Working from the heart

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking, don’t settle. – Beautiful words by Steve Jobs.

I have been trying to find work I believe in since I left high school. I started studying law because I wanted to do something about injustice issues. Not able to find a job with an NGO after graduation, I started working for the national government. I learned that I like communication, organizational change and international projects, started reading change management books, got interested in the people-connecting possibilities of social media and became an expert in ‘The new ways of working’.

After four years I moved from one ministry to another; after six I left the government to start working as an organizational change advisor for a consultancy firm. I thought I had finally found my dream job, but something didn’t feel right. I wanted to learn more about life and a new job would not be the right next step. I decided to take a trip to Nepal and India. While I was traveling, I thought a lot about what I would love to do but felt I had to be back in the Netherlands to be able to really figure it out.

Since my return, I’ve realized that my confrontation with gender and inequality issues in Nepal and India had a lot of impact on me. If you ask me what is great work, my answer would be help trying to make a change. I haven’t found a place to do this kind of work yet, but who knows what the future will bring. My trip also made me think about the purpose of our working lives. When I see how hard people around me are working, I always think of the book The Top Five Regrets of The Dying. It’s a book of a palliative nurse who asked dying people about their most common regrets. As you can see in the top five below, the second one is about working too hard. I wonder how much this regret affected the other four.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We usually talk about jobs when we say work, but a wise friend of mine recently said I should stop looking for a job – I should look for work experiences that would make me grow towards living a life true to myself. I think she might be right… We live in a world in which we always talk about jobs, but what the world needs of us might be something totally different. Our purpose should not be working hard, but working from the heart.