column, “Loving What Is.”):
“What do you love doing so much, you’d joyfully put in 10,000 hours and even pay to be able to do it?”
At the convergence of these two questions (what do you naturally excel at, and what do you passionately love to do?) lies a livelihood that makes sense for you.
This is where your job won’t really feel like labor, and you won’t feel the same need to “get away from work” in order to relax. Even the stress you do experience will feel different (more like stretching than stressing), and you’ll wake up every day excited to go do what you do best.
Now, I’m willing to entertain the notion that there are some people for whom it works to go to a job that’s just OK, to make their money and then go do what they really love in their “free” time. But I don’t think that’s ideal.
I’m reminded of this story I heard once about a big-time, stressed-out New York attorney who went to Mexico on vacation and hired a fisherman with a little boat to take him out on an excursion. He had such a terrific, relaxing time, and saw how much the fisherman enjoyed his work, he immediately began encouraging him to expand his business.
“You should get a bigger boat, a whole fleet of boats, and commercialize,” the attorney advised the fisherman. “Why?” the fisherman asked. “Because this business could be a gold mine!” the attorney replied. “You could make so much more money, and then you could go do whatever you really want to do.” The fisherman thought for a moment, then said, “But I’m doing that now.”
That fisherman realized he was already doing work in perfect harmony with the cadence of his heart and soul, and that he probably wouldn’t love the “gold mine” the attorney was proposing.
So, what’s the work that works for you? Find it, and you’ll have found the key to ease and abundance.