That was one of the lessons I didn’t want to learn when I created my own company.
Back then, I had a clear vision that I’d be offering shit-hot HR services: HR strategy reviews; organization designs; performance management systems. Things I loved doing. It had taken a lot of time and effort while I was still an employed consultant to get clear on all of that, allow myself to channel my work that way, and indeed tell people in my networks that that’s what I was going to do.
It didn’t occur to me to consider that I’d get bored and fall out of love with any of it.
Falling out of love with your work
Sure enough, the first five or ten or how many ever projects that involved these kind of things were magical. I felt exhilarated to be out there on my own, selling top-end advice and working with such clever, fun, inspiring people. But there came a point where something that had once been nirvana, started to feel stale.
It was like getting to the end of eating a very large slice of red velvet cake. Before I’d carved myself a wedge, I’d craved it. When I started eating it, I melted in the tongue zinging hit of cacao, buttermilk, vanilla and beetroot flavors. But by the last few mouthfuls I was sated.
I stopped enjoying my work. Which was as worrying as it was confusing.
If you’re in a paid job, it’s easy enough to take this kind of experience as meaning that it’s time to find your next big challenge.
But if it’s your own business, or you’re somehow tenured to the company you’re part of, it’s not quite that straight forward. Often, aside from anything, there’s the challenge of defining what else it is you want to do, let alone thinking about how you’re going to morph what you’re doing in a way that sustains your revenues.
That’s how it was for me. At some point, I saw my next horizon appear: I wanted to be to offer executive coaching. And indeed I wanted to sharpen my ability to work with business teams. I could facilitate an arbitrary, externally designed agenda. But I wanted to be able to channel and harness inherent group process far more elegantly.
I figured I had a ton of learning to do before I could legitimately offer these things. So I set out to do both coach and psychotherapy training.
But in the meantime, I was still a business owner not feeling the love.
I remember being very conflicted about that. Never mind my ambivalence; offering services to clients when my passion was in absentia felt like it lacked integrity. I decided to take the counsel of one of my mentors at the time, a full-time, highly successful practicing coach and psychotherapist called David.
He shared with me his own story.
“For years before I began my own training,” he said, “I had a kitchen design and fitting business. When I knew I wanted to become a therapist, and I began my training, I faced a similar dilemma to you. For a long time, far from just being equivocal, I hated my work. Sure, I kept selling people kitchens and arranging for them to be installed. But all I could see was how done I was with it. Especially when confronted with challenges, all I could focus on was a time in the future when I’d be doing something else.
“It was killing me.”
I asked him he’d got past that, and he explained that, one day, he’d had the realization that, for however long he chose to run his kitchen business, he could either keep resenting it, or choose instead to enjoy it.
That was his insight: that he had choice.
Loving The Work You Do
“So, I decided, for so long as I do this, I am going to love it. I am going to stop seeing it as a necessary evil. In fact, I’m going to start loving the shit out of it.”
“Let’s face it,” he said, “we creative and entrepreneurial sorts tend to get bored easily. We live in tomorrow. We’re brilliant at that. But it comes at the expense of our today. And that bears a price in the very heavy feelings associated with waiting and longing. It also has an impact on people around us.
“I asked myself, what message am I conveying to my customers, to my staff, and indeed to the universe, through my dislike of my old business? And it was as simple as that. I thought, until I’m a coach/psychotherapist, and have created my practice in the way I want, I have a kitchen design business and I’m going to bloody love it.
“How did that change things?” I asked him.
“Well, nothing and everything changed,” he said. “The products and services didn’t change, nor did my staff. But I started to see them through different eyes. I became more caring and respectful. I listened more. I tried to be more present. I asked people what they needed of me. I saw opportunities I’d previously missed to do things like deepen staff relationships or to encourage customers to be more imaginative and daring in their designs. I was sad in the end to let it go. But I began to see that presence, loving and serving were fundamental building blocks of being good in my forthcoming incarnation, and had to laugh at myself when I realized that, instead of holding me back from something, my current business could in fact be a conduit to what I now do.”
His story really made me think, and I decided to make the same choice as he had. I decided to love what I was doing for as long as I was doing it. To try to come from a place of serving as much as I could. The whole thing felt way lighter, and I do believe my results improved. For sure I enjoyed it more again.
As an unexpected by-product, I found my heart opening to the warmest sense of gratitude that, however things conspired, I was being able to continue to do important work, making a valuable difference to people and their businesses, at the same time as I was sharpening my saw to move in a different direction again.
I do believe that loving what I did ultimately made it easier to transition. There was no need to feel bad about what I was letting go of, because I’d served it and it me.
Any amount of smart coaches can collude with your desire to do work you love. And, sure, why not head yourself in the direction of doing it? But consider that what you love can, over time, change. And that meantime, there’s strength to be gained from developing your muscle in loving what you do today. No matter what that is.
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