Do you (need to) love your job?

I get the question every so often from students: “Do you love your job?”

To anyone who watches, it’s obvious I love my job. Coaches don’t often become coaches unless they do. But look closely, and you realize the student isn’t really asking me if I love my job. She’s looking for confirmation that, indeed, in order to be happy in this world one must love one’s job.

And that’s just not true.

If pressed, I would have to admit that I’ve had jobs that I didn’t love — some still made me happy, and some didn’t. And if pressed, I would have to admit that I’ve taken jobs I was certain I wouldn’t love, but that I ended up loving.

You just don’t know that much about yourself in your twenties to say with any certainty what you’ll love. Better to try lots of things than to put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

On being lost

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course, given Tolkien’s framework, being lost isn’t necessarily bad. Here are my three favorite books on the topic of wandering:

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho [this was assigned reading in Novels and Tales during my sophomore year of college. In four years, it’s the only book I didn’t sell back.]

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig 

Plus this wonderful passage from Elizabeth Gilbert, titled “Paint Your Bicycle,” in her book Big Magic:

“The Australian writer, poet, and critic Clive James has a perfect story about how once, during a particularly awful creative dry spell, he got tricked back to work.

After an enormous failure (a play that he wrote for the London stage, which not only bombed critically, but also ruined his family financially and cost him several dear friends), James fell into a dark morass of depression and shame. After the play closed, he did nothing but sit on the couch and stare at the wall, mortified and humiliated, while his wife somehow held the family together. He couldn’t imagine how he would get up the courage to write anything else ever again.

After a long spell of this funk, however, James’s young daughters finally interrupted his grieving process with a request for a mundane favor. They asked him if he would please do something to make their shabby old secondhand bicycles look a bit nicer. Dutifully (but not joyfully), James obeyed. He hauled himself up off the couch and took on the project.

First he carefully painted the girls’ bikes in vivid shades of red. Then he frosted the wheel spokes with silver and striped the seat posts to look like barbers’ poles. But he didn’t stop there. When the paint dried, he began to add hundreds of tiny silver and gold stars — a field of exquisitely detailed constellations — all over the bicycles. The girls grew impatient for him to finish, but James found that he simply could not stop painting stars (“four-pointed stars, six-pointed stars, and the very rare eight-pointed stars with peripheral dots”). It was incredibly satisfying work. When at last he was done, his daughters pedaled off on their magical new bikes, thrilled with the effect, while the great man sat there, wondering what on earth he was going to do with himself next.

The next day, his daughters brought home another little girl from the neighborhood, who asked if Mr. James might please paint stars on her bicycle, too. He did it. He trusted in the request. He followed the clue. When he was done, another child showed up, and another, and another. Soon there was a line of children, all waiting for their humble bicycles to be transformed into stellar objets d’art.

And so it came to pass that one of the most important writers of his generation spent several weeks sitting in his driveway, painting thousands and thousands of tiny stars on the bicycles of every child in the area. As he did so, he came to a slow discovery. He realized that “failure has a function. It asks you whether you really want to go on making things.” To his surprise, James realized that the answer was yes. He really did want to go on making things. For the moment, all he wanted to make were beautiful stars on children’s bicycles. But as he did so, something was healing within him. Something was coming back to life. Because when the last bike had been decorated, and every star in his personal cosmos had been diligently painted back into place, Clive James at last had this thought: I will write about this one day.

And in that moment, he was free.

The failure had departed; the creator had returned.

By doing something else — and by doing it with all his heart — he had tricked his way out of the hell of inertia and straight back into the Big Magic.”

Which upperclassman should you follow?

First clue: the upperclassman you should follow has probably been named a captain by her coach, for good reason.

Second clue: the upperclassman you should follow spent significant time on the bench as a freshman and sophomore. She wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, and she’s had to work hard to see playing time.

Find an upperclassman that fits this description. Watch what she does, then do those same things.

Freshmen very often look to the fittest athlete on the team, even though the fittest athlete doesn’t necessarily train properly for her sport. They also look to the most talented athlete on the team, even though the most talented athlete might not train at all.

In that case, you’d be better off drawing a name from a hat.

You’ll certainly have problems with your college roommate

The only question is how significant those problems are.

You can’t live in such close quarters with another human being and not have occasional tension. Not in a dorm room, not in a marriage, and not at work. There is no such thing as perfect harmony in a human relationship.

I can think of two instances in the last three years where a freshman athlete genuinely needed to switch roommates. I can think of many more instances where the athlete just needed to learn to work through the tension of having a roommate.

Much more important than who your future roommate is — what sort of attitude will you bring to the inevitable difficulties of having a roommate in the first place?

Where does happiness come from?

It’s not helpful for a Wall Street stock trader, with an Ivy League economics degree, to tell you that if you just work hard you can make a six-figure salary, just like him. It’s unlikely his six-figure salary is due to hard work, but rather to his good fortune at being accepted into an Ivy League school in the first place.

Nor would it be helpful for Michael Phelps to tell young swimmers that if they just work hard, they can be Olympic champions. The only possible outcome is disappointment.

The advice to work hard is well-intentioned, but often gets directed towards an inappropriate goal (six-figure salaries, championships, etc.) It’s probably better to drop the goal entirely, recognizing that hard work leads to happiness all by itself.

This passage, which I’ve shared in the past, comes from University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach, Anson Dorrance:

“When kids come to college, they come with a wonderful kind of idealism, and trying to be happy is at the top of their list. They have been given their freedom for the first time. And in their ambition to become happy, the typical freshman goes out the first couple nights and gets totally wasted. 

They are free now, and they think a part of this wonderful freedom is to go out and stretch their limits. They think this is going to make them happy. But they discover quickly that getting drunk every night doesn’t make you happy. Basically, it leaves you hung over and empty, and you really don’t gain much from that kind of total freedom.

There are some hilarious things that occur during those periods. But, ultimately, they don’t make you happy, even if every night is filled with riotous laughter. What happens is they discover the things that genuinely satisfy them and make them happy. And the thing that makes you happy – ironically for the people who look for a quick fix – is work. 

It’s satisfying to work hard at something. It’s satisfying to work hard at athletics. It’s satisfying to compete and do your best, and those are the things that ultimately come back and give you a depth of feeling and depth of character. The process itself is not always that enjoyable, but at the end of the day, the people who have worked hard feel good about what they’ve accomplished. There is a satisfaction that feeds them. 

There is a difference between fun and happiness. I think the most confused freshmen and sophomores we have believe happiness is stringing together a collection of fun environments. I once read that fun is something you enjoy while it is going on, but things that make you happy are what you appreciate once the event is finished. There are few environments where hard work and connecting personally are as deeply satisfying as in team sports. And if I have done my job properly, I think part of an undergraduate’s evolution is they come to that conclusion before they graduate. 

One thing that athletics does for people is give them that satisfaction before they genuinely understand what’s going on.”

Using Ratemyprofessors.com

Using the internet to rate your professors is like using the internet to check the symptoms of a mysterious illness. You’ll get a lot of information, but probably not a whole lot of clarity. You’ll almost certainly come away with more anxiety than when you started.

Keep in mind that Ratemyprofessors.com, like any website that allows customer reviews, is more likely to be inhabited by unhappy people. Happy people don’t often bother with reviews — they just get on with their lives.