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Suck it up, Buttercup: Hardly Anyone Has Their "Dream Job", Yet Life is Still Grand


People are always touting the phrase, “Do what you love, and the money will follow,” but it’s not always as easy as that, is it?


The reality is most of us have to hold jobs that don’t match up with our dreams, so let’s please amend the phrase to read, “Try to love what you’re doing today; don’t let it define who you are, and a pretty good life might follow.”


I know--it just doesn’t have that dreamy ring to it, does it?


We’ve all complained about work, right? In college at Ohio University twenty years ago, I worked at a bagel shop, serving bagels to drunk students late at night and hungover students at the crack of dawn.

One night I went to work with a horrible attitude, grumpy as a you can imagine a 20-year-old college student serving up schmears to slurred-speech customers can be.


Apparently, I had complained just enough for my dreadlock-adorned, Grateful Dead-following co-worker to finally turn to me and slowly exhale, “Man, look around. You’re nourishing these people. Doesn’t it feel good to know you’re a part of that?”


What-the-crap-ever, I thought to myself.


I couldn’t see what he was seeing. He was in the same situation that I was in--a college kid having to work hard without having things dished out to us--and he was appreciating the impossibly positive side of it.


I wasn’t there yet then, but the fact that I remember his words so many years later means they, in fact, landed deep within me.


We all have or have had a job that can strangle the energy from us. We pick out the horrible things about it and stubbornly park ourselves there with our arms crossed, putting blinders on to anything positive that might come along with the negatives.


Do you do this? Just me sometimes?


Work, in general, has such negative connotations attached to it. Rarely anyone squeals in delight, “I get to go to work now!” It’s usually more of a begrudging moan of, “Ugh, I have to drag my butt out of bed to go to work now” before clobbering the snooze button.


But what happens if we can switch our lens to one of optimism and pride and not let work be a dirty “4-letter word”?


A strong work ethic is a mighty gift to possess. It’s right up there with a sense of humor, empathy, and an appreciation of nature--all qualities I hope my kids will cultivate.


If I can just instill in them to put their best effort into everything, I know their lives will be richer for it. And when I say “best effort” I don’t mean maniacal, obsessive goals of perfection. I just mean a desire to do their best because it feels good to dig in and put ourselves into our work.


Sometimes their imaginary play revolves around pretending to be at work, and their eyes seriously twinkle when they say, “Let’s pretend we’re adults going to work!” as if work were some fairytale land full of Skittles falling from the sky rather than eating Grape Nuts in a cubicle while listening to NPR.


I don’t necessarily equate a strong work ethic with loads of money. I hope my kids will tap wholeheartedly into whatever they’re doing from scrubbing toilets to running a company, and focus on the pride of a job well done rather than just the money.


We can go about our jobs much more successfully if we remove the drowning weight of negativity and disappointment we carry on our backs. Most of us can’t say we love absolutely everything about our jobs, but the physical act of working can be rewarding if we tackle it with purposefulness and satisfaction.


This doesn’t mean work is always a joy sprinkled with giggles and gumdrops. It sucks at times. You’d better believe I curse the alarm every morning it sings its stupid little song, but when I frantically slide into work after getting my kids to school, I find that place of calm and focus where I know work is a gift and doing the best I can is a much better way to spend my life than dwelling on the ungrateful, entitled place that also lurks in my brain.


Let’s mark our unique stamp on the work we do. There’s only one of you, so you are the only person who can do your job --no matter how "small"-- the way you do it, so embrace that.