I am struggling with my work ethic. I have trouble keeping jobs as I easily give up when work becomes challenging or tedious, eventually leading to quitting or getting fired.
Pop culture is telling me that I haven’t found my passion, but that advice seems dubious. I’m sure I can trace this to my upbringing, but I’m more interested in what I can do today to break this cycle and instill a work ethic in myself.
Or do I just need to find work that is more “interesting” to me?
We must congratulate you on being honest with yourself. Many people would direct their energies towards complaining about unfair bosses or miserable work conditions. You show great character by recognizing that your repeated employment failures are attributable to a flaw in you.
We’re also impressed by your skepticism about the message you’ve been receiving from the culture around you.
Furthermore, you have made a clever decision to focus on breaking this cycle rather than spending time and energy tracing it back to your childhood. You recognize that waiting to discover your passion isn’t a feasible plan, in effect answering your own question.
Leaving aside luck, acts of God and genetics, 90% of everything that happens in your life is the result of things you have done or not done. This is particularly true in our business and financial lives. Now is a really good time to stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right ones.
What can you do? Think about that sweet spot you are looking for, somewhere between challenging and tedious. It is a moving target, isn’t it? Work that may be too challenging at first can become tedious once we master it. On the other hand, if we avoid challenging work and only do what comes easy to us, it probably will be tedious very quickly. You are in a quixotic quest to find a job that will, like baby bear’s porridge, be just right.
Our society does not promote patience or long-term attention spans. We would ask you to examine your leisure activities. Do you pick up and discard interests and people relatively frequently? Do you listen to twenty-five minute symphonies or three-minute songs? Is this tendency in you truly confined to your work life or is it part of a larger picture?
You haven’t given us a clue as to what work you do, but we would advise you to turn your attention from yourself to the people you are serving, be they customers or employers. Start trying to take pride in honoring those relationships with your very best performance.
We don’t know any mothers who relish being woken up by infants at 2 am (and sometimes 3 am and 4 am), but they get up night after night because they love their babies. Their own discomfort is secondary. You too, need to focus less on your own feelings and more on your responsibilities. Quitting or slacking off so you are fired are selfish activities. Look into yourself to see if you have any other hidden selfish tendencies you can work on eliminating.
We encourage you to work on better being able to tolerate discomfort and boredom outside the workplace. Set a timer for reading or listening to music with no distractions and each week increase the time a bit. We’d be guessing if we said that you are someone who spends more time each week watching a screen than reading a book, but make sure you do twice as much reading as watching each week then gradually increase that ratio. Perhaps some of your new reading regimen can contribute to increasing your skills thus making you a more valuable employee. Train yourself to stay in one place and simply think. Make a schedule for your day and stick to it. Listen to lectures and reduce any time spent on gaming apps which are designed to move quickly and keep you constantly entertained.
We confess to being interested in why your letter didn’t refer to what we’d expect would be the inevitable financial stress of serial unemployment, David. This leads us to wonder whether you don’t really need the money your jobs pay you. If so, that would make it harder to find meaning in your work. A paycheck that means something to one adds greatly to the meaningfulness of the activity that produces that paycheck. If this is your fortunate situation, you might consider devoting your pay to someone or some organization that really does need it. In a roundabout sort of way, this could help you.
In any event, try to move your focus off yourself. Add volunteer work, helping neighbors and as many other activities as you can. Don’t lay the burden on your job to be the only place to find meaning and interest in your life.
May you have steady employment in 2019,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin