What Gets You Up In The Morning?

29th April 2024
5 min read

Stick or carrot?

Photo by Kinga Howard

We all want to do the work we love doing.

To have purpose.

While drudgery exists in all jobs, some jobs get you out of bed in the morning. Other jobs keep you there.

Unfortunately, not everyone has their dream job. In fact, odds are most people don't. But that's not to say the job they're in can't serve to steer them in the right direction.

Even if they don't know where that is.

It turns out there are indicators we usually ignore that can point us where we don't know we want to go.

Chase That Feeling

Chatting with someone recently, I admitted that it felt like a large chunk of my career just kind of happened to me, rather than through any deliberate action on my part.

That includes how I ended up doing Industrial Design.

The story goes: Getting very close to the end of highschool, I still had no idea what I wanted to do for work. The only notion I had at the time was auto body painting. So on my dad's suggestion, I made a trip to the School Careers Advisor where he simply asked me what subjects I like doing.

That was an easy answer: art, and Design and Technology (D&T).

He looked me square in the eye and said:

"I think you should do Industrial Design".

So when it came around to putting in my university course selections. I put Industrial Design on the list. That was literally all I had. I had no second choice. No backup plan.

Fortunately, I scraped in.

My first design job after uni was a referral from a friend who was leaving the job.

I was head-hunted for my second job.

You can see how in retrospect I had the feeling my career had mostly happened to me. Even knowing the right people at the right time felt like dumb luck. Though I am probably being a little dishonest. I was (and am) a strong designer. My skills and clear love of design certainly helped.

I was far too young and oblivious back then to recognise that the feelings I had for my various school subjects had already set me in motion towards a career that for years to come I would still navigate 'by feel'.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits wrote this week about finding the feeling in yourself that causes you to divert your attention away from what you should be doing. Leo describes it as anxiety and overwhelm. He writes that by identifying that feeling in ourselves, at the time we feel it, we can slowly build up a tolerance to the sensation. By building up a tolerance, it enables us to better resist the urge to turn away from our work in order to be productive.

While Leo applies the theory on a micro, task-oriented level, the same applies on a macro, career-oriented level.

We have many of these moments throughout the day/week/year where the subtle emotional reactions we experience dictate our actions.

Rarely, though, do we listen to them, or even notice them.

Instead of just being lead by our feelings, however, if we notice them and scrutinise them we can build a much clearer picture of who we are, and what drives us, to find our dream job.

The Stick

Adam Savage discussed the other day on his channel about how best to assess suitability of new team members. It's no secret that new team members get the jobs nobody else wants. He goes on to say though that model making is 90% tedium anyway. That means even the most senior and experienced model makers also have to push through the tedium to get the 10% fun stuff.

We all have to do jobs we find unpleasant. The question is does the 10% fun stuff make the 90% tedium worthwhile?

Before my design career properly started I worked in a mobile phone shop. I wouldn't say I hated it, but there was nothing about it I found fun. I think I was there about six months. It was pretty clear by the end that retail was not my gig.

Without consciously knowing what I was doing, I had responded to the unpleasant feeling working in that shop gave me by never working in retail ever again.

These days I'm much more in tune to how I feel about the situations I'm in. And to some extent I can still identify the types of work I do that I love, and the types of work I need to dig deep to get done.

Persisting with jobs you only dislike is not good for anyone. Not good for your mental and physical health. Not good for your clients or employer.

You're only getting the job done because you have to.

It is the stick.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

By recognising the unpleasant feelings associated with your work, it allows you to better identify what you're truly passionate about. And maybe not today, maybe not this year, but eventually we all have the chance to take a step in that direction.

The Carrot

I was extremely fortunate that the career path I took was precisely what I was built for.

I design during the day. I design in the evenings. I design lying in bed.

I was told many years later that my careers advisor chalked me down as his singular success in all his career advisory.

In Leo's article he describes the unpleasant feeling as a repellent to tasks we need to get done. Yet work you're passionate about has the opposite effect. It draws you to it. It motivates you and focuses you. Productivity hacks are for other people doing jobs they don't want to do.

It is the carrot.

Even in jobs that are 99% tedium there is 1% fun.

Find it and chase that feeling.

Tagged: careers · consulting · design · design philosophy

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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