“Weekend? What is a weekend?”
This has to be one of the best lines to come out of the wrinkled lips of the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey.
To live a life where the word “weekend” has no meaning has to be my all-time biggest dream. It’s not because I want to sit on piles of money in a fancy house drinking tea all day (although a friend did describe me once as an old English lady). It’s just that I don’t believe in “work-life balance.” I don’t believe people were made to put on a suit and become one person for eight hours a day, five days a week and then change their clothes and go back to being who they actually enjoy being.
It’s just not right, I say!
The alignment between self and work should be so synchronized that you never feel the need to wonder which wardrobe to wear when. I want my work to be defined by the core of who I am. I want to BE my work, Sunday to Saturday, one day after the other.
The Dowager Countess is always the Dowager Countess whether sitting in her parlor or sitting on the board of the village hospital. Money and titles aside, why can’t we do the same? Not Corporate Somebody-Or-Other by day and photographer or writer or gamer or golfer by night. Just you. Just me. 24/7.
All of this reflecting has sprung from a seed of doubt over my new career path that has been growing its roots deeper every day. When I wrote the post “Who will you serve?” I was doubting the very foundation of my choice in business. Spurred on by the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink, I began to reevaluate what work means and why I want to do it.
In the book, Pink gives a pretty solid argument for why society should graduate from the push and shove of motivations that are purely extrinsic, the so-called carrots and sticks, to intrinsic motivations that push us to action by the very joy we find in doing the work itself. In fact, he explains how some companies (like Google) are already making that shift and if you don’t get on board, you might be left in the dust.
I used to think that I was the one running down the road trying to catch up, wondering why I couldn’t just be satisfied in the sphere of “work-life balance.” But I found the reason for my angst in this book, and it turns out I’m not crazy. I don’t need to go chasing the world. It’s the world that has warped the meaning of work, turning it into a drudgery when really it should be about what’s inside of us, what drives us to work from the inside out.
Think about it. What could you work at for hours on end with no thought of time or compensation? It could be basketball or ballroom dancing, drawing or designing, coding or calligraphy. For me, it’s writing stuff like this.
When we’re in this state it’s called flow. And flow comes from what Pink calls autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We’re all born with a desire to direct our own lives and be autonomous, to pursue mastery of work that matters, and to do it for the sake of something bigger than ourselves. When we’re missing one or all of these aspects, we naturally start to rebel against work, grumbling about our jobs, cursing at the alarm clock, dreading Mondays, and only enjoying life on the weekends.
But this is not how we were made to live.
Hence my current crisis-creating questions. Did I choose this road for the flow of the work itself, for intrinsic motivations? Or for all the external rewards I could get by putting on a particular mask for so many hours a week? Unfortunately, it was more the latter than the former.
In fact, I even wrote down a list of all the extrinsic rewards that I hoped would motivate me to get to work every day. Things like money and flexibility that would give me more time and financial ability to do all those intrinsically motivating things I would rather be doing in the first place.
It’s not that I chose work that was so far off-base from who I am. But I also hadn’t made my decision based on the principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I realized this when my list of motivations was doing nothing to get me out of bed every morning. And it wasn’t putting me to bed at night full of satisfaction with the day’s work. As Pink argues, when it comes to creativity and entrepreneurship, extrinsic motivations lose their power.
So if you haven’t read Drive, you absolutely should. And if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, then maybe it’s time to think about it. If I’ve learned anything through this turmoil, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to get to know yourself. Don’t decide on a career path until you understand what makes you tick, what drives the ebb and flow of your work, what brings you pure joy, what wakes up your mind and soul even when your body is still tired.
Find your calling, your vocation, your life’s work. Don’t settle for the salt mines. As Steve Jobs put it, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I’ve spent months chasing the secondary concerns instead of following my heart and intuition. But it’s way past time to find my center and evaluate my next steps unburdened by the consideration of extrinsic rewards. I’m afraid this means ditching my list of motivations and with it (deep breath) my latest career choice. I don’t want to lose my progress, but the thing I don’t want the most is a tombstone that reads, “She made a good living, traveled the world, and did as she pleased.”
It needs to be way bigger than that. Way, WAY bigger! I don’t know exactly what that will be, but it’s time to find out. And then when I’m as old as the Dowager Countess I too can ask in my faux British accent, “Weekend? What is a weekend?”