Do You Look Forward to Going to Work?

“I should wake up excited to go to work,” we tell ourselves. For many people, this feeling is so essential to our definition of what it means to have a great job that we don’t even question it. But is how much you look forward to going to work in the morning a barometer for how good your job is? This topic came up at a recent career group session and led to a really interesting discussion.

The question tends to elicit strong reactions from people. “Of course you should be happy to go to work!” people respond incredulously. That’s how I used to feel, too, but now I’m not sure how meaningful your enthusiasm for going to work each morning really is. I have a childhood friend named Alessia whose father was a teacher and a department head at a prominent children’s school and teacher’s college in New York. He loved his job more than almost anyone else I know. This is someone who would come home at the end of the day and say, without any irony, “I have the best job in the world.”

Yet, during our career group session, Alessia revealed that even her dad dreaded the beginning of the school year and didn’t particularly look forward to going to work each morning, either. His feeling was that you couldn’t only measure how good a job was by how you felt in the morning—the more important consideration was how you felt at the end of the day.

I think the question of whether you should like going to work derives from the fundamental tension of how your work relates to either your passion or your lifestyle (this needn’t be an either/or situation, but it often seems to play out this way). Some people are lucky to have a job where the can work on specific passions and be paid decently. My husband, who is a game designer and programmer, fits in this category. He loves video games and has wanted to be a game designer for most of his life, and now he is one. He still has occasional days where he doesn’t look forward to going to work, but his job contains an essential element of personal interest that means he anticipates it with pleasure most of the time. Other people, whose passions have no viable related careers, may have jobs that fit their skills and general interests, but are predominantly about supporting other activities or lifestyle choices. This can be great too, but does leave work feeling like, well, work and nothing else. For these people, the expectation of bounding out of bed to go to work each morning may never be realistic.

Of course, not being excited to go to work is not the same thing as dreading it. I think that the former is a reality of work for many people and not necessarily indicative of the overall fit or satisfaction level of the job. The latter is unbearable and, whatever the reason, an indication that significant change of some sort is necessary.

It turned out that few people in our career group actively look forward to going to their jobs each morning, even those who really like their jobs. Several said that, while they might not look forward to going to work, they felt content and accepting of it. At least one actively dreaded it. Many of us agreed that we often felt satisfied when we came home at the end of the day.

Even in cases where people dread their jobs, however, observing how you feel at the end of the day can still be a useful exercise. My friend Virginia illustrates this point perfectly. She is an attorney with an extraordinarily stressful work environment and a job that she is actively anxious about each morning, yet she often feels satisfied with what she’s accomplished at the end of the day. She doesn’t want to change her career or industry—she wants to get a similar job at a different firm that is a better fit for her personality. Her goal is to feel about going to work the way she feels about going to a yoga class.

“I am not always inclined to go to yoga class because it means getting dressed, leaving my house and walking to the studio,” she said. “I am also afraid that I will be tired or the class will be challenging. On the other hand, I feel calm about the prospect of going because I have had so many positive experiences with it in the past. I never dread it and, if I did, I wouldn’t go. Once I’m at the class, I enjoy it immensely. Even if some moments are unpleasant, I derive satisfaction from working through them and overcoming the difficulties. By the end of the class, I feel ecstatic about the fact that it is over and that I put myself through it. This is how I would like to feel about my job.”

For many people, work is not like the things they do for fun. Even if their work is like what they do for pleasure, the realities of commutes, salaries, and coworkers end up complicating the overall work experience of most jobs—even the ones that seem like they should be perfect fits.

Like many people I know, my job is a big part of my identity. This creates a lot of additional pressure to be really satisfied with work all of the time, even though that is not a reality of most jobs. I am always trying to figure out ways to make work feel less like work, mostly by continually trying to increase the amount of time I spend on the parts of my job that I enjoy, and minimize the time I spend on the parts that I don’t. Having said that, I can’t envision my work ever feeling enjoyable in the same way as the things I do solely for pleasure. I’m not sure that I’ll ever know whether this is due to to my personality—namely, feeling like nothing is as fun once it becomes an obligation—or because my job is not sufficiently aligned with my interests.

Assuming that the “right” job will leave you actively wanting to go to work each day is a colossal expectation that, for me, can lead to frustration. Instead, I try to approach the work day knowing that there will be challenges. I keep my expectations tempered. I think this helps me work through the obstacles that necessarily come up throughout the day without spiraling into irritation or despondency. In this way, having more moderate expectations for the day actually enables me to feel productive and satisfied when it’s over.

How satisfied you feel at the end of the day, rather than the beginning, certainly isn’t the only metric to consider when evaluating whether a job is a good fit, nor am I advocating everyone to settle on a job and to quit trying for something better. But by moderating our expectations of how we ought to feel at the beginning of the day and instead observing how we feel at the end of it, we may find more clues about what aspects of our jobs satisfy us, and ultimately feel more contented with what we’ve actually accomplished.

 

Leda Marritz lives in San Francisco.

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28 Comments / Post A Comment

rorow (#1,665)

this was really relevant, thank you for writing it. i’m in this stage where i am grateful for the lifestyle my job affords me, but i dread going in and spend most of the day fantasizing about other things.

i also know that work will always be work, because if i was independently wealthy i would just travel and read and get a million degrees, so it’s finding the balance of work i enjoy, find meaningful, and that lets me have the lifestyle i want.

one day!

@rorow totally. My dream job would just be to do WHATEVER THE HECK I WANT ALL DAY, which, uh, isn’t really work. Like you, it’d be about travelling and reading and probably eating. A LOT.

Norrey (#407)

Never, ever, even if my job was to play with puppies all day, would I be bounding out of bed in excitement to go to work. I love my job, but it’s still a job, and it’s ok that it feels like work. I’m so happy with this article! I think lots of people feel a little duped by the who “Wake up excited to go to work” line.

endofherleash (#201)

@Norrey as someone whose job it is to hang out with puppies/dogs all day, you are definitely right. i love my job and can’t really imagine doing anything else with my life, but it still feels like work.

i loved this piece, so relevant

francesfrances (#1,522)

@highwaysofgold What is your job? Can I have one?

endofherleash (#201)

@amyfrances i’m a full time dog walker, part time pet shop employee, and a dog trainer in training. if you’re in the boston area i can get you in on the action!

olivia (#1,618)

I completely agree with your friend’s dad. I also don’t actively look forward to going to work, but I don’t dread it at all.

Given the option, I would always just rather lay in bed with my cats and read or play on the internet. But since I don’t think there’s a job that pays you to do that, I work at an office doing something I find interesting and intellectually stimulating that has some pretty sweet perks. And I usually go home feeling pretty good about my work that day.

tea for all (#2,263)

@olivia i think also part of what’s so delicious about staying in bed with the cats, reading or playing on the internet, is that it’s such a great contrast to what you ordinarily have to do. if i had no obligations every day and were free to stay in bed with the cats, i would get real bored real quick. so that’s another reason i’ve been grateful to have a job (when i had a job, before going back to school).

dotcommie (#662)

i am lucky enough to have an interesting job at a young age that’s relevant to my interests, and i often don’t want to go in in the morning. part of that is that i’m not a morning person and don’t want to do much of anything first thing in the morning. i also am very anxious and worry about tasks that need to be done, controversies with coworkers, meetings to prepare for, etc. most of this stuff turns out fine in the end, but i still worry about it beforehand and i think that plays into my antipathy towards going to work.

also, it’s a difference of stakes. i can’t purely enjoy work because the stakes are too high. if i screw up, that affects my livelihood and the people i work for. if i screw up, say, reading a book, no one cares, so i don’t stress about my leisure activities while stress diminishes my enjoyment of work.

Megano! (#124)

I personally, don’t feel good about anything first thing in the morning, even things I like, so I can’t even imagine being excited about work in the morning. Bed > work always and forever

@Megano! This is me too. I went on a really sweet vacation last year and the morning we left (early) I was so not excited to get out of bed. Once I got up and had a shower and coffee I was pretty excited though. And even though my job right now isn’t my dream job, once I am up and on the way there, I don’t dread it.

Stina (#686)

@Megano! I have a great job but in the battle of bed vs. job are you kidding? Not even a competition, plus in the morning your bed has magically transformed itself into a warm little cocoon, perfectly shaped to your body. Beds play dirty.

@Megano! yeah, I’m the same. I like my job a lot, but I still have to fight my desire to lay around in bed in the mornings in order to get there on time. Not because I don’t like my job enough, but because I like laying around in bed in the mornings too much. This is as true for recreational weekend plans as it is for work.

Mae (#1,769)

I think this is really important, especially in light of the way most of us (younger people) were taught to think about work. We were told to follow our passions and to create careers that were meaningful and fulfilling, which is not really the reality for most people, even people who are happy and satisfied with their jobs.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

I can’t imagine ever looking forward to going to work – thankfully I don’t often dread it, but the constraints it places on my life are frustrating. I think that’s a huge part of why I’m on sites like this; I’m trying to learn as much as I can about money to make the best possible decisions so I can retire early.

Lily Rowan (#70)

Maybe I am just old and cranky, but who the fuck is telling you people you should be excited to go to work in the morning??

That’s why they call it work.

probs (#296)

@Lily Rowan ding ding! We have a winner.

olivia (#1,618)

@Lily Rowan YUP. That’s why they pay you to be there. Otherwise no one would go!

Lily Rowan (#70)

@probs I have two relevant paraphrases as well:

1) Carlin: “There’s a support group for people who hate their jobs. It’s called everyone. We meet at the bar.”

2) Peggy on Mad Men: “You never say thank you!” Don Draper: “That’s what the money is for.”

probs (#296)

Great article, great topic. Additionally, there’s a lot of research showing that financial compensation often decreases people’s enjoyment of things.

The fact of the matter is if you told almost anyone in the world, “today, you can stay home and do what you want. You will be compensated just the same, and magically, your patients will be cared for precisely as if you were there, your comics pages will be drawn as you would draw them, bread baked as you would bake it,” etc., they would say yes. I think a key distincion would lay in what they would say if you made that proposition permanent. I think people who are really happy or satisfied would say, “you know, I’d rather check that patient/ink that panel/ knead that dough myself than loaf around forever!”

As for me, my magical clone can take over my job any time they like. And I would still say that I have a quite good job.

Ugh, I absolutely HATE this trope. Had a rant about it a while ago. http://nzmuse.com/2011/01/the-job-that-you-wake-up-excited-for-propaganda/

I like what I do, and I don’t dread going to work. But I certainly wouldn’t go to work every single day if finances were removed from the equation. I also think it’s ridiculous to think we can all love our jobs if for no other reason than the fact that most jobs – the important kinds of jobs that make the world keep ticking along – are not that exciting. (Ranted about this a couple months ago too. http://nzmuse.com/2013/01/can-we-all-realistically-expect-to-love-our-jobs/)

Genghis Khat (#584)

My response was a bitter laugh and a mental “Are you high right now?” My life is awesome.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

I usually look forward to going into work so that I can get things done, but once I’m at work I’m completely miserable. There are so many different configurations “looking forward to going into work” can take, it’s silly to assume that wanting to go to work is always a positive thing.

faceifer (#3,162)

My boyfriend is also a game designer and sounds exactly like the author’s husband. He has no concept of what the normal working world is like. Most people don’t have careers in something they enjoy in their leisure time. I like my job, I like the company I work for, I like most of my coworkers, etc… there’s not much specifically to complain about, I just don’t like working. I do what I do because I have bills to pay. I don’t have a dream job or career. Does being independently wealthy count? I dream about that a lot.

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

I hate the tyranny of “do what you love!” for a job. I genuinely like my job but that doesn’t mean there aren’t days (TODAY INCLUDED) where I want to jump out a window. That is why it’s a job. I have had moments of sheer bliss at what we’ve accomplished and also days of “What-the-fuck-ever” because it’s a job and to not be static, some days should be hard and difficult.

EM (#1,012)

I always like “going to work” because my bus ride is when I read library books or listen to podcasts and so it’s always a nice 20 minutes. I also feel generally lucky to work in my field of interest with nice people, which helps even on days when I feel super lazy. But I also take a perverse pleasure in tasks like formatting documents and manuscripts and generally organizational/administrative tasks, so even the non-stimulating parts of my job aren’t bad. But I have never been ecstatically happy or thrilled about work, which is probably normal. Work to live not live to work, etc.

Mark (#3,557)

I”ve never known anyone who was excited to go to work every morning. This ranges from lawyers making six times what I do to classical musicians who ranked highly in international competitions. I’m working a job that’s just about ideal for me: physics-centered, flexible hours so I can come in at 11am, and opportunities for traveling to other countries for conferences and lab visits. Do I look forwards to going to work? Not most mornings. Mostly because the part of the job I like–the physics–is only about 10% of the job. The rest is managing schedules, calling vendors who don’t call back, convincing engineers to work on my project instead of the other seven they have on their plate, and making sure the chemical room doesn’t kill anybody. It’s probably the same for most jobs. The classical musician spent most of her time scheduling performances, rehearsing pieces she hated for competions, managing budgets, networking, and playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D in weddings every weekend.

I get satisfaction from my work. Happiness comes from what I spend the paycheck on and what I do with my time off.

JitterBug (#1,972)

As an introvert, I never looked forward to going to jobs – even jobs I really liked – because it meant nine hours of being ‘on’ and happy and a team-player and all of the things modern corporations require. I was exhausted after work and needed the time in my car on the way home to recentre and be quiet. Open plan offices and lots of ringing phones and meetings are really hard on introverts!

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