I have been thinking of that quote, ‘If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.’ Attributed on the internet to Mark Twain, Marc Anthony and even Confucius, the quote obviously still has a lot of currency with people, even though we don’t know who said it first. While the appeal of the quote is simple — we all want to work in a job we enjoy — it is sometimes not that straightforward. Certainly, I have a job that I love, but August always feels too full and I have too much work. Just last week, I had four events in six nights, and that is on top of working all day. I get tired and feel bad that I am simply not available to my family and friends. The illusive myth of ‘work-life balance’ mocks me. Nevertheless, I do love what I do. Working with young people at such a critical time of their lives is an absolute privilege. The joy of the job is that it is congruent with my deepest values and beliefs, my ‘true north.’
I met the concept of True North in a course at Leadership Victoria. Bill George, Professor at Harvard Business School, has developed the concept and has much free online material here for all to work through. George urges us to think beyond a job as the holy grail of achievement and instead focus on a continuous improvement process on ourselves. In his epilogue at the end of his book, he asks ‘how will you endeavour to deepen and broaden your intellect? What are the areas in which you would like to read and study? Describe your plan for healthy eating. Describe your personal exercise plan. What are your sleep requirements? How will you manage your stress?’ Sigh. George reminds us, if ever we were tempted to think otherwise, that the journey of self-discovery and self-development is never over, regardless of whether or not we have our ‘dream job’ that we love.
Grappling with George’s work has made me reflect more on my work and how I became a Head of a residential College, including what I have developed on the journey. Most of it has been uneventful and hard work.
My first job was at a grocery store on the check out. There, I learned how to deal with a myriad of people, including difficult and unhappy customers. I moved from there to work in administration for a large retailer in customer service with seriously unhappy customers. I learned to calm very upset people down and work efficiently in an office. Throughout university, I worked in child care, as a cleaner and as a secretary in an office. All of those jobs, unglamorous, demanding and lowly paid, taught me a lot about who I was and what I could achieve, but mostly about showing up day after day even when it was hard. Mostly, my early jobs taught me how to work. And work was often not very exciting — I certainly didn’t love it!
That reflection brings me back to George and his work. While I am a big believer that we should all do jobs that we love and feel deeply committed to, it is from a privileged standpoint that we can choose our work. Young people going to university have hopes and dreams of working in jobs that they love, with autonomy and purpose. Most young people that I work with, however, have years ahead of them of learning to show up, doing jobs that they feel aren’t quite what they imagined. George’s sense of ‘true north’ goes far beyond what we do for a job and nurtures the deeper part of who we are: our ability to give ourselves to whatever we are doing and whoever we are in front of is far more important than the title at the bottom of our email. Any work is a privilege, and it is part of our overall development as people.
St Hilda's College is a living community and residential college on campus at the University of Melbourne.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the Traditional Owners of the land upon which our college is situated. We pay our respect to all the Elders of Indigenous students who call St Hilda’s home. We also acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of our community, the University of Melbourne, and the wider world.