The Perverse Good Advice To Sometimes Take A Job That Is Really Painful Approach


People are often told to follow their passion, translate it into a clear purpose and work hard to achieve peak performance. This approach can pay dividends and result in people doing satisfying work.

At the other extreme, however, it can be useful to act on what seems perverse advice. This is:

“You may find it helpful to – at some point in your life – take a job that is really painful. Not one that is just boring, because that leaves scope for day dreaming. Take one that scratches your soul.”

This sounds crazy, but there is an interesting logic behind the advice. Doing a job that is painful can stoke the hunger to find satisfying work.

People who do work they love often have a sense of gratitude. Looking back on their life, such a person may say something like the following.

“I feel lucky to do my present job. Sometimes I feel somebody is going to tap me on the shoulder and say:

‘Right, your time is up. It’s time for you to go back to the place where you came from.’

“This is a great motivator. It inspires me to keep improving in my work.”

John McDermott, a staff writer at MEL magazine, underlined this point in an article called Why You Should Work A Job You Hate. Describing his own experiences, he recalls how one particular job inspired him to work hard at finding and keeping his dream job.

Here are excerpts from the piece. You can find the full article via the following link.

I got out before it crushed my soul – and have appreciated every job I’ve had since. 

The most important lesson I learned, though, was that the key to professional development isfor a short while, at leastto work a job you hate. 

Anyone who believes a dream job doesn’t require a sizable amount of work probably lacks the work ethic to excel at any profession, let alone their dream one.

It’s best if the job you hate comes early in your career, and even better if your hate-job is the last one you hold before embarking on your passion.

Not a job you merely tolerate because it affords you a comfortable living; I mean one so unbearable that not even tripling your salary would assuage your disdain.

A job so bad that you lie awake Sunday nights, racked with dread about the workweek that lies ahead. A job that has the capacity to bring you to the verge of tears while you work at it.

You should work a job you hate so much that you’re willing to suffer through any sort of circumstance for a job you enjoy. And until you experience the former, you’ll never really understand the value of the latter.

Looking at your own life, when have you done a job that was painful? What were the factors that made it painful?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the following things.

Describe a specific job you have had in the past that was painful.

Describe the specific things that made the job painful.

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Slides Painful Job.002 

Looking at my own life, for example, I worked in a factory between the ages of 15 and 21. I had little aptitude for the work, which involved operating machines. The final years also involved working nights, which also served as a motivator to get out of the factory.

Fortunately a teacher gave me the chance to take the first step towards getting another job. Every month our group of apprentices spent one day at a technical college. This involved an hour class on social studies.

The teacher who taught this class invited us to write an essay on George Orwell. Fortunately I had read several of his books, so was able to put together a reasonable essay. As a result the teacher invited me to attend his evening English classes.

Two years later this led to me managing to get out of the factory and into an office, which was the hardest step. It then took two more years before finding a job doing full time voluntary work with mentally handicapped children. This eventually led to running therapeutic communities for young people.

Looking back on the time in the factory, I continue to feel grateful for being able to do work I love.

Different people respond in different ways to doing work that is painful. Some separate themselves from it by focusing on the work they want to do in the future. They then do something each day towards achieving those goals.

What to do in the meantime? Different people use different techniques. Some reframe the drudgery, for example, and do things that make their souls sing.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn highlights this capacity in his book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. He describes how Ivan Denisovich Shukov, who is serving a long sentence in the Gulag, takes a pride in his daily work.

Several commenters say that Shukov’s approach includes the following themes.

He acts under a moral code that allows him to continue to respect himself … He no longer thinks much of home or freedom but instead thinks about that day, taking pride in his work as a mason.

In working hard at his masonry and taking pride in building a good, strong, straight wall, he is in effect subverting the prison authorities who seek to punish him by making him work.

Shukhov, instead, is gaining self-esteem by learning a new skill in prison and making his actions meaningful to himself.

Shukhov finds a sort of freedom through work because he is no longer working for the authorities but for himself.

He even wants to carry on building when the signal for the end of the day sounds.

Fortunately we do not live in a Gulag, but there may still be tough days. You will, of course, find you own ways to reframe painful work.

Many businesses, for example, are born out of anger. A person may get so fed up with having their ideas turned down that they say: “That’s it. I will do it myself.” Their anger and desire to prove they are right provides the energy to drive their business to success.

Let’s return to the job you mentioned earlier. Looking back, were there any lessons that you learned? What motivation did it give you to shape your future career? How did you translate this motivation into action?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific job you have had in the past that was painful. 

Describe the specific lessons you learned – including the motivation it gave you – from doing the painful job. 

Describe the specific things you did to translate these lessons into action and take charge of shaping your future.

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