“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
— Steve Jobs
I like Steve Jobs. And I like to follow my heart. But, with due respect, I still think this oft quoted passage is problematic and needs a more balanced perspective—here are some of the reasons why:
1. Not everyone has the privilege of doing “what they believe is great work.” Millions of people in the world are doing jobs that may not have been their primary career choice—and that is putting it politely. For example, they may be making the small parts that no one sees, the parts that run the machines that guys like Steve Jobs envisions. They are the tasks many of us would call drudgery, but many are simply glad and thankful to have the work at all, at a time when choices are limited. Perhaps they’ll make a change later, but should they be miserable until then because they don’t believe the work is “great work?” (Changing their belief is therefore the place to start, which brings me to #2.)
2. And about the claim that “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” it seems to me that what you believe can be changed. You don’t have to marry your beliefs. Beliefs are just beliefs and they change with our maturity level and with our experiences and with 150 other reasons. Heck, they change from day to day—they sway like the palm trees in the wind and can be influenced by our ever-changing perspectives. Thank goodness; that means we’re growing! Thus, I would change “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work” to “the only way to be truly satisfied is to find the greatness in what it is you do.”
3. Finally, toward the notion that, “like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on,” I would like to serve up a reality check—what makes great relationships great, is when all parties understand that it’s not always fun and it doesn’t always “feel good.” All relationships have their ups and downs. And equally so with the work we do. It won’t always be the way you dreamed it would be, you won’t always feel like going, and you might one day feel like you don’t like your job anymore. It seems to me that the truly liberated and wise will take those days in stride and remember not to get caught up in those temporary feelings. And from a clear connection to the importance of what it is they are doing—because everything has its place and purpose, along with a good dose of gratitude, they will undoubtedly maintain a consistently cheerful attitude.
We might liken this cheerful person—who finds the beauty in what it is he does—to the Greek mythical character, Sisyphus, who continues to push his rock with a smile…without telling himself that the task is ridiculous and absurd.