I’m certain you’ve met these people (maybe you are one of them). They are getting up each morning, gritting their teeth and plowing through their work day. At the end of the day, they receive a pay check but little satisfaction. Maybe they are persisting to work several more years until their retirement or some other change happens in their life. Maybe these people are working their day job to support their real life—as a writer or some other dream occupation.
My father loved the railroad. Now not every day was a picnic (nor is any job) but my dad loved the trains and anything to do with them. During his college years, he worked as a clerk on the railroad in the summer. Graduating from college with a teaching certificate, he taught for a brief period—and determined it wasn’t for him. Dad returned to the railroad and ultimately retired from an executive position. My dad’s father or my grandfather, loved to be involved in teaching. For a long stretch, he was the principal and superintendent of a small school in eastern Kentucky. Grandfather loved education and it was where he found sweet satisfaction in his work.
My reading last night stirred me to consider this aspect of the writing life. The October 10th Publisher’s Weekly includes a review of the next Max Lucado book, Cure for the Common Life: Living In Your Sweet Spot, which releases in January from W Publishing Group. The same issue includes a brief interview with Max from Lori Smith. Max talks about the surprising statistic that one out of three people hate their jobs—yes hate. Then Lori asks about the decision process about which job we select and how it’s often based on prestige instead of satisfaction or happiness.
Max answers, “That's exactly right. Many people get promoted right out of their sweet spot because of prestige, because of a good salary. And I can understand that. I mean, we all have bills to pay, and yet my contention is that we really pay a high price when we allow ourselves to be promoted out of what we do best. I refer in the book two or three times to my father. He was an oil field mechanic out in west Texas. He loved his work. He was the happiest man I've ever known. And two or three times he was offered the chance to be a foreman, to leave the outside work and come indoors and sit at a desk. He wouldn't even think about it, even though that meant more money for the family. He knew he was happiest working with his hands.” (p. 56) Obviously to me, Max’s father had located his sweet satisfaction working as an oil field mechanic.
I spent ten years of my life away from writing and in linguistics. After a season of this type of work, I had the opportunity to return to my writing and I grabbed it. I wrote a great deal in college but then followed this season in linguistics. I joined the small writing and editorial staff of a missionary publication called In Other Words. It felt great to return to my editing and writing work. My associate editor asked me to cut part of a story and I instantly stepped up and without hesitation chopped it down to size so it fit on the page. She watched in amazement at the cuts and wondered how I did it so quickly. It’s never been hard for me to cut something down to size and fits with the way I’m wired. Several months later, this associate editor made a personal decision to return to her home and care for an aging parent. Our small staff suddenly became smaller. It boiled down to a long-term editor/ writer and myself. The long-term editor (and one of my dear friends) didn’t want the responsibility of leading the publication. He knew his sweet spot was staying in his current position. I became the editor and the rest of my writing life is history.
Certainly some days I want throw away the writing life and work at some mindless task. But those days are few and far between. Overall I know that I’m in the right spot as a writer and editor. It’s wise to recognize such a gift.