Today is the first hay baling day of the summer. The farmer is used to making huge, round bales, with big, loud machines. This time, though, he did smaller, square bales, and he found a way to include our son. And the dog.
I spend part of each day counseling people who don’t know how to find work that is satisfying. It’s one of the hardest things to learn to do. Here is how to do it well, at any age:
1. Get yourself accustomed to trying new things.
To find work you love, you have to try working at lots of different jobs, maybe 50, maybe 100. You are limited only by the ideas you have for what to try.
To instill this spirit for experimentation in my son, I have helped him do things like sell rhubarb at a farmer’s market, decorate containers to market eggs, and raise animals to sell.
Each job involved different skills, and he will have to learn which skills feel best to use. Knowing that is essential because, as the Harvard Business Review shows, satisfying work is the intersection of what what you like to do, what you are good at, and what an organization values.
For many people, knowing the intersection of these three circles is the hardest part of adult life.
2. Don’t think you’re above caring about prestige.
We would each like to think that we are above choosing careers based on how people think of us. But studies show that the prestige of a career matters more than the money earned from that career. This makes sense to me because when I tell people I’m a writer, they are impressed, and when I tell people I’m a blogger, they think I’m unemployed. So I usually say I’m a writer.
A lot of people in rural communities can’t wait to get their kids off the farms. They think of it as low-level labor. In fact, though, farm work is technical, requires tons of planning, and is entrepreneurial, if you think of it that way. We stress those aspects of farm work with my son so that he feels important when he’s doing hard labor.
3. Seek to understand your impact.
I have read a ton of psychology research about how the most important things we need for job satisfaction are meaningful work, responsibility, and knowledge of the outcome.
Melissa baled with the Farmer because the square bales are too heavy for the kids. But I asked the Farmer to save the end work, gathering the loose hay, for my son. My son is depending on the hay to feed his goats all winter, so he should do some work for that.
At the end of baling, Melissa and the Farmer picked up my son and me at the house, and I rode on the back of the trailer while the farmer drove and Melissa took photos and my son jumped on and off the truck picking up the loose hay. I picked up loose hay, too—if nothing else, work is more satisfying in the context of a collectivist culture, but I was there mostly to make sure my son did the work. I didn’t have to do much though, besides stay out of his way and keep the dog from getting run over.
Because once he realized he was doing important work for the farm and for our family, it was amazing to see his body language transform. He looked stronger and more authoritative, because the work made him feel important. (You’ll notice that also, he has claimed Cullen’s boots as his own.)
I loved feeling like I was on a joyride hayride, and I loved watching my son grow into his job, and I love when the Farmer lifted the brim of my hat to kiss me.