By Judith Sills Ph.D., published on November 1, 2008 - last reviewed on September 28, 2012
Joseph Campbell gave bumper-sticker-worthy career counsel when he suggested, "Follow your bliss." His advice has been a beacon—but only for those of us able to identify some non-erogenous bliss by our early twenties, when we are tasked with staking out a career path. The rest of us tend to wander into our work lives, following a road outlined by opportunity and illuminated by little more than a developing sense of self and the freighted opinions of parents and friends.
However you found your way into your professional identity, you will eventually confront another career choice: Can you look around and learn to love your work? At some professional points, that's not so easy to do.
The problem is, once you've found your niche, its rocky outgrowths will predictably start to abrade. Over time, those irritations—the hellish commute, predictable routine, incompetent boss, political colleagues, or mountainous paperwork grind—may begin to loom large, overshadowing satisfaction. It's all too human for gratification to recede, while frustrations continue to clamor for attention, making long-term career contentment, like long-term romantic love (or perhaps long-term anything, come to think of it), heavy lifting.
The secret to vocational fulfillment is not always found in a better job, or a more impartial supervisor. Sometimes the only thing you need to change is your attitude. And, as cognitive psychologists have long demonstrated, attitude can be significantly influenced by where you choose to focus your attention. What we think shapes what we feel, at least as often as the other way around.
Perhaps one secret to loving your work is to find the perfect job and then be overpaid for it. Failing that, you will love your work most when you deliberately, consciously, and regularly remind yourself of what there is to love about it.
In 30 years of practice I have observed only one universal truth: No one has to be coached to think more negative thoughts. They just come naturally. But positive thoughts require focus, effort, and discipline. The task itself is simple enough. Just take out a piece of paper and write down every single thing you like about your job. Or keep a daily list of five things that were positive at work today. Making that list can be attitude magic.
Direct your gaze along the following positive lines and see if it helps you to develop that (yes, it's saccharine, but it's also powerful) "attitude of gratitude."
Whether your best moments are central to your job description (you manage a team and management of any kind brings out your personal best) or peripheral to it (you organize the office softball team, including the T-shirt design), take the time to notice the moments in the day when you feel like your best self. Flash on that mental image in a clear and vivid way several times a day.
Certainly a sense of self, a contribution to society, intellectual challenge, and deep visceral thrills are all excellent reasons to love your job. But on the off chance that your day-to-day employment falls short on these dimensions, remember that money is the primary reason adults are at the workplace. Independent adults pay their own way, and they do that by working.
If you earn your keep, take pride in it. And let yourself love your job for it. Because, if you love your job, it makes work worth it. Even if you have to work at it. —Judith Sills, Ph.D.
Let's face it. A positive attitude is not always a possibility. Here are some signals that your current job is just a bad fit.