Work Isn’t Just About Making Money

“If you knew from this day forward you’d always have enough, what work would you do?”

I was asked this question as a freshman in college in an intro to theatre class by a guest speaker. It sticks out in my mind as a key point of my journey that has shaped who I am today. I’ve been asking the deep questions about life as long as I can remember. I’ve always been drawn to those people who engage themselves and others with questions like, “Who am I really,” or “Why am I here and what purpose am I meant to serve?” In recent years I’ve been socially trained to deny this tendency in myself. “Relax Brad! Why do you have to be so intense all the time? I’m just trying to sit here and drink a beer.” This reaction from people got me out of the habit of engaging with others in this way, even though it always energized me. 

Recently I started listening to Reboot Podcast. Jerry Colonna coaches startup CEOs to be better human beings so they can be better leaders for their companies. The radically vulnerable places he’s willing to take his clients to uncover the deeper emotional underpinnings of the behaviors that cause founders and CEOs to be unfulfilled is inspiring. Every time I listen I find myself feeling, “This is what life is really about!” The level of connection and meaning in these meetings is palpable and leaves me with a drive and desire to seek this type of relationship with others. So as tribute to Jerry and the movement he’s started, let me help you in the short amount of time that it takes to read this post with some radical self inquiry into your own life.  

What is your relationship like with work? I want you to stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think about what feelings are present in your body when you think about work. Do it right now.

What are the words you’d use to describe the emotions you’re feeling? There’s no need to judge the feeling, whatever it is. Just observe what it is. Sit with that feeling for a moment.

Next ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way about work?” Try to figure out where the feeling is coming from or what underpins this emotion. What past experiences have taught you to react in this way? Again don’t judge. Just observe.

As a college student I had countless conversations with my fraternity brothers about our majors. Major, for a college student, is just code for what do you want to do with the rest of your life. The stress of making such a huge decision that would have such far reaching impact on your life was so overwhelming. I knew it was important for me to do something I loved doing and felt fulfilling. On the other had, I feared not having enough financially. Why did it seem like I had to sell my soul to be financially successful? Looking back on the decision now it was obviously a false choice. I’m very happy to see I didn’t let fear drive my decision making at that point. I chose a Communications major because I loved making movies. I wanted to have faith that pursuing my passions was the wise way to personal success. I decided to have courage and do a liberal arts degree at a tech and science school like Virginia Tech. I promise you there were no shortage of jokes made at my expense. There is plenty I could regret if I wanted to. Maybe I could have been more successful if I’d chosen Computer Science or Engineering, but those thoughts don’t preoccupy my mind so much these days, though they have at points. I’m happy I started building a habit of reflecting and choosing a path that felt right for me at that early stage in my life. I choose what felt right for me instead of letting the fear of scarcity that is instilled in all of us control my decision. In hind site, I can see it as one of the first steps I took towards defining myself as an entrepreneur. (In full transparency and vulnerability, I don’t have income from any of my entrepreneurial attempts yet. I’m engaged with the process and kind enough to myself to know it’s going to take time and that’s ok.)

So, ask yourself; am I doing the work I’m doing out of fear of not having enough?

We all want to do work. So many of us think of work as a four letter word that’s in opposition to play. Our childhoods do a great job of making sure we know the difference. We believe no one wants to do work and we have to use carrots and sticks to motivate people to do work. The maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain theories we’ve had about human behavior are out dated. If this really was what people were like, how do you explain things like Burning Man? Can you imagine the amount of work it takes to construct the incredible art piece seen there in the middle of a harsh dessert. And of course it’s done for no money at all. It’s work people do as an expression of themselves and who they are. It’s something they can’t not do.

This is the true essence of “work” for human beings. We don’t wish to be idol. We crave the joyous feeling of being connected to people and the universe through the work we do. If you don’t have this type of relationship with your work you have the power to make a change. You might need to do more self inquiry to discover what your purpose is and what work will help you manifest that purpose. You might need to slowly unstuck yourself when it comes to your financial obligations. Whatever the challenges, you can make your way to a better state for your sake and the sake of the people who love you. Your greatest ally can be a coach. I challenge you to value your life enough to give yourself permission to have a coach.

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