How Important Is It To Enjoy Your Work?

This is a question that has long intrigued me. It comes up more frequently, too, as individual workers find it harder to find work at all, much less work that they enjoy. But even in a difficult economy, employees regularly switch jobs to work in a more satisfying environment.

They are told repeatedly to "follow your heart…and the money will come." Even aspiring entrepreneurs are encouraged to take that path to fulfill a dream, chase their hopes, and attempt to "build it," hoping they will come.

I happen to enjoy my work, consulting, speaking, and writing for firms like yours since early 1994. I also love it when I talk to someone who enjoys their work. We should be quite grateful if we do, indeed, enjoy our work.

But that's different than having a right to enjoy it. Not only do I strongly disagree with the sentiment, I think believing it has twisted our expectations and those of our employees. It's not all that different, in fact, from commenting on someone's gruesome death that "at least she died doing what she loved."

What the hell? The combination of living through a civil war and teaching motorcycle racing has created situations where at least a dozen people have died right in front of me. The last one occurred at Barber Race Track outside Birmingham, where the fellow I was just getting ready to pass ran into a wall and died instantly. Yes, he was doing what he loved, but only until he went off the track and ran head-first into a wall. At that point he was certainly NOT doing what he loved, and I seriously doubt there was any consolation for him in that final split second when he knew it was over. People don't die "doing what they love" unless they love dying.

Similarly, you won't ever hear me quip that "at least he was following his heart" when his business went under. This is not a little issue to me, and it's because the phrase itself is incredibly bad advice. Here's why.

First, a lot of people who are "following their heart" are starving. It's just true. Even pseudo-entrepreneurs who follow a system via a franchise are failing in droves--in some, there's a 60% failure rate.

Second, just because you are good at something and even enjoy it doesn't mean that you are good at making money doing it. Say you love riding bicycles and spend much of your leisure time doing it or talking about it. What's the relationship between that and starting a bicycle shop? The only relationship between the two is that you'll be knowledgeable in ordering inventory and in speaking to customers. But it says nothing about your knowledge of handling money, maintaining a steady marketing presence, managing people, etc. Besides, it's possible that you may no longer have time to ride bicycles.

Third, it discounts the luck (lack of providence?) that steers a business one way or another. I've been successful because I'm smart, disciplined, and very lucky. I was in the right place at the right time, and I'll never discount that portion of my success. I'm incredibly grateful for it and I know that without it I'd be somewhere else in life. All of us are a few stupid mistakes away from financial ruin.

Fourth and finally, it disenfranchises 84.6% of the world's population (those not living in developed nations, according to the World Bank) who have no choice but to work in jobs, usually, where enjoying them is not a realistic part of the equation. Are we so selfish, short-sighted, and US-centric that we turn an amazing benefit into a demand? This is something I'd like us to think more about.

Why does this matter? Primarily it matters because of our expectations and source of fulfillment. More specifically your business exists for three reasons, in this order: to make money, to move the needle on behalf of clients, and to create a culture where people can thrive. If you can add a fourth criteria--to enjoy your work--more power to you. But be deeply grateful and not demanding about it.

You might spread this news to your employees and children, too! Finally, let me end with the final part of an interview that Scott London did with Chris Hillman, who died last year:

London: You mentioned Goethe earlier. He remarked that our greatest happiness lies in practicing a talent that we were meant to use. Are we so miserable, as a culture, because we’re dissociated from our inborn talents, our soul’s code.

Hillman: I think we’re miserable partly because we have only one god, and that’s economics. Economics is a slave-driver. No one has free time; no one has any leisure. The whole culture is under terrible pressure and fraught with worry. It’s hard to get out of that box. That’s the dominant situation all over the world.

Also, I see happiness as a by-product, not something you pursue directly. I don’t think you can pursue happiness. I think that phrase is one of the very few mistakes the Founding Fathers made. Maybe they meant something a little different from what we mean today — happiness as one’s well-being on earth.

London: It’s hard to pursue happiness. It seems to creep up on you.

Hillman: Ikkyu, the crazy Japanese monk, has a poem:

You do this, you do that
You argue left, you argue right
You come down, you go up
This person says no, you say yes
Back and forth
You are happy
You are really happy

What he is saying is: Stop all that nonsense. You’re really happy. Just stop for a minute and you’ll realize you’re happy just being. I think it’s the pursuit that screws up happiness. If we drop the pursuit, it’s right here.

Comments RSS


Megan Patrick

But there's a big difference between enjoying your work and expecting your work to make you happy. If you don't enjoy how you're spending 40+ hours of every week, I don't see how you can keep doing it over the long haul. Your work shouldn't be expected to fulfill every need you might have, but it should take advantage of your abilities and interests. Otherwise, what's the point?


Flavia Florezell

I've been a Business Manager for agencies for 20 years and I have never read anything that actually tells the truth like this article does.Especially the paragraph that starts off with-
"Just because you are good at something and even enjoy it doesn't mean that you are good at making money doing it." And ends with the reality that running a business may leave you no time to actually do what you originally enjoyed.


Ben Weeks

Related Viktor Frankl quotes:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.


Toni Antonetti

I think there has to be some enjoyment of your work in order to do it for an extended period of time, but that shouldn't be confused with the idea that your work should constantly be enjoyable. And most of the time, if there's a pursuit you love, chances are that: 1) you can't make money doing it and 2) once you decide to make it a business, it will become the most painful sort of drudgery.




GREAT ONE DAVID. Couldn't agree more. The buddhist in me would say the goal isn't to be happy, it's to not suffer. Accept or change... on those two ends you can find contentment and sometimes happiness. Suffering (unhappiness) exist when you can't do either and you vibrate in between.


David C. Baker

Megan, "the point", as you ask, is to live! Most people go to work to produce corn or rice or beans so that they can eat. You said: "If you don't enjoy how you're spending 40+ hours of every week, I don't see how you can keep doing it over the long haul." If 85% of the world's population believed that, they'd just not go to work tomorrow and die. :)


David C. Baker

Ben, what an amazing quote. Like I said in the article, I happen to really enjoy what I do. But I've had very shitty jobs on the way to this point, including: delivering prescriptions to nursing home in a Chevette for minimum wage; working in a foundry on the "hot line" that was so bad, even in an asbestos suit, that you worked for 10 mins and just sat and breathed for 20 mins, over and over for 8 hours; I read gas meters in Fort Wayne, and since I was the low man on the totem pole, they gave me the bad section of town where residents chained their vicious dogs to the meter to make it more difficult to read it; and finally, when I was starting this business, I took a six-month second-shift job for shit money at R. R. Donnelley where I operated a trimmer for 8 hours on the J. C. Penney catalog line. Was I worth any less as a human during those jobs? Was I any less happy? The answer to both of those questions is no, and that's the way it should be. Sometimes doing a job you don't enjoy is just the way it is.


David C. Baker

Toni, Ryan, Greg, and others that will follow: I'm really enjoying everyone's comments. They make me think, and that's the point of a blog.


Tricia Bateman

Lots of good things to think about. (Hi Megan)

My dad often said growing up that I get to think about big things like this because I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. So it is with great humility for the luck of my birth that I consider happiness in work.

Expecting happiness will surely cause misery. I tell students all the time to not depend on getting creative fulfillment from client work. Unused talents and straining to do things you are not good at can be miserable, too. As I get older and further into my career, putting my energy and skills toward things I believe in becomes more valuable. As does an emphasis on balance and contentment with what I have.

Dad also said I can do whatever I want as long as I can feed myself. You hint at ties and conflicts between money and happiness. Neither may be a guarantee for misery or happiness but they do relate. It is hard to consider one without a nod to the other therefore I try to make work and lfe choices deliberately.

With all this in mind, I have been working furiously to get 100% out I debt and will accomplish that goal next spring. I look forward to the mental and logistical flexibility that luxury will afford me to further consider how to invest my ever-decreasing time, energy, talent and passion. I have not come to any conclusions so this is timely and interesting for me.


Rob Norman

"Happiness is a mental habit, and if it is not practiced in the present, it is never experienced. If you’re going to be happy at all, you need to be happy, period. Not because of something."
Maxwell Maltz

I believe the above quote completely, and try to live it. That being said I've worked in jobs that I've loved, jobs in between, and jobs that truly hated. Give the choice I chose the first option and I advise my kids to pursue that choice too. Why not after all?


Margaret Foster

A former colleague, now deceased, had brilliant advice early on in my career: If it wasn't work, they wouldn't pay us to do it. Her meaning: that if it were always fun, never tedious, our clients would be happy to do it themselves rather than pay someone to do it for them.

True happiness lies in a job, however hard and/or tedious, done well which comes from personal integrity and professionalism over time. The rewards are your professional relationships and taking pride in your work, no matter how menial or tedious.


Ann Siegle

David, thanks for posting this. Insightful. I am happy building companies. It's what I like to do - for myself and for my clients. I also happen to be a pretty good graphic designer, though I don't do that much. I'm a pretty decent web developer, but again, I don't do that much. I like to get up, drop my kids off at day care (and now, school) and dress up to go talk with other smart grownups who think I am smart. At the end of the day I go home, to a lovely home with a lovely family and count my lucky stars to be on this earth, healthy and happy. Does my job suck sometimes? Yes, indeed. But then I change it. Fire a client, disband a partnership, start a new one. I'm in charge, but it's the journey, not the destination, that matters.
Some years ago I took a week to sail from Miami to Key West with friends. Along the way, we had many great times full of laughter and intense camaraderie, we sailed through 30 knot winds, crashed a quarter of a million dollar yacht into a concrete pier and taped it up with duct tape the next day and battened down the hatches in storms. On the way home, we rented a van to drive back. It took four hours in traffic to cover the same distance. Happiness was surely not in that destination, but in that journey.


Georgiana Dearing

Perfect timing, David. Yes, I will tell anyone who listens that I live for the moment when a group of us comes together with an idea or solution that is so perfect, so on-target, that you can feel the room shift with a collective "ahh." I feel lucky if that happens once a year. So, for that, I love what I do.

But most of the time work is work. It's a bunch of tasks I try to put off. In fact, I have found a beautiful procrastination right now in responding to this post. I know that doing the work of work is what is going to make us successful, so I appreciate the nudge.

Because I do have a spark in me that rises up to the challenge of learning new things, I still think I am in the right seat: owning the business instead of doing the client work. But man, is it work sometimes!


Helena Bouchez

High curiosity, creativity and energy is very much a part of our gene pool as dreamers and entrepreneurs. But curiosity turned sideways is distraction, creativity is impulsivity and energy is restlessness. The imbalance of the very characteristics that have the potential to make us wildly successful as creatives can undo us -- if we don't know where it's coming from or what to do to temper or fix it.

This collection of symptoms (distracted, impulsive, restless) has a name. It's ADD. And it's probably doesn't mean what you think it means. According to Edward M. Hollowell, M.D., a leading expert on ADD (see link below) "ADD is a misleading term for an intriguing kind of mind." (Who doesn't want to have an intriguing mind?)

Maybe you took a paper test once and it was negative. Ironically, you likely did well because the written test provided you with the three things you need most in to successfully accomplish a task: structure, motivation and novelty. A better diagnosis, as it turns out, is history.

ADD won't explain the behavior of everyone who insists on "following their heart." But if you want to do the right thing and haven't been able to for one reason or another (that you can't really explain), it could be one place you might want to look.



I think you meant JAMES Hillman, not Chris Hillman (the latter is still alive, I think)

But that doesn't change the importance of the message. Thanks.


Eric Holter

"There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,  for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind." Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

I think enjoying work is important, but rarely happens when aiming directly at that goal. When we accept our lot of toil from the hand of God we can find enjoyment despite the often vexing nature of toil. I'd highly recommend studying the book of Ecclesiastes from this perspective, after all the reason it was written was to pursue the question "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?" (Ecc. 1:3).

--From a former agency owner (Newfangled) now turned preacher.


Jeanine Colini

There seems to be a good deal of judgment and presumption about what constitutes happiness in others. Outward appearances and statistics can be misleading. Happiness occurs deep within and is attained through rigorous honesty and humility. We can absolutely feel when we are experiencing our true happiness--it's like a calling. And when that occurs, we thrive, and the things around us do, too.


Jonathan V

Provocative article, which I really enjoyed, thanks!

Ben Weeks brought Viktor Frankl into the conversation, which was a turning point for me in my contemplation of the chestnut, "do what you love and the money will follow." I don't agree with that old saw now. When I first starting searching to discover what my life's purpose was, I landed on "to help people live their dreams." But then I realized that wasn't right. For precisely the reasons you state in this piece.

Hey, I'm not going to make a living singing in the shower. Or doing donuts in a snow-covered parking lot.

I eventually shifted to, "to help people create lives that they love," and in a work context, "to help people create great workplaces." I believe that even if you're doing an unpleasant job (I've had several of those too), you can still do it in an environment where there are good people, a good purpose, or a good reason to be there. That's the best case and one that I have the privilege of helping to create in my (very hard) work.

Frankl (who wrote this a week after he'd been released from a Nazi work camp at the end of World War II) said, "Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms; to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

The job may suck, the people may be jerks, the environment may be terrible, but if we know what we value and why we're there, then we can still do it with a genuine smile on our faces.


Helena Bouchez

@Jonathan V: "but if we know what we value and why we're there, then we can still do it with a genuine smile on our faces." <<


Georgiana Dearing

Thank you, @Johnathan V. Good points, good point of view!


Brent Schumann

I enjoy turning on music and doing production design work and photo retouching. It's relaxing and requires little struggle or thought.

However, the real joy from my work (graphic design) comes in in those moments when I review a piece of design that took hours of focused thought and struggling to achieve. If my co-workers see me pulling my hair out, tilting my head, and arguing with my monitor, they might not think I'm enjoying myself, but I wouldn't be in this business without those moments.

I think the "work" part is what people don't want to do. When you're in those moments of struggle, other activities can feel alluring, and you can lose your focus and your belief in the value of the activity.

Without knowing the sweet taste of the end result, the struggling feels futile. With the end result in mind, it's all a means to a satisfying end.


Bill Rossiter

I am happy in my marriage. I am happy with what my kids have accomplished. I am happy our family mentors foster kids. I am happy with the people I get to work with (even happy with most of my clients). I am most happy when I am exceeding my business plan, cash flow is good and I am making more money (with much more flexibility) than I was in corporate america.


Jason Bouwman

To answer your question "Are we so selfish, short-sighted, and US-centric that we turn an amazing benefit into a demand?"

Unfortunately.... Yes.

I think we’re are increasingly unhappy as a society because our lives lack a greater purpose and... we’re selfish.

If all we think about is ourselves than it's no wonder that we think work too should serve us rather than gratefully working to serve our maker and the wellbeing of others.

David, how many times haven't you written about the folly of viewing clients as patrons? Isn't that simply yet another symptom of a selfish attitude? We should work to serve our clients. Too often we view it the other way around. Same goes for a job.

On the other hand......
Loss of purpose and Love of self drive much meaningless, superfluous (or worse, downright deceptive) economic activity which only adds to the vacuum in our lives. Which is why many of us go to bed at night wondering why we worked so hard all day to help selfish people sell more stuff which no one needs at inflated prices to a population which doesn't have the money to pay for it?

I said to my colleagues the other day that the biggest challenges of working in marketing is finding organizations worth marketing.

I second Eric's suggestion to study the book of Ecclesiastes which contains the conclusion of the matter (Eccl 12:13)

I'd also recommend Proverbs which contains this gem among many others. "Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.
Proverbs 28:18-20


stephen witte

One person's happiness could be another person's unhappiness. As individual and unique as our fingerprints are our perspectives of happiness. Laughing with people I love, a coconut layer cake or a speech that precisely hits the mark inspires my happiness in different ways. Try this: take a happiness poll at the start of your next meeting or conference call. Listen for how the moderate-to-low happiness people react to those of high-happiness. Ever heard someone roll their eyes over the phone? Regardless, those bent in the philosophical direction might ask us what is more important to our individual work product: happiness or attitude? Because I feel happiness is in the moments, not the hours or days, I hope to handle whatever comes with the best attitude I can muster. Why? I think we mark attitude in months and years, not in the short run.


David C. Baker

This has been a fantastic discussion. I saw that Brad Farris is getting started with one on Google+, too, if any of you want to join:


David C. Baker

An interesting article just on this subject in HBR:



I'm confused as to why it would be selfish to pursue a line of work one hopes to enjoy. When we do something we enjoy doing, we work even harder because we are passionate about our work beyond simply having a good work ethic.

I hope to one day be a counselor because I feel it is in my set of skills to be able to help other people. I would be using those skills and trying to make a difference in other people's lives rather than continuing along the path of filling out the paperwork, etc., that I do now. I realize someone has to do those things, but why not have it be someone who would enjoy it more than I do?

I think my job is just fine, and I work in a nice environment; I just think I'm better suited for a different line of work and believe it would be selfish to not pursue a career to which I feel drawn. It would be selfish because it would keep someone better suited for my position out of a job they may love, and it would keep me from helping in a way I believe I could. The career I want to get into would not make me a better or more valuable person than anyone who holds my current position; it would just be different. We all have the right to pursue happiness, which I believe is a by-product of feeling purposeful and fulfilling our potential.

Some people do not need to pursue fulfilling their potential in a career and, therefore, do so through hobbies or spending time with people in their personal lives. So they are perfectly content having a balance of a job they don't necessarily always love but a personal life that they do. There is nothing wrong with that approach just like there is nothing wrong with taking the approach of moving on from a job if you think another one will help you utilize your abilities in a better way.

Yes, we can't all be leaders or individual success stories, but not everyone wants to be anyway. If one is not content sitting in a cubicle, then what is so wrong with that person striving for something else? We all have one life, and I think it is a disservice to everyone when people do not pursue (whether personally and/or professionally) paths that take them to a place where they get to use their individual sets of skills. That could be anything from being an astronaut or a skateboarder to being a mother or a super-fun aunt or uncle.

Yes, I think it would be, unfortunately, unrealistic for all of us to believe that our talents will make us monetarily successful. However, for some people, they will be. So I don't think one's inclinations to move forward should be ignored.



Again, I enjoyed the article and appreciate your point of view, but I just wanted to share why there might be another perspective on it. Or do you perhaps share some of the perspective I shared as well?



First, the importance and definition of enjoying one's work is different between individuals. Generally, my wife is extremely good at separating her sense of self from the work that she does; she can take a hit on the job and recover pretty easily. It's one of the many things I admire about her. I can't say the same for myself; if I feel like I'm being productive and kicking ass, I'm riding high. But if I hit a bump in the road, I take it pretty hard. That's just a part of who we are. Asking me personally to choose between getting paid a liveable wage or doing productive work is like asking me whether to starve my soul or my body first. Maybe a little melodramatic, but that's the way I perceive it.

Second, I think we should stay away from the assumption that all of our needs and desires are static. Not only do we have whims, like whether to get a sandwich or pasta for lunch, we also have shifting priorities, like whether to try for a well-paying job or try for a job that we believe will make us happier day to day. External factors, like whether we're planning for a family or our car needs replacement have significant factors on these sorts of decisions. They aren't set in stone and applying a "happiness vs no happiness" blanket filter over them is something we should consider a little more in-depth.

I don't comment often, but I read and appreciate your articles and got a lot out of "Managing Right for the First Time." Thanks.


Peter V Cook

With all that being said, it should also be noted that we as bosses should strive to create a work environment where our employees are treated well and are given the opportunity to enjoy their work.


Ethan Pitsch

David - I think your thought leadership on a wide variety of topics is incredible. I wish to publicly thank you for sharing your wisdom and hope to attend one of your events one day soon!

I believe you are so, so, so very close with this statement but need just a slight bit of tweaking:

"More specifically your business exists for three reasons, in this order: to make money, to move the needle on behalf of clients, and to create a culture where people can thrive. "

Money is vital for a business, much like blood flow is vital for a human being. Yet no one would say that a human being exists to produce blood. Rather, we might say it's a constraint or condition for continued living.

Jeff Van Duzer in his incredible book "Why Business Matters to God" says the following:

There are two legitimate, first-order, intrinsic purposes for all businesses:

1. To provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish.

(I believe this is what you meant by moving the needle of behalf of clients.)

2. To provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given abilities.

(I believe this is what you meant by creating a culture where people can thrive.)

He goes on to say that the pursuit of these purposes should be limited by the notion of sustainability:

With respect to owners and investors, sustainability requires that they receive a reasonable, risk adjusted return on their investment. Perhaps it goes without saying, but obviously for a business to "do no harm" to owners and investors, it must operate at a profit. To use up capital without generating an adequate return is clearly not sustainable.

With respect to employees, sustainability means that their character as God's image-bearers cannot be used up. This requires that they be treated as having intrinsic value, not just as a means of production. Sustainability requires that businesses respect the rhythm of rest and work that is necessary for the full humanity of individuals. The notion of sustainability also undergirds the notion that employees should be paid a living wage. It is not sustainable for a business to use up all of the productive capacity of a person and not give him or her an amount sufficient to live on in return.

Suppliers are also entitled to honest and transparent dealings. Moreover, they are entitled to respect as integral parts of the production process. Sharp dealings with suppliers or overly aggressive uses of market power to beat down supplier prices are not sustainable practices in the long term.

Customers are entitled to know what they are purchasing and entitled to products and services that meet their reasonable expectations for usefulness and safety. They are likewise entitled to fair prices. Marketing techniques that cultivate an insatiable consumerism are by definition creating a condition that is non-sustainable, a condition of constant dissatisfaction, a condition that is never at equilibrium, a condition that is always seeking "just a little bit more."

The book is an absolute gem and offers an incredible perspective on why business matters to God. Whether you're a believer or not, I believe it will add much food for thought to your already wonderful insights into business and leadership.

Jeff can be seen here speaking about his book:

Thank you for all you do. I have much respect for you and your organization!


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