For most of us, work is a fact of life. Whether your paycheck helps care for a family, a home, tuition, or simply what you need to stay alive, we spend a large percentage of our waking hours doing some kind of work.|
According to recent research, most of us also have conflicting feelings about our work. Over 84 percent of men and 77 percent of women say that, even if they had enough money to get by without working, they would continue to work because of the satisfaction it provides. But when these same people were asked if they would rather be doing something else at that moment, by far the largest number of “yes” answers came from those who were at work at the time.
Studies of adolescents indicate that ambivalence about work develops early. High school students report viewing their schoolwork and part-time jobs as being important for the future, and say that they get positive self-esteem from their accomplishments. But most prefer to spend their time doing less important things that don't require concentration—even though they don’t provide the same payoff in terms of self-esteem or future benefits.
This isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. Who doesn’t know that it’s more fun to do something pleasant, rather than something tedious that needs to be done? Or that successfully finishing something helps you feel good about yourself? Life is about choices. You can’t have it all, can you?
Maybe not. But here's the real question: Is there a way to make the necessary-but-unpleasant things-we-have-to-do more enjoyable? If you discover how to do that, you’ve really hit the jackpot in terms of building the foundation for a satisfying and rewarding lifestyle.
There are different theories about this, ranging from the “living in the moment” philosophy of Buddhism to the “quest for excellence” that’s popular in both business and human potential circles. But translating these theories into real-life strategies can be challenging.
One way to make it more concrete is to look at the realm of athletics, where play and work often come together naturally in interesting and instructive ways. Here’s an example from my own recent experience.
A few months ago, I became unmotivated to do my normal exercise routine. This came as a shock, because I’ve enjoyed exercising ever since I got back into it several years and many pounds ago—in fact, I’ve even been pretty compulsive about it at times. But all of a sudden, it was getting harder and harder to talk myself into going to the gym, and even when I did, I didn't like it much. I tried all the things I always tell others—switching up my routine, challenging myself, trying new exercises. (If you want to see something funny, watch a guy my age and size trying to keep up with the spandex crowd in the 9 a.m. Spinning class.) I even put on a few pounds thanks to reduced exercise—usually enough to scare me back onto the stairclimber, no matter how bored I am. But not this time.