The Book That Changed My Notion of Work

The Book That Changed My Notion of Work

This summer season, we are publishing a series of book reviews. This time, our colleague Juan shares with us a book that is very close to his heart, and which had an influence on how he sees the idea of work.

I would like to tell you about a book that changed my life, but I don’t want to spoil it yet by revealing the title. You see, since I was young, I had always anguished about career choices. I imagined that I would be forced to put hours into something I hate, and I would arrive home after work hating myself too. My family and my school imposed on me this idea that work is suffering, and suffering is good, and if you don’t like suffering then you don’t deserve good things. How cheerful. Happily, I had some pieces of common sense in my brain, so I rejected this idea, but I also thought: so, this is what most people think about work, I better be careful in choosing my job or else I'll get suffocated!

And so, I lived my life questioning what kind of job I would really like. People told me that if I followed my passion, I would never have to work in my life. Such a pressure! That is, until I found this wonderful book. This book proposes that the idea that you are born with a passion that destines you to a dream job is a lie, and a quite harmful one! In reality, most people that are happy at their job acquire a taste for their job over time. The more years they spend doing their job, the more they start to like it.

Now I know what you are thinking: "But what about this and that job. They are horrible!" Well, luckily, this book has got you covered. There are three conditions that a job requires to make you happy, and jobs without these conditions will never make you happy. These conditions are:

  • Autonomy: You need to feel some sense of control over what you do with your time. If your job requires you to behave like a machine without initiative, then you are bound to feel as such. Interestingly, autonomy is also considered a critical factor for happiness by psychologists!
  • Competence: You need to feel that you are getting better at what you do. Trivial jobs rot your brain and do not allow you to feel pride in your skills, while difficult and unmanageable jobs make you feel humiliated and stupid.
  • Relatedness: You need to feel that you are connecting with people at your job. This could be either with your colleagues, your clients, or by helping people as a consequence of your job. Nobody likes to work with people they hate, and nobody profits from causing others to suffer (I hope!).

You may also be thinking: "Well, not everybody is looking to be happy at their work; some people only want the money." If you are thinking that, then the book also addresses that issue (and if you are not thinking that then, well, you should). The book cites Amy Wrzesniewski, who argues that there are three contexts for your work:

  • Job: You work for the money.
  • Career: You work to get a better job.
  • Calling: You work because it defines who you are.

I would argue that for most people their work is a job, especially for those unfortunately enough to not have the power to choose which job they want. These categories are not very relevant to the point I am making, but I still wanted to show them to you because they might be helpful, somehow.

Anyhow, going back to my point, after reading the book I realized that life at work can actually be wonderful, and that I don’t need to fear landing in a bad job if I know how to look for a better one. The book’s title is So Good They Can’t Ignore You, written by Cal Newport, and in this post I have only reviewed the part that touched me most deeply. For a review of the full length of the book, check this summary. The book is also available as an audiobook.

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