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Ever since I graduated from college and entered the “real world”, I have been contemplating the term “work”. And, guess what?

I haven’t been able to make complete sense of it yet.

Currently, while experimenting with various forms of “work”, I am seeking to get insights regarding what the concept of “work” means to me. And, it is this internal conflict and exploration that I wish to talk about in this article.

Now, my professional work history states that I have had a couple of full-time jobs at multinational companies and a couple of internships. Personally, both those full-time jobs were disappointing. I felt somewhat unfulfilled. Not only did I lack the ‘passion’ (I interpret the term passion as an overlap of what I love doing and what I am good at) for those jobs, but they were also too stressful for me and led to burnout.

However, the question I kept asking myself was this- “Is work meant to be fulfilling and passion-filled? Or, is it something that I have to tolerate just to make money?”

I also remember having a conversation about this with one of my friends, and he was pondering- “Is work all about doing the things you don’t like to do so that you can make enough money for the things you like to do? But, then you don’t have enough time for the things you like to do, because your work fills up a large part of your time.”

So, is that what work is all about?

The Types of Work

From my experience, the work that you do just to make money can be of two types- ‘boring’ work or ‘toxic’ work. For me, both are unfulfilling, though toxic work is the more dangerous of the two as it impacts one’s health negatively. And, one cannot create wealth without having good health.

Work is toxic when it is too stressful, does not align with your natural strengths and the expectations at work far exceed your skills or capacity to handle or cope with them. And, work is boring when it feels too dull, too easy and contains monotonous elements day after day; you don’t experience much growth in this type of work.

The ideal form of work- the one that is fulfilling- is the type of work that brings your natural passions or interests to life, while also providing excitement and just the right amount of stress (the good stress) to make you grow. It is that sweet spot between boring work and toxic work; between comfort and aspiration; between contentment and desire. It is the one that has the potential to be your fulfilling career. And, if you achieve mastery in it via years of practice, it could also open the doors to a calling or higher purpose in life.

Now, I know all this sounds a bit idealistic. But, I would rather take risks for the better options than settle for the mediocre ones and have regrets later. And, if you resonate with this thought you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

However, what do you do if your current work or job does not fulfil you?

Having Fulfilling “Work”

There are a few hacks or strategies that you can implement to have fulfilling work in your life. To illustrate these, allow me to present a few fictional characters who do different forms of work. Let’s call these characters Andy, Brian and Cathy.

Our first character Andy works in a job he hates. The work environment and the nature of work don’t fit him. He is terrible at his job. His boss shouts at him every other day. He gets stressed and experiences burnout soon. He tried communicating this issue with his management, but nothing has changed. Hence, his work is toxic. But, Andy has a side hustle that he loves. He doesn’t make money from it yet, but he estimates he’ll get it within the next 6 months. Hence, for Andy, work- which he defines as his side hustle- is fulfilling. And, this fulfilment will cancel out the negative side effects of his toxic day job. And, when he does make money from his side hustle and pursues it full-time, he’ll experience truly fulfilling work.

Our second character Brian works in a boring job. He goes to the office every day, does his work and leaves as soon as it’s punching-out time. He doesn’t feel any passion for his work and just gets through his workday mechanically. But, Brian does have a passion. He loves writing fiction and does this as a hobby. This seems fine as his work is not toxic and he seems to do what he loves every day. He could even consider his writing hobby as ‘fulfilling work’. And, in future, if he makes some money via writing he can experience what it feels like to get paid for something he is passionate about.

Our third character Cathy is lucky enough to work in a job she is passionate about. She loves what she does, she is good at it and gets along well with her coworkers. She gets recognition for her work and gets paid highly. However, Cathy is also passionate about baking and makes delicious cakes for her family and friends frequently. This is her hobby currently but she intends to make a side hustle out of it in future. Hence, for Cathy, her current work- which is her day job- is fulfilling, but if and when she turns her baking practice into a paycheck while still working in her current job she would have two fulfilling types of work together. Or, just like Brian, she may already be considering her current baking hobby as ‘fulfilling work’, even though it does not earn her money. It’s all perspective, as we saw earlier.

Now, all of these scenarios imply a multitude of work. And, these are not exhaustive; there may be more permutations and combinations of work. Someone could pursue multiple hobbies, two side hustles and a full-time job all at once, and decide which one of them he considers to be his true “fulfilling work”. In this age of digital connectivity and remote working, the trend of slash careers seems to be booming.

Conclusion

As discussed, it is difficult to put a specific definition to the term “work”. It could mean different things to different people.

For me, what I am currently striving for is to survive in boring jobs for the short run, while pursuing my interests on the side, so that I still feel some level of fulfilment. And, for the long run, I seek that ideal intersection of what I am passionate about and what I can get paid for to make a decent living. I am young, and I may have more insights regarding work in the future, but right now this is my career goal.

I would like to conclude this article with the following quote from Steve Jobs.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.” 

Steve Jobs

So, what do you think about work? Is your work toxic, boring or fulfilling? Or, does it mean something else for you? And, what are the strategies or hacks you are using to manage your work? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments section.