I was 16 when I discovered that some people don’t like their work. I’m not kidding. Before that, I lived in this fantasy world that everyone loved their work, otherwise, why would they do it?
We can blame my ignorance on my hippie parents who always seemed stoked about whatever work they were doing, and who were so supportive of my self-expression and my passions and interests that it never occurred to me to pursue work for any other reason than love.
But when I got my first job and discovered the world of dissatisfaction and complaint amongst my co-workers, it was the beginning of almost 20 years of what’s felt like an anthropological experiment bringing curiosity to why and how we approach work as people.
Our systems, both structurally and in terms of our collective values, are totally skewed and incongruent with having each of us do work we love that is in service of making the world better. What I see is a lot of people contorting who they are, what they want and what they deeply need, both as individuals and as a collective, in order to align with these skewed values and systems rather than going about changing them.
I used be a ‘quit your day job and do what you love’ advocate. I’m less naive and idealistic now. I have a far greater understanding of the complexities at play for people. And while all around me, I see my communities, colleagues, clients and friends taking on leading change in various ways, in service of others and expressing and pursuing passion, taking the risk to do what you’re most called to do will inevitably bump up against some barriers.
While sweeping and general, here are some of the primary themes I’ve noticed that keep people from pursuing fulfilling work in the world. Some of these challenges are easier to overcome than others and I’m not exploring solutions here, but knowing which you’re facing may be a helpful place to start if you’re struggling to move into work you love.
Interior Confusion: Lack of contact with who you are and what you love. Lack of clarity. Those who don’t feel really clear or anchored in who they are or what they want, what they’re good at or what they love, are often looking outward for clues (which takes them further from their knowing,) or ruminate in cycles of interior exploration (which takes them away from experimentation and confirmation.)
Debilitating Beliefs: We can usually give a nod to childhood for these, they then typically become reinforced through the choices that are made later on. Beliefs about self or the world that are in direct conflict with moving toward what you’re called to do, which become inflamed and paralyzing when trying to break free of them.
Fear: I’m throwing this one in here because it’s so prevalent, but this is really everywhere, now isn’t it? And fear can show up and express itself when attempting to move through any of these barriers. Fear of failing, of getting it wrong, looking bad or imperfect and of being judged or ostracized are pretty prevalent.
Confidence vs Competence: Yet another interior barrier. The collapsing of, or challenge distinguishing between confidence and competence can lead to confusion, self-doubt and caution, to feeling as though you’re not capable in areas that you are if you’d just give it a go.
Lack of Competence, Skill, Capacity: Less about belief or perception like those above, this barrier has to do with skills, knowledge or ability not being up to par in order to do the work you want to do. Greater experience, training or education is needed. (In my experience, many people believe that this is the barrier they’re dealing with when really it’s an interior barrier.)
Relational/Familiar Pressure: The values and vision your family or community has for you or believes are right are in conflict with what you love. It may not even occur to you to explore what you love since the path that you’re meant to pursue has been handed to you, or burned into your psyche.
Cultural Values: Markets can be narrow or challenging because of our cultural values. Take artists for instance. It can be challenging to get traction in making a living at making art when residing in a culture that puts more value on ‘climbing the ladder’ and amassing wealth and collecting stuff. These values nudge people toward spending money in places where they can get it cheaper and more of it, which pools money into big business and mass industry. So whether it’s farm grown food or hand crafted jewellery, if it costs what it ought to cost to make a living for the creator, our misguided cultural values can be a barrier to thriving at such work.
Systemic or Structural Disease: This can be found everywhere, from patriarchal structure that women are trying to find ways to break into the top tiers of, to bureaucracies that keep you from being able to make the moves you see are needed, to corporate structures that are in support of only a few thriving and most being lemmings following instructions. For the most part, our largest and strongest systems are not in support of healthy and thriving societies and so to play within them means to orient around the games, rules and values that are running the show, which typically means leaving some part of your selfhood behind.
Born into survival: Another systemic issue. Even though those at the top like to spout off about ‘equal opportunity’, that’s a bunch of garbage. Those born into poverty, those who are in societies with a dwindling middle class who are just focusing on food and shelter cannot take the risk to even explore what ‘loving their work’ would look like.
While the list could go on, certainly, these are a few of what I’ve seen stop people from doing what they’re meant to be doing, or from even discovering what that might be.
This article explores some of what it takes to really pursue and express your purpose in the world. For me, it’s been primarily about inner work, about first being awake to what the barriers are, such that I can get the support and take on the work of overcoming them. So far so good. And my work in the world is helping you to do yours. I hope this is useful for you.