What it’s like to have a career you love: Not what you think.

People who love their career are people who will always figure out how to love their work. There are people who love to work and people who love to do other things.

I learned this from looking at what I did in jobs I did not love. And I realized that I’d do the job quickly and then do another job. So I always had work I loved. I saw my official job as the thing I had to do on the side.

Here are some of the things people who love their career do intuitively, at any job they are in:

1. You compartmentalize.
I am happiest when I am writing, but there are a lot of parts of my blog I can’t stand. Like, every time the CDN comes up, I have no idea what people are talking about, so I spent an hour reading about it to know if I needed to know about it. (I don’t.)

Or I’ve had to figure out valuation – which is ridiculous for a blog, so it took me forever. And I’ve lost whole sections of the blog when we redesigned. And I’d wish whole sections could be lost as well.

As an expert compartmentalizer, I ignore these parts of the job when I ask myself if I like my job. Or I do these parts poorly and just wait for stuff to blow up. It’s irresponsible, but I’m not alone. Most people who love their career do parts of their job really poorly because they don’t care.

Another example is the two guys who own the florist in Pairs, Odorants. They’re famous for organizing flowers by scent. The bouquets are odd shaped and flowers unconventional because, like all people who love their work, they focus on what they like and don’t pay that much attention to the aspects of their work that don’t interest them.

2. You ignore non-work stuff.
If you love your career you don’t let other stuff derail you. The minute you put family first is when you don’t love your career — because it’s interfering with your family. That’s why most people who adore their work ignore everything else.

Attributes that make us love our work – that it’s challenging, that it matters, that we’re good at it — all depend on commitment and learning more and more over time. Which means other thoughts/dreams/opportunities fall by the wayside as the career becomes better and better as a result of commitment.

It starts to make sense that people who work for themselves are happier at work, AND they work longer hours than anyone else.

3. You have a work friend.
Melissa is my work friend. Of course. Although she no longer lets me pay her to work with me because I kept firing her, and she says I can’t fire her if I can’t pay her.

If you love your career then your work friend is someone who goes with you from job to job. Project to project. And you depend on each other.

I was going to tell you that Melissa and I share links like army buddies share ammunition. But Melissa just informed me that the links I send her are “too derivative.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“They summarize a bunch of in-depth articles I’ve already read and then dumb it down into something a fifth-grader can read.”

So we don’t share links. Because I am reading at the fifth-grade level. But Melissa shares links with me and I share them with you. Which maybe means you are my workplace friend and not Melissa.

But anyway, here is a good one she sent: The Commercial Zen of Muji

4. You job hunt all the time.
People who have great careers are great job hunters. For one thing, that’s how they got the great job they’re already in, but also because they’re always thinking about it in the back of their mind in case something pops up.

People who love their career love to talk about their career, which also means they interview well. And it’s always fun to find out that someone wants to hire you, even if you don’t take the job.

The Job Book describes this as having a sense of abundance. And I know many people who read job openings regularly to reconfirm that sense of security that there are always good opportunities for them. In fact, I know many people who go on interviews like people go on dates. They are not really interested in switching, they just want to know they could switch if they wanted to.

5. You make sure people admire you.
We all want to be admired for something. Part of having a great career is knowing what, exactly, you want to be admired for.

And forget money. None of us wants to be admired for how much money we have. We want to be admired for the particular thing we did to get that money. In fact, in the world of top performers, doing great work is a higher form of currency than the money itself.

I want you to admire me because you like my blog posts enough to always read until the end.

49 replies
  1. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    Dating is looking to see if you can switch? Hmmmm….maybe that’s what’s really on the authors mind? The move?

    • thatgirl
      thatgirl says:

      Dating is always surveying–whether you decide to “switch,” or not. Otherwise, they’d call it something else

  2. Lauren Teller
    Lauren Teller says:

    yes, I always read all the way to the end. and all the stuff at the bottom every time again to keep my eyes with you longer. At 5:00pm i didn’t like my work, so i stopped writing. And wiped all the white surfaces. And read old New Yorkers. I found a new author W.G. Sebald.
    The I read your post at 8 pm and now I love my work…so I can keep writing. and then read Sebald.

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I wanted to make software for a living since I taught myself to code in 1982. And I made it happen, 28 years now. I start Monday as Director of Engineering at a startup. (Because I job hunt all the time. I don’t mean to; I just go have coffees or drinks with people in my industry because I like to talk shop and, at least in this case, one day one of them calls me and says, “Come to work for me.”)

    But I have the work box and the family box and the writing box and the photography box and the church box and the founder-of-a-nonprofit box. I’m in so many things I can’t do them all as well as I’d like. Work and family get done better than any of the rest by several miles. But I love it all and can’t imagine being so single-minded about one of them that I don’t do any of the rest.

  4. Batb
    Batb says:

    I always read your posts to the end!! And yes I admire you greatly! Thank you for sharing everything with your readers’

  5. Christiane
    Christiane says:

    I fully agree with this Penelope!

    For work and in relationships, you can be happy as long as you know what you’re willing to deal with/accept.

    I know my ENFP boyfriend will interrupt me a lot because the ideas just constantly​ flow out of him. I’m willing to deal with it because his creativity and love and compassion are some of the best parts of my life.

    I know there will be times at work where the bureaucracy of a 60k+ employees company will frustrate me and slow me down. I accept it because I love my boss, the work is interesting and a great fit for my INFJ personality, and there are many opportunities for me to grow.

    I can waste time complaining about and focusing all my energy on the stuff I don’t like – or I can accept that as long as I’m 80% fine with what’s going on, the other 20% I can deal with.

  6. Adrianne
    Adrianne says:

    I love this list post best of all your list posts so far – and I can relate to each item. I also love the photo of the flowers…!

  7. Sam
    Sam says:

    Penelope, I think you are well aware of what you are great at and what you are an absolute disaster at.

    Your writing is entertaining which you have undoubtedly worked hard for. Your writing applied to something weird happening in your life combined with bits and pieces of food for thought form the backbone of many of your posts.

    I read your posts to the end because they are quick reads and they are not organized well enough for me to skip parts of it without risking to miss content. I’m sure some of this is deliberate to cater for your advertisers but I watched a video of one of your personality type classes where you tried to explain something in many many sentences and after that Melissa stepped in and succinctly nailed it with a single sentence.

    I’m an INTJ so pardon me for being dense on admiration but isn’t it a bit of a stretch to jump from reading your posts immediately over to admiring you?

  8. Pat Sommer
    Pat Sommer says:

    Is that why I never had a career?
    To move up in the field of kid’s recreation, I would have been removed from the action as an administrator or could have specialized and dealt with special needs more as a therapist.
    So, towards the end of my 7yrs, I trained newbies. Loved that.

    Switched to kitchens so that I could juggle the hours to suite family life. Ha. Once my pregnant belly outgrew chef’s whites, bye bye.

  9. Al
    Al says:

    You write a few posts in a short space of time, then disappear off the blogscape, then write a few more – I hope we don’t have to wait long for the next one.

  10. S
    S says:

    You get me.
    And I’ve never commented before, in all the decade I’ve been reading this lovely Trunk full of stuff.

    Journeying along with bed bugs in nyc and nannies who give up, the unschooling on a farm, GOATS! and apple trees that shake like the Giving Tree into a truck bed…

    It’s good and what you do makes your character good. Don’t forget that you ‘get’ people.

    –shoulda called you up when Melissa advised me to that one time. (Texas is big, but smallish too)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for commenting. And for reading all that time. And remembering. And I’ll be back to Texas…


      • S
        S says:

        Thanks doll. I live in SF now but Texas is always on my mind. Nanny entrepreneurship here has been illogical and enlightening. I’m newly single again. This Bay area is full of Peter Pan syndrome but what about all the Wendy ladies? Me? Your writing lends a lens. Thanks for letting us look thru you. We see you.

  11. Liobov
    Liobov says:

    First I want to say you are one of the very few bloggers I read (I tend to prefer articles and books) and you are the only blogger that I always read to the end, never skipping a line because your posts are so well written. Actually, I read the posts first and then go back and click the links, never before, because I don’t want to be interrupted in my reading.

    • Muriel
      Muriel says:

      Love this!
      I do exactly the same. I don’t miss a word because I don’t know when the next post will be!
      I also like to click on ‘Read a random post’. Came across the most astonishing publications with this tool.
      One of them was of Penelope explaining how she was driving in a very convoluted manner to find her way, it was fascinating, and I will never find the post again..

  12. Hattika
    Hattika says:

    Yours is the only blog that I read . I was never into reading blogs. I was totally into books , magazines etc. After I started reading yours I realized beauty in reading blogs , I tried few more from different bloggers , however nothing came as close to how much your blogs make me think about my career , my life as a single mother and establish connection between these two important elements of my life . I am 48 , Software Engineer by profession , lost my husband at age 43 , continued bringing up 2 boys after my husband , now they are headed to college. Your blogs have enabled me to connect my life and work . Plenty of personal stuff written in these blogs I can not relate to. But I am not looking forward to relate to anyone’s personal stuff. That is because everybody’s life is different , everybody is wired differently. I am no critic of anyone’s lifestyle and choices. If I started writing about my experiences being a widow , I am sure plenty would not be able to relate perosnally . However people would still be able to grab something useful out of it about my resilience in life in the face of adversity. Point is , all I care about ‘Is Penelop’s blog making me think ? Is there anything useful I can grab out of this ? ‘ and the answer is ‘Yes!’. I am happy to get just that. I wish you could write more in frequent intervals. But I know it is always not possible specially now you are operating in single parent mode. Good luck to you. I have definitely benefited perosnally , so thank you!

  13. Dan Shenhoff
    Dan Shenhoff says:

    There is a saying: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”. Unfortunately, most of the people I know just work for the money…
    Working at something you are passionate about makes you do the work much better… its a great gift!

  14. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Loving a career to the exclusion of people is the most misdirected avenue for emotional investment. Not that you suggested that this should be the case, but it came to mind when you outlined your second point. I have a friend who only ever talks about work, and I know that if it were not for his very patient and wise wife, his family life would be a shambles and his relationship with his children would be awful.
    We need to wise up as a society. Work is a means to an end, not the end…

  15. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I can’t believe Penelope never did a post on the Lehman bro.s lady CFO (or was it bear sterns?) who went insane and was glad when her company failed and had an IVF baby. or did she write about it?

  16. Lindsey Cline
    Lindsey Cline says:

    Love this! I like thinking of how to be grateful for your work when you’re not going to love all of it. I like how you synthesized some of the ideas about how to make work good, with data about how people react or employ those in real life.

  17. Emily
    Emily says:

    I love your blog and the powerful everyday advice that you give. :) I’m glad you love what you do. It is reflected in your writing.

  18. Archana
    Archana says:

    I love to spend time writing as well. It creates breathing space for my brain. I think a lot so the blogging is the way to share your thought with the people around the globe. Working for someone is not that exciting for me. I prefer sharing the information that will help people to accomplish something in their life.

    Thank you

  19. akshay
    akshay says:

    This article really puts a mirror in front of me that replicated my image as a career hunter for a work i dont like. After reading this article which makes me realize what work should i focus on to enhance my career growth.
    Thank you for sharing!

  20. Rotsaltz
    Rotsaltz says:

    Hi Penelope
    I don’t love my career as much as I feel I should and am seen I am sure as unambitious because promotions don’t interest me because they just mean time away from family. I burn out every three years because I was taught that as a woman I was supposed to want an ambitious career (doctor, etc.) but I never wanted any of that and always felt worthless because I preferred being home with kids. So I try really hard to be an exceptional employee and am very conscientious and attentive to my work but really it’s not as satisfying as it’s supposed to be. Being in the inbetween like that all the time feeling torn just leads to burnout. So I guess what you’re saying here in this post is I need to develop more rewarding outside interests? What do I do with the 40 hours a week I am at my desk and struggling with every task? BTW the task is always done and done well.

    • Cassie
      Cassie says:

      It’s so funny how everybody has a different perspective on the important things in life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with preferring to stay home with the kids. That’s a serious responsibility that other more career oriented women often neglect. Any woman that puts her kids first over trying to achieve whatever else in life is a Champion in my book. Success means something different to all of us.

  21. sghosh
    sghosh says:

    First of all I want to say that thank you for such a nice blog. and this is very information giving blog. thank you

  22. Ronald
    Ronald says:

    When you love your career, time passes by so fast during work. You don’t care if you don’t get holiday vacation, you don’t care if you stay in the office 12 hours a day and you look forward to another work day! People who don’t love their career will look at this and probably frown so hard… and it’s okay.

  23. Resume Writer Singapore
    Resume Writer Singapore says:

    It is not always easy to be in a career we love and thwis post is worth a share. What I found most appealing is the need to compartmentalize. Even if you really love your job and you are living with the career you always wanted there will be a few bumps where you will need to ignore some parts of the job and let it not ruin everything.

  24. Alexander Alison
    Alexander Alison says:

    So true Penelope! There’s nothing more great loving your career, work or job. Thank you for this. Really helpful and informative :) I’ll probably share this to my friends!

  25. Gerald
    Gerald says:

    I agree with many of your points especially you have to put your work first and not let anything else interfere. You need to say lost in your work so you can continue to expand and improve. Allowing external forces to pull you away keeps you mediocre at your craft. Thx for the thought!

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