Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do the Thing That You Can Do For 2 Hours Without Realizing It

I forget exactly where I was reading this, perhaps in some article about kids and their parents deciding whether an expensive college is worth it, etc., but someone was quoted giving this advice to people who are deciding what they want to do with their lives: is there something that you can get so into that you lose track of time and later realize that you've been absorbed in this activity for over 2 hours without even knowing it? That is what you should do with your life.

That struck a chord with me, as there are definitely activities that make me feel that way. Do I do any of these things professionally? A little-- I can get wrapped up in certain analytical tasks that my job requires and lose myself for 2 hours in creating spreadsheets and charts. I can also lose myself for hours reading books, and that is definitely part of my job. But the rest of my work life doesn't have that kind of absorbing interest for me.

What other activities do I enjoy that way? Painting. Digging around in a garden. Researching genealogy. I've also gone through phases where I was quite caught up in figuring out new templates for this blog or doing some kind of hack on a Palm Pilot. I guess I like figuring things out, being creative, and playing in the dirt. But would I be happy doing any of these things professionally? Would I make enough money to be happy doing them? The money is important to me, as this blog might suggest! But is there also something about being paid for a task that makes it less fun? Would I rather get lost for 2 hours in something that is pure recreation, or part of my career?

I don't quite know the answer to that question-- I've made the career choices I've made, and that is part of the answer, I guess. How about you? What do you love to do, and do you get paid to do it?


Elizabeth said...

I adore what I do and certainly get caught up in it but I don't get paid, no vacation time or sick days, very little personal recognition, and no societal recognition at all. I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.

Oh, yeah, I have a paying job too doing clerical/secretarial work from home. No, the job isn't engaging. I have a hard time concentrating on it for longer than 10 minutes at a time. But it pays and I can continue to be at home and it helps out the (husband's) small company so I continue doing it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Madame X,

As often happens, you have posted the exact thing I needed to read.

I do something that seems like it would be perfect for me. It uses my skills and my talents, and pays, if not well, then at least well enough. I have respect and meaningful work in the eyes of the world.

But I'm doing this work in a career that doesn't excite me, and I've been thinking about how I want to proceed. As an artist -- please don't give me a hard time; I know it can be a pretentious word, but it applies -- I hate the fact that I'm doing a job just to make money, no matter how well I can do the job, or how much it LOOKS like the right job for me. I want to follow a calling -- another sometimes pretentious word, that definitely applies.

I appreciate the reminder that you should figure out how to do what absorbs you.

That would send me back to one, or both, of two fields:
1) a field I just fell into (a good sign!) years ago, and which obsessed me. I did this work very part time for about twelve years, but never pursued it as a full time occupation. I think I just chickened out because it was so far from the "trade" for which I had prepared in school.
2) the aforementioned "trade", with which I was also obsessed, but which wasn't making me very much money.

When I entered the career path I'm following now, I had so much catching up to do that I stopped doing anything else. But if I'm not completely happy doing this work, and if I'm supposed to do THE THING THAT ABSORBS ME, I need to think about how I can follow one or both of those beloved abandoned callings. Now that I've gotten settled in my current career, maybe I can figure out how to get into those other fields part time, until I figure out a way to make enough money at them.

Thank you for giving us important words to consider.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. It falls in line with traditional advice of building a career around your passions.

FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com said...

1. Organize (my room, my clothes, my files, whatever)

2. Play with my budget and calculate projected forecasts

3. Blog

Anonymous said...

Nah...makiing a living off of it would totally ruin it. That's what they all say.

That said...could I make a living reading blogs on the internet?

Anonymous said...

Sewing, reading, learning new site-design tricks...hmm.

Bitty said...

Solitaire? I can make a career of solitaire??? ;)

Anonymous said...

As Charles Nelson Reilly would say: "Making whoopie."

Beth said...

First time I have ever commented here, but I think I can agree with the advice.

I currently work as a pre-press tech in the print field and it is fantastic. My job is a combination of things I like to do and have an interest in, plus on slow days I can read blogs. Almost everyday I learn something new about my field and I have been at my job almost two years now. Plus the amount of variety in our work helps to keep my ADD in check.

My current job will not get me rich, but it does provide for me and once I go full time I will have fantastic benefits, and it will keep me content and happy until it is my time to move on from the job.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post!

I have plenty of things that I adore, and can get lost doing... but a lot of them - theatre, photography, music - are not viable career options for me. As it is, I'm presently in law school, hating every minute of lecture and reading that I have to do. That said, when I get out, I think I will enjoy my career - because another thing I can really get caught up in is people's stories... and to be a good advocate, at least for the type of public interest law I want to do, you have to know your client's story and understand what you're arguing for, and why. I do enjoy the advocacy side of law... unfortunately, we don't do much of that in school - it's all about reading and mindless regurgitation. Hopefully it'll be worth it in the end, and I'll find a career that not only pays the bills, but that I enjoy as well.

Anonymous said...

First of all, you all (esp. the artist) MUST read "What Should I Do With My Life?" by Po Bronson. It is a book with different chapters describing different people who asked themselves this question and searched for their passion and most often found it. It's really inspiring, esp. because they are people like you and me who were just stuck not feeling passionate about their work and did something about it.
Second, research on human motivation does show time and time again that when you are paid for something (whether you love it or not) you experience less enjoyment of it. This is too bad, but making a living doing something you love definitely beats the alterative!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the suggestion -- I'll get that book. But I have to say that when I was paid for doing the things I love, I enjoyed them more! It's good to be paid for doing something you love, and are good at.

Schaz said...

It wasn't until I got a job doing what I love (when I was nearly 40) that I realized how big a difference it makes to happiness. When people ask me why I enjoy my job, I answer that I get to write, do research, and play with computers - and somebody pays me for it. Those are all activities I would do if they weren't my job, just for pleasure.

Luckily, my job pays really well. And that also makes a difference to happiness, because it helps alleviate much of the drain of low-income living that contributes stress, worry, anxiety, and fear to your daily life. BTDT.

There was a study some years back that concluded that happiness and unhappiness are separate spectrums. Their explanation made a lot of sense, and I wish I could find it because I can't recall enough of the details to explain it coherently.

But the way it plays out is that earning a good living reduces sources of unhappiness for me, and doing what I love increases the aspects of my life that bring me happiness.