This title is intentionally provocative; sorry about that.
It seems to go against conventional wisdom of all those Forbes and Harvard Business Review guys, right? We should be adding pleasure into our work so that we want to go to work every day and ultimately, be insanely successful entrepreneurs who rarely, if ever, fail. But alas, I would like to say that there are plenty of times that work is not what I want to do. It’s what I have to do. Allow me to explain.
I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Teaching program at a Southern college about three years ago, gung-ho on changing the attitudes and perspectives of rooms full of bright, young kidlets. I dreamed of having those “Oh Captain, My Captain” moments reminiscent of Dead Poets Society.
And given my rich educational background with wonderful teachers, it was easy to see how I got lost in the dream.
What I was greeted with, however, was a different story. Not only were kids looking for the easy way out, teachers were forced to do the same. It was incredibly disheartening to see standards so low for critical thinking, analysis and perseverance. And what I found was this prevalent rhetoric about how being happy at work was the most important thing. You should want to do it every day. If you were doing something you didn’t want to do—welp—better jump ship!
Well, naturally, I started to question this.
I think that aiming to be happy in every task and every moment during every day is just setting up unrealistic expectations.
And it causes a lot of people to throw in the towel early. Our generation has been among the most transient of all time. Don’t get me wrong; I love that people are exploring and hunting down new opportunities, but if the rhetoric is that you have to be happy with every aspect of your job or it’s not worth doing, you aren’t going to find any jobs worth doing. The fact is that if you want to succeed at anything, you’re going to have to do it even when you don’t want to. That’s called having a strong work ethic.
I’m not saying you can’t strive to be happy at work. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful goal.
But as a CEO, I can tell you that not every day is happy.
Reviewing your three-year projection numbers in a mind-numbing, lengthy Excel spreadsheet doesn’t make most people happy. Firing people doesn’t make most people happy. Finding out that a strategy isn’t panning out doesn’t make most people happy. All of those things are difficult and cause stress. So why do I do this job? Because I have to. I wake up every day and know that what I am doing is something that is helping businesses grow, something that makes people’s lives more fun or functional, something at which I excel and love. But that love isn’t always about being happy. So if I had any advice to CEOs and kidlets alike, I would say that you should find something that you love and then stick it out even when you don’t want to; the drive to succeed should be like a fire inside that pushes you through the unhappy times and tasks. You should be doing what you have to do, even if it’s not always what you want to do.
Amber Ludeman is the CEO of matchstick social, a social marketing firm headquartered in Charleston, SC specializing in quantifiable social strategies for small-to-medium businesses.