My friend Johnny has had more jobs than anyone I know. Ask him to tell you a work story and you might hear about the evenings he spent at a recording studio supervising amateur musicians, or about the bizarre clients he has designed websites for, or maybe about the time he worked at a sausage factory and the machine broke, leaving him covered head to toe in sausage meat. I’m not making this up.
And then there’s my old flatmate, Ayesha, who looks like she’s stepped out of the web page of a street fashion blog or a vintage clothing vendor on Etsy. Ayesha makes a living for herself buying clothing in thrift shops, then altering, modeling and photographing it, and selling it in online auctions for at least ten times the price.
Antony is a full-time tattoo artist who is also the creator of a skateboard brand that has been carried in the nation’s biggest skateshop and maintains a website that serves to keep people informed on what’s happening in the national skateboard community.
Josiah fixes airplanes, Dan travels the world filming promotional videos for a travel company, and Kevin coordinates work opportunities for people with disabilities. Duane oversees a program that he created ten years ago that now sees hundreds of youth workers in high schools across the nation. Emily teaches five ‘Zumba’ classes a week, Alana does post-natal follow-up research on babies born with rare conditions, Jenn makes glass Christmas ornaments, Scotty gives skateboarding lessons, Kim is an anchor on the 10:00 news, and Ella makes one of a kind dresses and sells them in consignment stores.
And I? Well I have had a fair few jobs since I entered the work force nine years ago. Thirteen to be exact. Sixteen if you include long-term volunteer positions. I have worked in hospitality and retail and social care. I’ve been a tour guide and a wedding assistant. I had a job at a toy store that I left after a handful of shifts, and I’ve had a job at a different toy store that I loved so much I went back to it three times. The highest paying job I’ve had gave me more anxiety than I care to mention, but the work was meaningful and I can honestly say it changed who I am. On the other hand, I have had jobs where I made next to nothing doing meaningless work, but the management and co-workers were so good I happily stayed as long as circumstances allowed.
So what is the thing that makes a job ‘good’? It’s not the salary. Money isn’t nearly as good a motivator as love. And how does one find that elusive ‘job I love’? Why does my friend Andy come alive designing websites, when I would rather gouge my eyes out than sit in front of a computer screen all day? I think the answer lies in this: purpose.
Some find purpose in a job that is an outlet to their personal creativity, others find it in executing an event or a presentation seamlessly, and still others find it in a grueling physical environment where they see the results of their hard work at the end of every day. But even beyond one’s job description, purpose can be as unique as one makes it. That perfect job is found where your desires and goals meet the needs of the world around you, whether that corner of the world is a construction site or a daycare center or somewhere in between. When you know who you are and what makes you come alive, you will know how to find purpose in the work you do.
When I was 19, I had my heart set on working with high school students. I had just come home from a life-changing experience overseas and I was passionate about mentoring younger girls and doing outreach work with youth in the local community. When a youth work job opportunity at a local church fell through, I was devastated. But I needed income pretty badly so I ended up taking the only job I could get – as a check out girl in a supermarket. I absolutely hated that job! It felt like a massive waste of my time and energy when what I wanted to be doing was working directly with high school kids. I suffered through that job for a month, constantly frustrated at the lack of purpose I felt there. In all reality, the most tragic thing about that job was my attitude. In a true life lesson, or perhaps just irony, with about a week of work left at the supermarket, I took a moment to look around me and realize that every shift I worked, I was surrounded by high school students. Nearly all of my co-workers were teenage girls, and for the entire duration of that job, I whined and complained about my unrealized passion without looking past the end of my nose to see that I was rubbing shoulders every day with the exact demographic I was dreaming of making a difference in.
Perspective makes all the difference in the world.
I now know myself well enough to realize that any job where I am interacting with people is where I come alive, but I don’t need to be a personnel manager or hold a job in human resources to feel that I’m serving a purpose. I’ve loved waiting tables, because it gave me the opportunity to brighten someone’s day with conversation or good service. I’ve loved working in retail, because I find it fulfilling to help people find exactly what they are looking for. Through learning experiences and chance encounters, I have found my niche as a youth worker – I absolutely love spending time with angry teenagers.
In 2006, I started working specifically with skateboarders. I did it for free, for the love of it, through a non-profit organization. I relied on the generosity of individuals and churches, and I got by because the sense of purpose I found in reaching out to skateboarders far outweighed the reality that I enjoyed fewer luxuries than the majority of my wage-earning friends. After three years as a volunteer, seasons changed and I moved on from the non-profit organization only to be given a job at a local skateshop, which gave me more face to face interaction with young skateboarders than I had ever experienced. And they paid me for it! Working in a retail environment has served as a catalyst for youth work and built many meaningful relationships with young people in need. I have continued voluntary youth work in my free time running a bible study for skateboarders. And this year I am broadening my horizons volunteering as a youth worker in the city’s largest high school while I study towards a diploma in youth work, and continue to enjoy part time work at the skateshop.
If you had no limitations, and could do anything in the world, what would it be? What is the thing that makes you come alive? Maybe it’s time to explore the possibility that purposeful work is not as elusive as you think. The answer may lie in a change of attitude, or sacrificing some pay and starting as a volunteer. Perhaps your field of purpose doesn’t yet exist and it’s time to take a leap of faith as an entrepreneur. As the saying goes, ‘You may be disappointed if you fail, but you’re doomed if you never try.’