Find a job you love by focusing on who you want to serve
Work sucks for a lot of reasons, but at the core of all that suck is that work is so often without meaning. It’s ‘just a job’, just a paycheck, just a means to some end in a future that never comes. Nobody wants to feel as though their work doesn’t matter, and yet so many people feel just that.
Most people in the US don’t expect anything more than that. We’re conditioned to expect to be used as tools for some abstract money-making operation. We’re taught to be thankful for the opportunity to devote the bulk of our adult lives to being tools. Work, we are told, is supposed to suck, and that to accept our lot in life is what responsible adults ought to do. Even just hoping for something more is considered juvenile.
Most people struggle in their work and in life. They work but don’t make enough, or they can’t find enough work, or they work a job without hope of advancement. They imagine if they could get a job with more compensation or more prestige that they would be happy. In the meantime there is too much chaos of poverty to do anything more than cope day-to-day and hope to win the lottery.
A much smaller percentage of people don’t struggle materially. They make plenty of money. They are comfortable, but they still don’t enjoy work. Many of them worked hard (they think) in order to secure jobs that start with ‘senior’ and ‘director of’ and ‘chief of’, but the payout doesn’t satisfy. They have prestige and wealth, but there’s a hunger that cannot be satisfied.
Some push harder for even more prestige and money thinking that the next achievement will give them something all the previous ones didn’t. Others push their happiness out into the future, to some distant career change or even all the way out to retirement. “I’ll just do this for two/five/ten years, then I’ll quit and start that other thing, and that will make me happy.”
Most people waste the time of their lives seeking money as the path to happiness. That is what we’re sold. Money is how the trap is baited, after all. Research indicates there is some correlation between income and happiness, which is expected since people gotta eat, but it’s a weak signal that fades fast after there’s enough money for the essentials in life. Wealth, according to the data, does not necessarily lead to happiness. This is particularly so in an economy that demands so much sacrifice in order for anyone born less-than-wealthy to become rich. However, despite so much evidence against money leading to happiness, most people still chase it since that is just what is done. What else is there to do?
I know people all along this spectrum of wealth and prestige. With very few exceptions they’re all unhappy with their work. Some never expected to be happy, others are troubled by their continued failure to enjoy what they do despite working very hard to get where they’re at.
This is because work, whether successful or not, is empty if it is done for the sake of self. If we work simply to secure resources for ourselves there is no lasting happiness or satisfaction in it, especially if the nature of that work is meaningless — or worse, harmful to others.
The path to finding work that makes us happy is to first abandon the sucker’s game of ‘success’ as it has been defined by the sociopath businessmen who make the rules of our society and economy. Forget money and prestige, forget achievements and accolades; all of that shit is just bait for the trap, it’s just there to make you work for the benefit of some distant business owner and faceless shareholder. That kind of success will not ever fill you up with joy.
Success of that kind done for our own ego is like eating a diet with no protein. You can eat and eat and achieve and achieve, but you’re still unsatisfied because there is something essential you’re not getting. Personal achievements are like candy in that they might satisfy our base nature for a moment, but they just lead to greater need for more without any lasting satisfaction. Over time they both make us ill.
When letting go of the sucker’s dream of selfish success it’s best to remember you will die. This it not a rehearsal. This is your one shot to live. No one wants to look back and realize they wasted their time serving foolish bosses doing meaningless or harmful work all for the sake of material and prestige lost the moment they die.
Just let all that nonsense go. Consider how meaningless it is to work for the sake of getting some award or achievement, as if you were a kid at camp. Everest is just a very large rock, after all, so don’t kill yourself trying to climb it or any other arbitrary goal set for the sake of your own ego.
The path to happiness involves setting aside childish things such as the singular devotion to one’s own ego. Egotism is an adaptive trait for teens, but should be discarded by mature adults who are ready to do real work. Meaningful work cannot be done for the sake of one’s ego.
Along with ego goes the childish need to entertain ourselves as a primary goal. Self-indulgent amusement is for bored children with nothing better to do. Adults have work that needs to be done. This does not at all mean we should be bored. Real work is not ever boring.
Meaningful work serves those who in need. This is what satisfies our better natures. Note I didn’t say ‘help’ since you and I are no one’s savior. Being a hero who helps is the near enemy of genuine selfless service, and it does not satisfy. Trying to be a helper is just another way to try to gain achievements. It’s a sort of spiritual materialism.
Real work is not about merely rendering aid it is about joining with others as human beings. Serving is done with the knowledge that we’re no different than those we serve. We know we also need the service of others, sometimes more and sometimes less, but we also need others. We serve because it edifies and because it is what good people ought to do. It does good and it feels good to do. That is real work.
Once we have a mind to serve we have to then consider who we have the heart to serve, as well as who we have the skills to serve best. There is no lack of need, so you can choose almost anywhere and find necessary work to be done. Need is everywhere: there are isolated and neglected elderly people and desperate single mothers and kids drinking lead. Consider who you can best serve and set yourself to that task.
It’s likely you don’t even know who needs service most in your community so you’ll need to do some homework to figure out where you’re needed most. It takes effort to find ways to be of service. Joining the armies of big business, on the other hand, is effortless since there’s always money for anyone willing to be another mercenary for the wealthy, but for those who want to serve others there is no recruitment services or job fairs. You need to put that work in yourself.
There’s no template for what real work looks like, but if you set your mind right and approach it with a humble spirit and compassionate intent you’ll know it when see it and when you feel it. Effective service has tangible good effects that will let you know if you’re on the right track. The best real work is something so desperately needed that there’s no job title for it because the need has gone unmet for so long. Be creative.
This requires courage and maturity. It is not for the childish or the weak. There are no tourists in work like this. You can’t hover above the people you serve and merely drop help on them from a distance. That is not service. Instead, you must have skin in the game; if you’re going to serve a specific community you’ve got to live among them and share their problems. You have to look them in the eye and let them see your compassion. If you come to them as a hero who is above them you’ll only degrade them and yourself in the process.
You have to both believe and communicate your recognition of their humanity because when you serve someone, no matter who it is, you must see and treat them as equals. You are no better than them. Service is about one human joining with another to make life better. That is what nourishes your spirit. That’s the kind of work that doesn’t suck.
You cannot do this alone. Partly because working to serve others and build them up never pays well, so you will need to join with others and learn to live in community. More importantly, you’ll also need others because making the world better is just really hard. It’s often unclear how best to serve because reversing entropy and showing compassion takes a whole lot more knowledge and skill than making the world a worse place. Any idiot can disrupt shit and make things worse, that takes no real skill, but to serve others without hurting them takes real insight. You have to develop your inner qualities to a high degree which means learning from people who have gone before you. Iron sharpens iron, after all, so finding wise people is one of the most critical steps in learning to be a servant.
This demands even more humility to humanity, since living in community isn’t easy, especially when your material needs depend on that community. Most people don’t have the slightest idea what it takes to be in community thanks to modern society being so tragically fragmented and isolating. You’ll probably have a lot to learn.
If you can learn to be a humble member of your community, then you have a chance at sustaining real work. You can devote yourself to serving others confident the people around you will support and care for you, and you will in turn support and care for them. In a world falling apart this is better insurance than any blood-sucking company can provide.
This is how you find work that makes you happy. Work like this builds you up every day. Knowing your work means something to people you care about is worth more than anything that can be bought. The joy contained in a single day of effective service outshines a lifetime of promotions and bonuses.
When you work to serve others you don’t have to wait for some distant promotion or bonus or degree since the reward of your work is found not only daily but moment-by-moment. The process of service is joyous when it is done in the right mindset.
There’s a bevy of mental distress that melts away when doing real work, e.g. it’s hard to be socially anxious when you’re directing your attention and actions to serve others. It’s hard to believe you’re useless when people remind you of daily how much you mean to them. Boredom and ennui and general feelings of emptiness all struggle to take hold in someone who has real work to do.
My body gets tired sometimes, but I am happy. Some days are not just happy but joyous to the point of ecstasy. I wish you could taste it for a moment, especially if you’ve never tasted it before.
The more complete your commitment to service, the more happy you will become. If you’re rich, sell and give away everything you don’t truly need. That garbage can only distract you from your work. If you’re poor, let go of your self-hatred for fealling like you’ve failed to live up to the purile standards of ‘success’; you are no worse than anyone else, and when you live to serve others you’ll come to know and feel that and so be free from the misery of poverty. The game was rigged from the start, anyway. Poor people stay poor because that’s how the game was made by the wretched men who set the policies and made the rules.
But oh, no! What if you get sick? What if something bad happens? Well, if you get sick you might die. If something bad happens you might suffer. That’s true with a shitty job, though, too. It’s easier to face the uncertainty of this lifestyle when you realize that you have always been totally naked in the face of potential disaster.
Maybe you were confused and thought all that success and prestige could insulate you from illness and catastrophe and loss, but that was all an illusion. Sure, in the brutal system of the US good healthcare can improve your odds of beating a minor ailment, and if you’ve rich you might be able to avoid certain kinds of material troubles, but the greatest dangers in life are there no matter what you job title is. Death can always find you. You can lose love to death and divorce. You child can grow to hate you.
You can’t negotiate with reality. Physics doesn’t care about your desires. You can only use your time effectively or waste it. You’ll be dead before you know it, anyway. You may as well do something laudable that makes life better for those around you while filling your soul with joy in the process.
What about retirement? Forget it. Empty that retirement fund and give it all away. Retirement is for suckers who do work they hate. Losers dream of retirement. There is no retiring from service because it is what makes you happy. Your service might change as you age, but if you live well and invest in community you’ll always have what you need. The people you love are your retirement policy. They’ll be there for you if you live well.
Governments dissolve and companies go bankrupt and investments fail, but if you tend to your garden of loved ones with diligence you’ll be provided for when it comes time for that.
In another sense, living a life of compassionate service is like retiring early since there is no more need to work a nightmare helljob that crushes your soul more every day you do it. Retire from work by refocusing your life on service instead.
Ultimately you will lose it all when you die, so what is the point in trying to fight the tide? Don’t hide from life, join with it. When you focus on the needs of those you serve you find the spectre of death and loss less frightening. When you know every day that what you do really matters to others there’s less impulse to fret over dying too soon, since you’re no longer waiting for some happy future but instead living a happy moment.
After your death the compassion you have shown as a part of your service will continue to make a difference. Real work cannot ever be undone. Those acts of service ripple forward in ways you can’t predict or quantify. The live your poursed into others will remain. They will love others as you have loved them, and so on, forever. That is something you can hang your hat on.
Real work leads to real freedom. I don’t mean freedom in the base sense most Americans mean when they talk about the freedom to ‘do whatever they want’, since that’s really just being a slave to one’s appetites. Doing whatever your appetite demands is just mindless action without purpose. That isn’t freedom, that’s being stuck in a very boring movie directed by a child.
I mean freedom from being trapped in a shitty job you hate that doesn’t matter to anyone. Letting go of the desire for ‘success’ frees you from having to perform according to the caprice of employers who don’t have your best interest in mind. You don’t have to feel enslaved by callous bosses who don’t respect you. You can step beyond all of that and make your own path. You’re free from fear of losing ‘success’ because you’ve already given it up to pursue something more valuable.
There is also a freedom of movement and self-determination when you abandon ‘success’ and instead focus on a life of service. There are only a few spots on earth where huge sums of money and ‘success’ are dispensed to the most obedient tools of capitalism, but there is a need for service everywhere. You can go almost anywhere and find a place to do real work. That is freedom.
You’re free from being afraid of losing all that stuff you’ve worked for because you don’t cafe about that dumb shit anymore. When you invest in real work all other pursuits look childish. Here’s an example: I was once a volunteer GED tutor for a middle-aged woman who, after she passed her exam, danced into the tutoring center the next day and hugged me while crying with joy, thanking me for helping her find the courage and skill to do something she had long thought impossible for her. Do you know what that is worth to me? Take my couches, take my TV, take the nice silverware and my dress shoes, take it all, take my degrees; none of that means a thing compared to the joy of that single afternoon.
There are sacred moments I have shared with others that are too weighty to write about. They are between me and those people who honored me with their presence in those moments. I cannot explain it because unless you’ve lived it you just can’t know. I may as well try to explain the color red to a blind person. You will have to earn those sacred moments for yourself.
I am happy with my work. You can be, too. Just let go of all the nonsense and set yourself to do what is valuable. It’s so easy to let it all go once you see it’s just so much empty garbage without meaning or merit. All that ‘success’ is temporary. The lives you can change through your service, and the change you will experience in turn, that is eternal. No economic downturn can take those sacred moments from me.
There is a wealth of wisdom to help us on this path. For thousands of years humanity has been trying to get it right. Some people got pretty close along the way. I could cite many people that helped me along the way, but I’ll keep the list to do these three people: bell hooks, Fred Rogers, and Matthieu Ricard.
On a serious note: the world is coming apart. The US is fragmenting. The old world order is coming loose and no one can predict what kind of chaos will result from that. The foxes run the henhouse and there’s gonna be a feast like the world has never seen, but it isn’t possible to know just how that harvest will go down. There is even less sense in investing in ‘success’ when the social order that defined that ‘success’ is falling apart. What good is a degree from a university so gutted by the market that it has no respect left? What use is a medal from an institution that sold its honor? Forget it. There’s less and less reason to cling to the old golden calves. Let it all go.
There are people who need you. Go be with them. Serve them, and let them serve you. Find your real work and let it make you happy. You’ll be poor, but so what? There is nothing worth buying, anyway.
On a frosty morning behind a truck stop a young woman is too cold and scared and hungry and shot through it all is the fear that the men she’s hiding from — faced and faceless — will find her and feast, but out of blinding midwest dawn steps a servant with a hot sandwich and a promise to deliver her to a shelter nearby, a new home, and she sighs a temble before a sob — a bit of steam in the cold— because she is safe perhaps for the first time but certainly forever.
May we be as lights shining in the darkness.