Book review: A Job to Love (The School of Life)

Book review: A Job to Love (The School of Life)
by Allan LEONARD
28 April 2018

I acquired A Job to Love by The School of Life (founder and chairman, Alain DE BOTTON) when I had pretty much decided to enter the job market of the freelancer. So perhaps this read was for self-affirmation.

The School of Life aims to improve one’s emotional intelligence through the use of culture. It publishes books, holds lectures, and sells a variety of (somewhat overpriced) products. It books are “designed to entertain, educate, console and transform”.

A Job to Love has a logical chapter structure, which guides you on a journey of understanding why you probably don’t like your current job or even vocation. There are practical exercises along the way, but just as suggestions; you can absorb the lessons without doing them.

The books scrutinises obstacles to job fulfillment, external obstacles but just as important, internal obstacles, the ones in our heads. You are asked to examine your own “pleasure points” and be honest about what give you joy, then reconcile this with your skill set.

Our lives would probably be better if we underwent such an approach early in our lives, perhaps in our teenage years, before embarking on skill specialisation. For too often we discover later in life that we’ve gone down the less satisfying training regime.

“It’s no wonder that by the time we finish university … we usually can’t conceive of asking ourselves too vigorously what we might in our hearts want to do with our lives: what it might be fun to do with the years that remain. It’s not the way we’ve learned to think. The rule of duty has … become our second nature. We are convinced that a good job is meant to be substantially dull, irksome and annoying. Why else would someone pay us to do it?”

The book then discusses time investment traps, whereby when you’re younger (say, 20s), the thought of spending a couple of years completely changing your career path seems like a long time, because it is, relatively, than for the middle-aged (say, 50s). The argument is that we should be more ready to make drastic changes whilst we’re young, as it could result in more years living with a better outcome. The irony is financial security, which comes with the accumulation of capital over decades, when a cost-benefit analysis may very well favour the status quo; the real costs of a significant reduction in earned income.

Yet if one is staying true to one’s pleasure points, then ultimate income should be even greater, because if you are doing work that you passionately care about, you’ll stand out from the competition.

But there’s no guarantee, and many of us are risk averse.

Indeed, the greatest disappointment of the book was its conclusion. I’m sure it was meant to relieve us of the pressure of seeking perfection in our vocational choices (as that can have its own tyranny), but advising us that we should accept “good enough work” and admit that no job can be everything one might want doesn’t encourage one to take risks!

The concluding words are to “love your job enough”. I prefer the book’s title, “a job to love”. And the more that you care about the work you do, the more rewarding it should be. If it’s not, find out where it will be.

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