How to Love Your Job (Even When It Isn't Perfect)

Not every job is a perfect fit, but that doesn't mean you can't love the one you're with. Your job can be a whole lot more than just a means to a paycheck.

Rachel Cooke
6-minute read
Episode #584
The Quick And Dirty

Loving your job isn't based in magic or luck; it's something you're empowered to make happen. Some strategies include:

  • Seeing and celebrating the human impact of your work
  • Infusing aspects of what you love into what you do
  • Focusing on your own development of new skills and capabilities
  • Expanding your definition of loving your job

I can still picture the look on my Baby Boomer mother’s face the first time I posed a work-related existential question. Was she happy in her career? Was it fulfilling and purposeful? Her response, the blankest of stares, told me all I needed to know. Purpose and fulfillment were things you found off the clock. And work was work—a paycheck and a means to an end.

As a younger Gen-Exer with some Millennial tendencies, I understand why the question confused my mother. But I’m part of the tribe seeking something more from my career than a paycheck. (Though I do love the paycheck.) Work commands a lot of my time, energy, and attention. I want to do what I love and love what I do. Not every minute of every day, but on balance.

I’m part of the tribe seeking something more from my career than a paycheck. Though I do love the paycheck.

I’ve learned that finding job-love isn’t passive. It’s not about luck. It requires us to take an active role in making it happen for ourselves. So, if we want work to fuel more than just our bank accounts, what’s our responsibility?

How to love your job

When I’m coaching someone looking to bump up the pleasure-levels in their work, here are some of the gems we cover.

Follow the thread to impact

Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski has done a great deal of research to understand why some people love their jobs and others don’t. Specifically, she spent time with hospital staffs and learned that some janitors considered their work to be a slog of clocking in, cleaning, and clocking out while others expressed a sense of pride in and commitment to the exact same work.

She interviewed some janitors to understand how people doing the same work could have such different experiences. She discovered that those who loved their jobs described their work in terms of impact. These contented janitors didn’t speak of mopping halls and stripping beds. They described maintaining a sanitary space in which patients could heal, and babies could safely be born.

Hospital janitors who could see the clear connection between their daily efforts and patient outcomes were able to extract more meaning and pleasure from their work.

Everyone she interviewed had the same responsibilities on paper. But the ones who could see the clear connection between their daily efforts and patient outcomes were able to extract more meaning and pleasure from their work.

Now you may not work in a hospital, and your work may not be contributing to life or death outcomes, but there is a human person somewhere at the end of the chain. So how is your day-to-day work helping to make someone’s life easier, safer, simpler, more successful, better informed? Find your impact. Make a conscious effort to keep it in mind, especially on your gloomier days.

Infuse aspects of what you love into your job

Every job is an accumulation of choices, tasks, and actions. What you do for a living and what you do with every moment at work need not be one and the same. How do you enjoy spending your time? What actions give you purpose and pleasure?

Maybe you love teaching but you’re not a teacher. You’re, say, a product manager. What you do for a living may not be teaching, but how can you find ways to infuse teaching moments into your day? Can you take on a mentor role, formal or informal, for someone looking to learn what you know? Can you attend an industry conference or read a non-fiction book and offer to share some insights with your colleagues?

Whatever actions bring you pleasure, find opportunities to do the thing you love in service of the outcomes you need to achieve.

Or maybe you enjoy writing but you’re a data analyst who spends your days in spreadsheets. I’ve worked with a lot of companies full of people who would love to be more conversant in their company’s data. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you in there. Can you offer to write an article for your company’s intranet—or even just a simple educational email distributed internally—that explains and educates others about your company’s data?

Teaching, writing, coaching, leading projects, researching, networking … whatever actions bring you pleasure, find opportunities to do the thing you love in service of the outcomes you need to achieve. Don’t worry about whether these actions are part of your job description. Make your job your own.

ABD—Always Be Developing

Another way to bump up the love factor at work is to look beyond what you can offer your company, and focus instead on what you can take away. Work is effectively a contract between employer and employee. Your role is to provide value, expertise, and results. But in exchange, it’s reasonable to expect an opportunity to grow, learn, and develop.

Throughout your career you’re likely to change jobs a number of times. And the skills you develop in each job are yours to take with you.

These opportunities aren’t your entitlement. They are yours to seek out proactively.

In this day and age, the average tenure in a job is just under five years. That means throughout your career you’re likely to change jobs many times. And the skills you develop in each job are yours to take with you.

So for as long as you’re in this job, what skills can you add to your toolbox?  If this job isn’t your forever place—and, statistically speaking, it likely is not—how can you use this job as your laboratory? Maybe you want to bump up your skills as a public speaker, or you want to get some leadership experience under your belt, or you’re striving to become a subject matter expert in a particular area.

Look for opportunities to practice speaking, even just at internal meetings, and ask for feedback that will help you improve. Raise your hand to lead a project or a committee or a task force—something you’d be proud to have on your resume. Read, research, network, and attend conferences that will expand your knowledge base, and start to document your expertise as it grows.

Learning, developing, adding tools to your professional toolbox are all great ways to feel a greater appreciation for where you are today. And that which you develop, you get to keep.

I used my last full-time job to practice developing and delivering workshops to colleagues. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what I do now in my own business and on my own terms. I built those skills in a safe space, and now I’ve put them to work in the most empowering way.

Expand your definition of loving your job

Before launching my own consulting business, I worked full-time for a company, and neither the company nor the role was for me. I struggled to stay motivated, and sometimes just psyching myself up to commute to work was a challenge.

In my final year there, I had given up on loving the job itself. I continued to do what was expected of me, but I also learned to find other ways to find job-love.

And here’s what I found and focused on:

  • In that challenging time and place, I found (and nurtured) a community of lifelong friends. Five years later, my husband knows the monthly friends' brunch on the calendar is sacred.
  • I focused not on resenting my commute, but on being intentional with that time. With this newfound intention, I developed a meditation practice, read mind-expanding books, and began jotting down musings that ultimately became the foundation for my business.
  • I reached out to people with similar interests and made efforts to both share and receive recommended books and articles. We made an informal book club out of it, learning together.

None of these ideas contributed directly to my job. But they were all proactive efforts on my part to create moments of enjoyment and engagement for as long as I was there.

And there you have some of my favorite tips for enhancing your ability to love your job. Of course, none of these strategies guarantee you'll love every moment of your job, and they all take intent, commitment, and work. But I hope something I’ve mentioned helps shine a little bit of a love-light on your day.

Are there other strategies you've found successful for helping you love your job? I'd love to hear from you!

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.