People often tell me I’m living in a Pollyanna world, where we all are allowed – encouraged indeed – to think we can have fulfilling work that brings us joy, despite the rather pragmatic need to earn a living. Many even go so far as to suggest I’m proposing a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure at the expense of the practicalities of earning a living.
Well, here’s the thing: I have never said that we are entitled to pleasure in our work.
Meaning, yes. Delight, why not? Enjoyment, absolutely! But not pleasure – in fact I suspect that if your work is merely pleasurable, that will make it very hard for you to find joy in it.
Let me explain what I mean. For me, the word pleasure conjures up images of ‘the pleasures of the flesh’ – something that is pleasing at only a rather superficial level, is not particularly long-lasting, and even leaves you feeling a little guilty (maybe even grubby) when you remember it later. Contrast that with the word ‘enjoyment’ – something that brings real joy, something experienced at a much deeper level, and that leaves a lasting memory that we are happy, even proud, to recall time and again.
One of my signature talks is titled “Only Lazy People Work”. After some entertaining tales of my rather lackadaisical attempts at being a university student, I go on to explain how my focus on the pleasures of beer and bands (and a few other B’s I had perhaps better not mention here) meant that pretty much the rest of my corporate career was significantly harder than it needed to be. Because I stayed firmly in my comfort zone (before going up to Durham, I had sampled the delights of over 40% of Windsor’s 47 hostelries – at the time it had the greatest density of pubs in the country), and stuck with what was pleasant for me – what brought me pleasure – I missed out on a lot of the more enjoyable aspects of undergraduate life – intellectual challenge, real learning, and developing as an adult individual.
And that is what a lot of people do for their entire careers – staying safely in their comfort zone, living a life they can be fairly ‘sure’ will ‘please’ (please-sure, geddit?), rather than risk one that could allow them to consciously and deliberately choose en-joy-meant – work with real meaning and joy.
What kind of work are you doing right now – downright horrible, merely pleasant, or thoroughly enjoyable? Let me know in the comments below …