Posted by: Jennifer | August 25, 2011

employment freebie

Bern Blog has proposed an interesting idea: if you wouldn’t do something for free, what makes you think you would enjoy it more if you were paid to do it?

On May 12, 2009 I read a list of advice my brother-in-law received during graduation from Yale Law:

1) An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two, and an hour of work before noon is worth two.
2) Always pick your kids up from school. That’s when they want to talk.
3) Never let your skill exceed your virtue.
4) Never take less than two weeks off when you have a child or for your honeymoon. Don’t let them talk you down.
5) When you mess up, admit it frankly and quickly, and move on.
6) Always do your very best in your job, but if you don’t like what you’re doing enough that you would do it for free, quit. (This seems extreme, but at the same time mentally liberating.)

This last one hit me like a bolt of lightning. Of course I had heard similar advice, like do what you love and you would never work a day in your life. But this one was different. Would I do it for free? That is a pretty high standard. I enjoyed the job I had. Everything has ups and downs, but generally is was ok. I was doing work that I enjoyed. I was working with technology and finance/accounting- it provided enough of a challenge and the company was growing well. But, I knew that I wouldn’t do it for FREE.

[…]We should only work in something that we would do for free because only then we will have the intrinsic motivation to attempt to achieve mastery- or getting better and better at something that matters. Mastery is something that I found in my process of discovery. Books such as “Drive” by Daniel Pink and “Delivering Happiness” helped me understand that when we are really focused on becoming a expert at something that matters, we cease trying to accomplish things because of the external motivations. For example, when I was in college I had to take a Geology class. I didn’t care about geology and I took the class just for a grade. I don’t remember much from that class. I enjoyed Economics though and I earned a minor in Economics because I enjoyed the theory and enjoyed learning. I never had to worry about getting an A in Economics, because I was mastering the material.

But mastery does not refer to perfect execution and knowledge. As Pink says in his book, “the mastery asymptote is a source of frustration. Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” I believe that we can only pursue mastery of things that we do based on internal motivation. Not if you are there to collect a paycheck.

Would I stay in my current job if I wasn’t being paid to do it? Hell to the no! But my landlady and the power company and the cellphone carrier would probably all have something interesting to say if I tried to quit just because I wasn’t happy. Don’t get me wrong — I fully believe that people should do what they love and that the only path to true happiness to is to find satisfaction and even joy in your work. I just also think that everyone has to do some soul-sucking/degrading/boring/uninteresting/blah work to pay the bills while biding your time towards the Dream Job.


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