My partner has often stated that I love my work more than I love her. I am embarrassed to admit this, but she’s right.
Let me explain:
To me, my work is not just something I do. I don’t just do it to pay the bills – though it does. It is part of who I am, and not just in a curriculum vitae sense. I write. I’ve always done so. Even if I become blind or lose my typing hands in an accident, I know I’ll find a way to keep writing. It’s who I am. So you could say that my work is just as part of my identity as my nationality, gender, and dysfunctions. Writing seeps into everything I am and everything I do that there is no way for me to compartmentalize it as “just my job”. Since it’s part of me, it is hard to love anything else more than writing.
This is why my partner says that I love my work more than I love her. It’s not a complaint, but a statement of fact. Most of the time, I choose to finish a sentence or make the most out of a burst of inspiration rather than listen to a joke she wants to share. I am not being cold-hearted.1 I am just being Celine. It’s like what they tell you just as the plane is about to take off: wear your oxygen mask first before you assist someone else.
So yes, I love my work that much. Because I love myself.
Things weren’t always this ideal, though. While I was in college I had to spend hours each day writing descriptions of sex toys and articles on loans. I had to support myself and my family at a relatively early age so I took every job I could get my hands on, my personal fulfillment be damned. I certainly didn’t love that. I enjoyed it to some extent, telling myself that at least it was writing, but it wasn’t the kind of writing I really wanted to do.
This is why I realize that I am very, very lucky that I can now say “yes” only to projects I want to work on, that I spend my time working on the quality of every piece I put out there even if I’m not always satisfied or successful. I am aware that it’s not a common or easy thing to find the work you love and to act on that love every day, but if you have the power to make it happen then you’d be crazy to let the opportunity slip away.
Work as Identity
Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of disdain for using one’s job description as a life description. This feeling is only relevant if you don’t like your job, but if you like your job enough to call it your work – a crucial thing you do that enables you to thrive – then you wouldn’t mind being labeled as a writer, programmer, plumber, or architect.2 The sound of that label may be as familiar to you as your own name because your work is now part of your sense of self.
It doesn’t help that writing or making comics or painting or any other creative endeavor doesn’t have a strict process. It just bleeds into your day like breathing. You don’t always know when you’re done for the day and you also don’t know when you’re creating. For me, reading is an essential part of writing even if I’m doing it leisurely. I get quite a few ideas from just talking to friends, so casual conversation is part of it too. Then it follows that sleeping is also part of writing, since I often find myself waking up with razor-sharp focus to write something very specific.
Here’s where it gets tricky, for me at least: if you love your work enough to make it part of your identity, you can be a little touchy when people are mocking it. I don’t mean nasty troll comments left on my blog posts, or an editor’s criticisms on my latest article. I mean when people get this look, have this tone, and they say something like “What? That’s what you do with your time?” This is often followed by “Do you even have a social life now?” or “I bet there’s not much money/stability/credibility in that.”
Have you seen how your best friends love everything about you – except the things that count? And your most important is nothing to them, nothing, not even a sound they can recognize.
-Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead”
And you know what, it hurts. Especially when it comes from people you love and respect. Not everybody realizes that some people can have such a personal connection to their work, mostly because it’s a rare thing. It’s easy to be self-deprecating about being an accountant if you don’t like being an accountant, or to tell others to switch careers for “stability” if you feel no instinctive connection to your own career. I used to get so easily defensive or angry about this, but I think it’s time for a new approach.
If your work is as precious to you as your most cherished memory, then treat it with the intimacy and sincerity it deserves. Leave it unmentioned in company where you know it won’t be understood, but keep it open among those people who know what it’s like to pursue their passion daily. It doesn’t matter if you’re pursuing different fields, but at least you’re with someone who knows.
But if you suspect your friends will sneer or give you career “advice” contradictory to the spirit of what you do, then just go ahead and say “Nah, my work is too boring, you don’t want to hear about it.” Trust me, it’s better for both of you. That way, you can still have a pleasant dinner conversation and no one has to down five glasses of wine just to keep sane.
I may love my partner with all my heart, but she’s an entity that’s completely separate from me – no matter how often we’re together. My work isn’t like that. My work is who I am.
- It’s a different story if, say, she were sick or on fire. I would not hold my hand up like some asshole and say “Wait, lemme just finish this sentence…” In this article, I am referring to choosing within the “Not Urgent” choices I have to make re: my partner’s needs. (That’s QII and QIV for you die-hard Covey fans.)
- Unless you have value judgments attached to those labels. Some people have trouble calling themselves “artists” because they feel like what they make isn’t art yet, it’s just practice.
Image illustrated by Celine