It's okay to love your work, but here's the problem with loving your job

Corporate America

It's okay to love your work, but here's the problem with loving your job

Jobs are like your three-year-old child – just like kids, some days your job is literally the best thing in the world, and the very next day it seriously tests your patience. WTF, you were doing so well!

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It's okay to love your work, but here's the problem with loving your job

Jobs are fragile things. They teeter on a fine balance and tend to come and go. Sometimes they are the best things ever and make you extremely happy, and other times they suck so hard it’s tough to get out of bed in the morning. It’s all you can do – wake yourself up, drag your ass out of your warm and comfy home, and plop down in the seat of your car and make the drive, yet again, into the office.

Or, take the bus.

We all need to do it! Many people in the world, fight the good fight for the majority of their life simply so they can have a little money to subsist.

I’m a huge fan of loving what you do. I mean, seriously – I feel that it’s great to love your work and put in many hours doing it. To love the innate passion that you have for something. It’s a very good thing. But, when that passion turns into a job and correlated to your earning money, you’re setting yourself up for a potential disaster, and here is why.

The problem with loving your job

Here’s the deal. There’s nothing wrong with loving what you do for a living. In fact, a genuine love for your work makes your career that much more enjoyable. It’s awesome doing a job that you love each and every day.

Your job is a means to an end.

But, here’s the reality: For many people, a job is nothing more than a means to an end. Your job enables your work. It puts into action the thing that you love doing. The conduit, if you will. It’s the path you take to earn a living. Okay, I think you got the point.

But, jobs come and go. They also suck sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.
Right now, you might love your job. You have a kick-ass manager who genuinely cares about you and the rest of his or her employees as people. He or she gives you the autonomy to do your job in the best way that you know how. They don’t care about status reports or performance reviews. They fight for you during raise time and ensure you’re being given the right amount of money for all the good things you do for the business.

Everything’s awesome. It’s nice to feel appreciated. And you love it.
But, what happens if your company gets bought out by another much larger entity and strips out that layer of wickedly-cool management and replaces it with a new collection of mindless automatons whose sole focus is the bottom line? Suddenly, weekly status reports for employees are the norm. You’re having to put 1-on-1 meetings in your calendar every week so you can chat with your boss instead of doing the things you enjoy.

Oh, and those raises that you’ve enjoyed the past five years? They’re gone – or at the very least, reduced. Somehow they got tied directly to an arbitrary 1 to 5 number on your yearly performance review that would make the most bureaucratic manager extremely proud. You get what you get. And, you’re no longer permitted to leave at 3pm on Friday afternoons, either.

The workday ends at 5.

In other words, jobs change. If you are like most of us, you’ll probably move around a little within your industry, too (in fact, that's how significant pay increases tend to happen!). Jobs come and go. That's just the business of doing business.

If you love your JOB, rather than your work, then you might be setting yourself up for quite the roller-coaster of emotions.

I never loved my job

While I thoroughly enjoyed my work, I never loved my job I never let myself love it, not even a little. I’ve worked with some incredible companies, and also some not-so-incredible ones. It didn’t take long before I began to realize that the place I worked was nothing more than an avenue to the work I enjoyed.

My first job out of college was for a large employee-owned software development company. They earned healthy profits but did not need to impress shareholders. They sponsored company events. Overhead (aka: spending the company’s potential profit) wasn’t a bit deal so long as it could be reasonably justified. We were paid well. It was a comfortable environment for most people.

Then, the company decided that an IPO was in its future. It wanted to become public. On the market. Profit-focused.

Oh man, did things change - and big time!

Suddenly, company-sponsored events were a thing of the past. Uttering the word "overhead" was an obscenity and required an act-of-god to approve. No more snacks in the break room.

We considered ourselves lucky that the office continued to provide us with filtered water through those big blue water dispensaries.

Things changed. The job wasn't nearly as enjoyable. I felt like a number rather than a resource. I filled a billable slot and nothing more. One Friday, I went to work and was called into the boss's office. Apparently, he had done "everything he possibly could" to find me work, but no work was available.

He gave me my layoff notice and, after more than five years working for the company, a one-month severance package.

BTW: After leaving my boss's office, I walked down the hall to one of the project managers I had worked for in the past. Within two minutes, he found work for me and my layoff was reversed. Golly gee...

Love your work, not your job

I’m a big believer in a very simple phrase: “Love your work, not your job”. Over the years, experience has relentlessly drilled into me that loving my JOB just isn't worth it. It's misplaced love. To me, it's entirely unsustainable.

Jobs come and go. They change. Management changes. Companies get sold. Markets can destroy entire sectors in the course of just a few days or weeks.

Jobs are way too fragile.

Do you enjoy your work?

For me, I have always enjoyed the challenge of solving problems and working with diverse people to come up with unique solutions to deliver on a variety of disciplines. Some would say I am a bit of a generalist when it comes to my work output, but I love learning new things and being able to implement my acquired knowledge in a variety of scenarios.

One suggestion that was given to me when I was in college was to find the thing that makes me tick mentally, or physically, and somehow figure out how to get paid for it. Well, I did. But never once did I allow my love of work to be confused for my love of the job that facilitates my work.

How do you know if you love your job?

I see a lot of research and developing going into HR management and workplace revitalization to limit employee turn-over and attrition. Now emerging is this new business model that encourages people to LOVE their job, and it is all focused on creating a good work culture.

Companies like Google and Uber have made huge measures to get their employees to love their job so much that they make leaving the office at 5pm hard and sometimes even impossible. Google, for example, invests a ton of capital in food catering and provides all of its employees with almost Michelin-star rated meals and snacks throughout the entire work day to keep them fed and ostensibly happy while in office. Many employees rarely leave to get food from outside vendors or go home to cook because the food at Google is amazing. Uber just rolled out a plan fully cover women who would like to freeze their eggs to in order to keep them working longer and to foster an overall positive attitude towards their healthcare benefits. People at these companies love their job. And why? Best employees are now so used to these perks that they’re all dependent on them for their happiness.

You can tell if you love your job when you find yourself losing the balance between work and play. You’ll see your “free” hours diminish and that you spend more time in the office than you do doing the recreational and cultural activities you formerly enjoyed going. Your work friends will become to focus of all social gathers. Your stories will usually take place somewhere within the open floor plan or office cafeteria.

But what happens if all these perks are stripped away. No more company-sponsored happy hour on Thursdays. No more subsidized gym membership. And no more 15 minute massages once a month.

My suggestion is to love your work and not your job. It allows you to be a free agent in a way. So when all the perks disappear, and perhaps even your job, like in my case, you’ll have the ability to pivot effectively and find another office to do what you do and love best. Your work.

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Steve Adcock
Steves a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence.