Learning how to love your job is hard. There are aspects of your work situation that are beyond your control. You may have a terrible boss, a miserable benefits package, or find yourself caught in an industry crisis (like the wave of mortgage layoffs that led to a job transition for me this year). Certain oppressive, dead-end jobs are beyond loving.
But for most of us, there are also things we do control that can help us love our job a little more. If we take advantage of those things, we’ll reap the reward. The benefit of loving our job extends beyond us, too. As disciples of Jesus, we know that joy is a virtue. It’s a gift to the people around us when we can approach life with genuine enthusiasm for the work we do. That gift is all the more valuable when it comes in the middle of the inescapable pains and disappointments of work.
Like all virtues, the joy of loving an imperfect job doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work to love your work. It’s easy to feel miserable about the challenges of work. Most people do. Energy and zest and a bright spirit are harder to come by. It takes some creativity to find the joy in the middle of the mundane. But if the result is loving your job, then the effort will pay off—not just for you, but for everyone around you.
So, here are five ways to love your job just a bit more.
[This post is part of our series Finding God at Work. Check out our other posts on faith and work for more resources.]
1. Don’t Worship Your Job
C.S. Lewis once spoke about beauty, and how a kind of longing for God and life with God hides inside of our experience of beauty. Lewis says that these experiences “are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.”
What is true of beauty is also true of work. If we invest all our hopes for well-being and satisfaction in life onto our job, it will sink like a ship loaded with too much cargo. Our hearts cannot be ultimately satisfied by work, even good work. It is possible to love our job too much—so much that we end up hating it when it can’t deliver the existential goods.
There’s a kind of paradox here: You’ll get more out of your job, not less, if you make it secondary as a source of satisfaction. This is true in other domains of life, too. Romantic relationships are stronger and healthier when partners don’t look to each other to fulfill all of their emotional needs.
Work is an important planet in the solar system of the soul. It brings meaning. It’s a way to love God and others. But it stays on course when the love of God is the sun at the center of its orbit. When we make work the center, it disastrously skews the whole arrangement.
2. Be Fully Engaged In Your Job Today
An extensive body of research shows the power of engagement at work, but the concept is not new. The Apostle Paul writes to enslaved members of the Colossian church, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23 NIV). That turn of phrase “with all your heart” conveys a sense of putting our whole person into the effort, rallying every resource of our being in concert to attend to the task at hand. In other words, when you’re working, work hard. Don’t hold back.
Distraction is the enemy. When we’re fully engaged at work, it’s because we genuinely believe, “There is nothing better for me to do or pay attention to right now.” In contrast, if we let ourselves believe our work doesn’t matter that much, we’ll succumb to the temptation to attend to other things: Our wandering thoughts, office gossip, and especially our smartphones. Pay attention to your attention. Learning to redirect your mind to the task right in front of you is massively rewarding, and probably good for your brain, too.
One attitude that kills engagement is regarding our current job as a “stepping stone” to something else. While there’s nothing wrong with planning to grow into new responsibilities and pursuing new roles, thinking of our current role only as a rung on the career ladder is a trap. It makes us mindful of the job we don’t yet have, instead of the one we do. But you cannot be fully engaged in your job tomorrow. You can only be fully engaged in your job today. Christian leader Nancy Ortberg wisely insists, “there are no stepping stone jobs.”
3. Practice Gratitude at Your Job
We’ve written before about the power of gratitude in general. The positive effects of gratitude at work are also well-documented. It stands to reason that the more grateful you are for your job, the easier it is to love it.
It’s easy to forget to be thankful. We’re surrounded by many good things that we often don’t give a second thought to. Our brains instinctively zoom in on bad things, so it takes a conscious effort to be mindful of everything that’s good. Problems at work are real, but so are privileges. Framing work in terms of everything that you get to do is a powerful way to reorient your own perspective. Here are a few examples from my current job working the front desk at a food bank warehouse:
- I get to connect neighbors who call the office with the food resources they need.
- I get to see volunteers who give their time for the cause I’m a part of.
- I get to collaborate with colleagues who care deeply about the work we do.
It can be helpful to reframe work stressors as work privileges, too. We shouldn’t take the things we “have to” do for granted. (There are a lot of people who would gladly trade their unemployment for your work project.) Here’s another food bank example for me, which often feels more like something I “have to” do:
- I get to use my organizational skills to help keep our new software rollout on track.
Back when I was at the mortgage company, I had a series of months where I was struggling with discontentment. So, I wrote out the five things I was most thankful for about the job. When I felt discouraged driving into the office, I would recite the five things, almost like a poem: Work, Structure, Relationships, Learning, Compensation. It’s not the world’s most beautiful poem, but it helped me stay motivated on tough days. Gratitude can likely do the same for you.
4. Take Ownership of Your Job Situation
There are stressors that we can reframe as points of gratitude, but then there are real afflictions at work. One of the most spiritually damaging postures at work is to passively accept all of the difficulties of your job as unchangeable. Passively accepting one’s circumstances is never taught in Scripture. In fact, passivity amounts to an abdication of responsibility as a human being entrusted with the power to choose. Think about how the Apostle Paul, even when imprisoned, made use of his Roman citizenship to determine his course as best he could. He didn’t avoid suffering, but he did take action (see Acts 16:35-40).
If you’re miserable at work, sometimes you don’t need to change jobs; you need to change the job itself, adapting it to be a better version of the same role. It is your responsibility not only to do your job as it is but also to advocate for a healthy, sustainable version of your job as far as it can be obtained.
Many people are not accustomed to thinking about their work in these terms. They accept the job according to the influence and expectations of others, and shrug their shoulders at whatever aspects of it are undesirable or even damaging. To some extent, this attitude is understandable. The alternative—taking ownership of your job situation—requires setting boundaries with others. Setting boundaries requires a certain level of emotional maturity, including a willingness to disappoint others, and to confront them as needed. Christians in particular are often bad at engaging in such necessary conflicts.
But it’s possible to see yourself, rather than your coworkers or even your boss, as responsible for the kind of job that your job is. Obviously, there are things you can’t change about your job. But we tend to underestimate how much influence we have. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. This kind of ownership might seem daunting, but in fact it creates immense freedom. It allows you to, at least in part, determine what your job is like for you.
Thinking through your job like this will take work. You’ll need to set aside time to map out what is and isn’t working, and what steps you could take to change. If you’re not sure where to start, just jot down a list of what you like and dislike about your job. Then circle the things on the dislike list that you have some power to change. This article about “job crafting” from Harvard Business Review provides two case studies of taking ownership that may also spark ideas.
5. Embrace Suffering at Your Job
The other side of taking ownership of the things you can change is facing the things you can’t. As followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised at hardships, which appear on the job as much as anywhere else. Jesus encouraged his disciples by saying, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). There are things you will never love about your job. More than that, there are things that may hurt you, causes of genuine suffering.
When we suffer, we can chafe under it, refusing to accept it in any way. We can ask “Why me?” We can let self-pity draw us into its warm comforts. We can bemoan our situation, “as though something strange were happening” to us, as Peter cautioned early believers they would be tempted to do (1 Peter 4:12 NIV). We can let bitterness, resentment, and rage take up residence in our imaginations and have free reign with our emotional resources. We can complain and gossip with our coworkers. These are all ordinary human responses to painful circumstances.
Or, we can embrace suffering at work as a pathway to deeper fellowship with Jesus. Peter encourages his readers to “rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13 NIV). When we suffer, our suffering is connected to the suffering of Jesus on the cross, because we belong to him and are united to him. The “participation” that Peter is describing is mysterious. I don’t know exactly how it works. At the same time, I know from the small measure of my own difficulties that Peter is speaking about something real. When we open our hearts to the Lord in the middle of pain, our hearts are more deeply settled into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Consider the sources of pain in your work life: The spiteful coworker. The false rumor about you. The fiasco that puts your weaknesses on public display. The failure that grieves you because you couldn’t serve or save people the way you wanted to. The unjust work evaluation. The exhaustion. When your mind or heart turns toward these things, simply pray, “Jesus, I am here with you.” Offer up the experience as a sacrifice to the Lord.
Just a Little More
None of these practices is a silver bullet that will transform your job into a source of unrelenting delight. You may never love all of your job, but you can learn to love it just a little more. Together, these five ways can catalyze small, gradual, persistent change in your work experience. If you refuse to worship your job, fully engage in it, practice gratitude for it, take ownership of it, and embrace suffering in it, who knows? Maybe you’ll find it’s not such a bad job after all.
Reflect and Practice
- On a scale of one to ten, where one is hating your job and ten is loving your job, where are you at? Why?
- What kind of fulfillment do you look for in your job? Does it seem like your expectations are too high, too low, or on point?
- What distracts you from fully engaging the task at hand on the job?
- What are you most thankful for about your job?
- What’s one way you can take ownership of your job situation this week?
- How are you suffering at your job? What would help you bring that pain to Jesus in prayer?