Find a job that feels like play and you won’t work a day in your life.
This is one of the earliest principles I adopted as a child. I hated seeing adults being tired, burnt out, dispassionate and miserable. It’s what every successful and happy person ever described their job as, and it’s all I ever wanted.
Never make your passion your job, you are guaranteed to resent it.
Artists always told me that the surest way to remain passionate about painting was to never sell one. “I loved music. Until I studied it at uni.”
How do you make it make sense? These two principles seem to almost always contradict one another and I was left overthinking in the middle, wondering when studying the human body would feel awful and what else actually feels like play for me to focus on.
And so I’ve always kept an eye open for people who describe their work as play. What does it mean to them? Is it the same as me? Would they really be putting in 14h days 7 days a week if it weren’t for the money? Do they experience burnout? Are they in denial? Don’t they resent their choices even a little? Are they really not feeling as though they’re working a day in their life? Am I just really not that passionate of a person?
I accidentally ran into an exploration of this in Shoe Dog last week (my full summary here
). It wasn’t really a book on this topic, but it’s how I used it. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike described his life and he often mentioned work being play.
Very interestingly, he also described it as being absolute shit.
Burnout. Anger. Pain. Stress. Days, weeks, months and years of fear and frustration. Even before he knew the business would survive to the next day, before it was making him any money, and he was feeling just as much (if not much more) pain than the average person feels at their job, he seemed to still love it.
It seemed the main difference between Phil, someone who describes their work as play and someone who hates their job is not how much fun they’re having at work. Most of the time, Phil was absolutely hating it.
It’s not even how much pain one suffers for their work. Phil was working all day, every day, sacrificing his family, health, friendships and reputation in a way that most of us would never have to at all.
But to me, the difference was in how he felt about feeling bad. If:
A - Your job is causing a lot of pain/is very difficult and you want to quit and leave - your job is work to you BUT if
B- Your job is causing a lot of pain/is very difficult and you only want to work harder and cannot dream of stopping - your work is fun to you.
So it’s not really about avoidance of pain. It’s not really about the good times. It’s about the overarching outlook of life. About purpose and passion. About realising that pain is unavoidable and not even always bad.
And when you strike something that makes you feel that way, that’s when you’ve won. That’s when you’re playing with all the fun and frustration of any incredible game.
Wishing you an amazing week,