Tuesday, 26 June 2012

How to Find Work That Doesn't Feel Like Work

Image thanks to danielle

We all know what work feels like. I think the above image pretty much sums up how I’ve felt toward certain jobs I’ve had.

At some point in our lives, we all have to work. But – particularly in our early twenties, when we don’t have the experience, qualifications, or the accumulated means to follow our real heart’s desire – just getting a standard job can feel like a very bitter, but wholly unavoidable, pill to swallow.

I’ve recently landed a new job as a Personal Assistant to a disabled woman who is completing her PhD. It involves varied tasks from admin and taking dictation, to domestic tasks, to just sitting around discussing the weather. It also involves sleepovers once or twice a week. That’s right; I get paid for sleeping. Talk about work not feeling like work.

When journeying home from my first shift, I had a heady rush of excitement: I have a job I don’t hate. How revolutionary. No longer do I feel that life is getting in the way of my dreams.

The job is varied, fulfilling, and most importantly really feels like I am being of invaluable service – something I never found in any retail, hospitality, or office role. Best of all, I am able to work long 24 hour shifts that subsequently free up the rest of my week to do exactly as I choose. It might not be the job for everyone, but for me, for now, it is truly work that doesn’t feel like work.

Here are a few ways you might go about seeking work that doesn’t feel like work:

Stop thinking ‘job’ and start thinking ‘contribution’ 
In the days before the industrial revolution, salaries, Christmas bonuses and paying taxes; your worldly work was the manner in which you contributed to your wider community. Maybe that was making bread. Maybe it was washing clothes; mending shoes; delivering babies; growing crops; thatching roofs etc. You had a talent and you utilised it to serve the greater good. A job where we don’t feel we are making a worthwhile contribution, where we feel expendable, pointless or trivial, is a job which demoralizes and de-motivates us; it is work that definitely feels like work.

// In action: what kind of job would make you feel as though you were really contributing – either to the wider world or just to your local community? What do you want to contribute to – the life of an individual, a minority group, preserving your local environment?

Time after time 
Does the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 feel like a heavy anvil around your neck? Or, does working weekends sound akin to dissecting the beating heart of your social life? The days and times that you work, and how this facilitates you to live the rest of your life the way you choose, is a key aspect in whether or not work feels like work. I’ve had the 9-5 job and I simply could not stomach it. After years of a pretty lightweight academic schedule, being chained to a desk for the best hours of every day just felt somehow unnatural to me, and thus felt horribly like work. If I was doing something I really enjoyed with these hours, that might be different, but in most 9-5 jobs I wouldn’t be.

// In action: ask yourself what kind of working hours would complement the lifestyle you want to lead – and then seek out jobs based on this. Don’t rule out working nights: they are often better paid, offer an entirely different pace of work, and although challenging might just promote the kind of quality of life that stops work feeling like work.

Get down to the nitty-gritty... 
Suss out minor aspects of jobs you’ve had that have helped work feel less like work. For example, any previous job where I have had the freedom to go and make myself a cup of tea and have a welcome five minutes to myself, has always stopped work feeling like work. It seems trivial but that small act of freedom really helps me feel I’m maintaining some of my autonomy – and that my well-being is being accommodated. I’ve had jobs where even a small thing like this just wasn’t okay, and thus I felt like an operating machine rather than a human being with fluctuating energy levels!

// In action: which seemingly small elements stop work feeling like work – a great social aspect? The ability to manage your own time rather than having a rigid regime of tasks? A lot of variety to the tasks? Being able to get outside? Being encouraged to be creative? Getting to laugh a lot? Getting to travel? What kind of job might give you these things?

Keep it under your umbrella 
Though we may often feel we lack any clarity in terms of our career paths, if we look closely we may be able to identify an ‘umbrella’; an overarching, unifying theme to all our aspirations. For me, most of my interests fall under the umbrella of empowering women – which I explore through this blog and in my creative writing, and also with my goal to work as a life coach. Finding a care job has complimented this in a very lovely way, because through it I am gaining the experience of empowering an individual, one-on-one, in an absolutely vital way. Again, having a job that ties in with your ambitions will help you feel less like your work is impeding on your dreams.

// In action: if your aspiration is to own your own B&B in the countryside one day, no prizes for guessing the kind of environment you might want to work in. But it may not always be this obvious. If you have the vague notion of wanting to write a novel, you might think working in a bookshop would be a good call, but perhaps something that would give you greater life experience and introduce you to a range of would-be characters might be more fitting; consider a role working with the elderly – they are always the best story-tellers and endless wells of life experience!

Is it all about the money?
Of course it isn’t; making work all about the money negates everything else I’ve said in this article. That said, the jobs where I’ve felt I’ve been fairly paid have always left me with a far greater sense of my value in the role. Slogging away until 2am serving food and drink in a noisy, thankless bar environment for minimum wage never sat comfortably with me. Getting £8.50 an hour playing board games with kids at a local youth hostel when I was sixteen? Well that felt like I was getting well paid for being part of a worthy project, a.k.a. work that doesn’t feel like work. Don’t underestimate the difference of an extra £ or $ an hour – you are most definitely worth it. For better paying jobs, you’ll often have to think outside the box. But beware; some jobs, such as street fundraising or call-centre work, might be higher paid for a reason! (The reason being that they slowly chip away at your soul).

// In action: if you love a job, the pay doesn’t have to matter. But if you love a job and you feel you’re fairly compensated, well that’s just brilliant (and may mean you can work less hours – promoting that quality of life we were talking about). Consider jobs that pay more than your average bar job, like social care, childcare, or a job that pays well in tips such as waitressing in a more up-market restaurant. Better paying roles are not always the obvious roles, so get your thinking cap on; night watch(wo)man? Window dresser? Private tutor?

Be challenged, and learn 
When I landed my current job, having never done anything remotely like it, I said to a friend “I think it will be a challenge. But the good kind.” I once had a job in a clothes shop, which consisted of folding t-shirts, being made to hassle unsuspecting browsers by asking if they needed help when evidently they didn’t, and bleeping items through the till. There was absolutely zero challenge inherent in that role. Even jobs that have challenged me at the offset have become predictable and tedious after a few months. The nature of my current job is so varied, that I know there will always be new challenges to face; challenges which will offer opportunities for me to learn.

// In action: look for roles where you expect to be consistently challenged, in a good way. Some roles may even offer formal training and the opportunity to gain qualifications – thus work becomes study, and stops feeling like work.

The most important takeaway point from this article is this: you must truly accept that work doesn’t have to look like work! This is an alteration you first have to make in your imagination, free of social conditioning, peer pressure, or family expectations. When you’ve done this you’ll be better equipped to really think outside of the box in your job search, and see opportunities you may never have recognised otherwise.

Making a living should always translate as making a life, not just being a cog in a machine.

I feel like I could prattle on about this all day – but I’ll hand it over to you! What does it mean for you to find work that doesn’t feel like work? What have your best and worst jobs been? Let’s learn a thing or two from one another! 

If you liked this you might like: How to Stay Motivated When You Aren't in Your Dream Job.


Amber-Rose Thomas said...

You know, I have seen several of these Personal Assistant type jobs around Dyfed, and I now feel ashamed to say that I've always turned my nose up at them.

My worst job has been McDonalds. Without a doubt. I felt so badly treated, the environment ruined my skin (petty - I know) and the monotony was destroying. Best job? Quite possibly the one I'm in now actually - just for the people I work with. The people around me are worth so much more than the pay-cheque.

I think it's fantastic that you've found a job that's so fulfilling and will clearly be better for you than working in catering or retail. My job in retail was lovely and challenging to start with because it was a step up the Managerial ladder - but I am now SO BORED.

Thank you, for changing my viewpoint here and opening my eyes to the possibility of a not-so-obvious but much BETTER job. <3

Melissa Wellham said...

After graduating from my undergrad degree, I worked for a year full-time in a communications firm. It was a very challenging and rewarding experience, but ultimately it just wasn't where I wanted to be, or what I wanted to be doing - so I've gone back to university, and started concentrating on my own writing. I've been recently thinking about what I will want to focus on when I eventually have to re-enter the workforce while still studying, and picking something that feels like I'm *helping* sounds like a good focus.

Thanks for the great post! x

Elimy said...

It's funny you should be posting this now... yesterday, I quit my 2-3 shift a week job in favour of a 1 shift a week job... and people may think I am stupid for doing that, but I feel a whole lot lighter, like a huge weight is gone.

Thanks Megan.

kendall said...

very nice post! I went back to school last year and changed my career path after working for a few years. I didn't really like what I did after graduating from university but it showed me what my strengths are and what my goals are in life. Every job is a learning experience and you'll be able to build off of each one. Again, great post!

kendall (the lemonade stand)

Christina Marie said...

Very true and very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!
I've also found that, for me, who you work with changes everything. Having a good relationship with my boss and my coworkers is key.


Sorcha said...

I think where you want to be also changes pretty consistently as you go through life. I'm in what was my dream job but now that I have it, although it's definitely not horrible, I feel ready for a new challenge. I guess it's that striving for something new and better that makes me realise I'll never have my dream job as there'll always be something more I want to try/accomplish/succeed in.

Julia D. said...

This is an amazing article, Megan. I really think it is what a lot of people, including me, need to here-be it reassure us of our path or to alter our perspective. I think you really sum it up well with your final statement that "making a living should always translate as making a life, not just being a cog in a machine." Too often people are quick to settle, in all areas of life, when the people who are happy and end up living the lives they've always dreamed about are the ones who believe that with hard work and blessings it will come to them.

I've personally really enjoyed working with children, specifically those with special needs, as a summer job (since I'm still in university) for many of the same reasons you seem to love your current job. While I don't think it will be something I do after I finish school, it certainly has helped me to build relevant skills/experience and think seriously about what I want my career to look like.

LauraCassidy said...

I didn't know you wanted to be a life coach, Megan! You'd be SO good at that!

sara stricker said...

This is such a beautiful article, especially your point about "it's not a job, it's a contribution." I sincerely believe the world would be a better place if people would realize that they can find a job that will suit them. I think what you've done is very courageous: You went out and found something you LOVE to do!

My worst job had to be a "gofer" at an ice cream parlor. I went home smelling like wet ice cream every night, and I hated it so much. But now, I'm working towards my goal, and your article inspired me so much. Thank you!

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