What to Do When You Can’t Do What You Love

By Scott Westerman
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Scott’s Maxim “Happiness is nothing more than a state of mind you choose to manifest. So is suffering.”

I preach the idea of defining and chasing your brand of happiness. That includes trying to link your potential to a career that you enjoy.

What if you are stuck in a job you hate?

My first gig was working as a dishwasher in a retirement high rise. The plates, glasses and silverware came at me in a seemingly endless flow, often covered with dried, un-eaten food that you had to pry off with a knife. Sometimes, since these were old people with health issues, the entire tray would be covered in vomit.

It wasn’t fun.

My 14 year old mind experimented with a lot of ideas on how to endure the work. 45 years later, I realize that there were some valuable lessons.

The work motivated me to ponder what I really wanted to do. I had faith that I would become the person I wanted to be, even though I had no idea of how and when that might happen. The repetitive nature of the job got to be something I could do in my sleep. So I let my body do the work and turned my mind to the possibilities, imagining myself doing different work, envisioning what my environment might look like and making a list of things I needed to learn and do to get me there.

The work made me appreciate the people who choose to do that for a living. Ever since, I have felt special compassion for the men and women who clean our offices, who collect our trash, who are willing to do the things most of us won’t do. Having walked an uncomfortable path, I had a heightened awareness of their value, as professionals and as human beings. I realized that talent is not distributed by socioeconomic status and joy can appear in the most unlikely places.

The work made me realize that every task is worth doing well. In the midst of all of this, I somehow discovered a book on Mindfulness. I tried focusing totally and completely on every movement, blocking out all distractions putting errant thoughts into the soap bubbles and imagining them floating away as I was creating my art. That didn’t always work, but when it did, even being a dishwasher felt fulfilling.

The work taught me to let go. Sometimes life will suck. Just don’t get attached to the “suckyness”. At times like these I often think of the parable about the student and the master.

“I’m having a terrible day,” said the student.

“Keep breathing. It will pass,” said the master.

The student did as he was taught and within a few days he found himself enveloped in warm feelings of happiness and fulfillment.

“I did what you said, and today I feel wonderful,” said the student.

“Keep breathing. It will pass,” said the master.

“In the end,” writes Jack Kornfield, “just three things matter: How well we have lived, how well we have loved, and how well we have learned to let go”

When you must do things you don’t enjoy, do them to the best of your ability, have faith that with determination and practice you will discover a path that suits you, and understand that all things.. both good and bad.. are temporary.

Happiness is nothing more than a state of mind you choose to manifest. So is suffering.

Keep breathing, it will pass.