Most of us will take half our waking breaths at work. As if this hefty contribution of time weren’t enough, we also invest emotionally. We agonize over a conflict with a colleague, obsess over a forthcoming presentation, rejoice in attaining a quarterly goal and otherwise live the ups and downs of our workplaces.
No wonder we arrive home barely capable of boiling water for a macaroni dinner. Work consumes whatever enthusiasm, brilliance and patience we might have possessed upon awakening. The next day we repeat the cycle of expending most of our time and energy at the plant, store or office.
In other words, work is rarely a sideshow to life. Most often, it’s the immobile core around which we find time to enjoy neighbors and family, pursue interests, find love and raise children.
Yet, the most common critique I get of my presentations is that, by helping people to make a social impact from their everyday work or to “job purpose,” I overvalue work. Our personal lives, not our jobs, are meant to fulfill. Work is merely a mechanism to affording a fulfilling personal life, say my critics.
Don’t think that I’m a dour workaholic disinterested in family, friends and fun. I’ve turned down speaking engagements because they conflicted with my mom’s birthday, a weekend of skiing with friends and, most pathetic of all, my need for sleep. Clearly, I’m not a paragon of career ambition. Like my critics, I confer more importance to my non-work life than to my work life. Most of us do. That hardly means, however, that we should accept work that depletes rather than enriches.
I baked a bland quiche once (well, OK, several times). It delivered calories and eliminated hunger pangs but had no other positive attributes. I cleverly tried to highlight the silky chocolate mousse and free-flowing alcohol during dinner conversation, but these could not redeem the meal.
Sadly, many of us have jobs like my quiche. Our labor allows us to meet basic needs like food, shelter and safety, but feels dull. We, therefore, downplay work. We autopilot through five-sevenths of our days, re-engaging with life on Friday evenings for two precious days. Yet, under the dead weight of our jobs, we’re unable to pull ourselves out of the workweek doldrums to claim a rewarding life. This explains why if we’re very dissatisfied with work, it’s almost certain (84%) that we’re not very satisfied with life. Similarly, if our job satisfaction drops by 10%, our life satisfaction drops, on average, by 6%.
Creating a fulfilling life around drab work is as difficult as creating an extraordinary dinner around a flavorless main course. It’s a heck of a lot of work for a minuscule chance at success.
It’s time we accept that our best chance at a fulfilling life is through fulfilling work. This week, I challenge you to explore what changes to your job would make it, and thus your life, more rewarding. Let me know what you discover.
 Tom W. Smith, “Job Satisfaction in the United States” (Chicago: NORC/University of Chicago, 2007).
 Happiness Research Institute and Krifa, Job Satisfaction Index 2017 (Copenhagen: Happiness Research Institute, 2017).
This post was originally published on LinkedIn on the post date and reposted here in January 2018 when this site launched.