On my morning walk the other day, I was listening to the Smartless podcast episode where the hosts interviewed former tennis pro, John McEnroe. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I did enjoy him as the narrator of the television show Never Have I Ever.
Towards the end of the episode, McEnroe made a passing comment about how many people ask him if he loves tennis, the game that’s consumed most of his life. His answer surprised me and sparked an inner dialogue as I continued walking and walking and walking.
He said he was unsure if he actually loved tennis, because he’s never not been compensated for it.
An athlete who has dedicated hours, months, years to his sport, who has been a repeat champion and an advocate for young folks to learn to play… is unsure if he loves it. Because money has been a part of the equation for decades.
Would he love tennis for free? How can he know?
If someone who has seen substantial success and lasting opportunities is unsure of the love they have for the source of their career, then why are we all trying so hard to attain it?
This thought reminds me so much of the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The idea being that if you find a job you’re passionate about, the hours you spend doing it won’t feel like work. The joy we derive from our daily tasks and to-do lists outweighs the sacrifices we have to make in the other areas of our lives (if those areas are even considered at all).
But why would we want to work everyday?
In my various roles, I have encountered many small business owners and creatives, predominantly women. They take something they love and make it a business, which is great if you want a business. But taking a hobby you find pleasure in and then trying to scale it to be profitable tends to remove the ease and joy fairly quickly. Truth be told, the amount of time you spend doing the creative piece you love is so small compared to other mundane business tasks, or it’s ruined by the repetitive nature and physical injuries.
(I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these businesses, these women inspire me so much with their craft. They’re fucking brilliant and I’m sure they’d tell you, building any business isn’t easy.)
We’re encouraged to find a job we love so we can do it all the time, without rest being factored in. It’s a masculine approach and don’t get me wrong, we need that masculine energy and presence in and around us. We need the forward drive, the ambition, the logical analysis. But we also need softness, rest, pleasure, play, and social interactions outside of monetary gain.
We can love what we do and still only do it a few hours a day. We can love what we do and still set firm boundaries around when and where we talk about it. We can love what we do and not be consumed by it day and night.
We can love what we do and still do other things and that does not diminish our expertise, our commitment or our passion. And in McEnroe’s case, we can love what we do and still be unsure about whether we’d want to do it if we weren’t being paid.
There are no bonus points given at the end of your life for how obsessed you were with work.
This obsession with finding purpose and meaning in our work consumes so many minds. I have had multiple conversations with people who are crippled with indecision around their next steps, their dream businesses, their intentions. I have been one of those people, and still am some days.
But what if we find softness and acceptance instead? What if we find a career that brings us subtle joy for the few hours we do it during the week and then we switch it off?
What if we wouldn’t do our job for free if we could? What if that’s okay?
Our humanity was never tied to our productiveness, our ability to multitask, our expertise in scaling. There’s a deep need to return to simpler times, to an existence centred around living cyclically with our bodies and with nature’s seasons, to a life of community and loving support.
How would you define yourself, outside of the work you do? What would you tell a stranger about yourself, other than your job title? It’s something to think about…
If you’re curious to check out the podcast episode, you can find it here. It’s a podcast that makes me laugh, I kind of really love it.