Work is not supposed to be fun

Healthy food doesn’t have to taste good and exercising is not a piece of cake. Work is supposed to be work – meaning hard work! – and when has hard work ever been a synonym for fun? If you could ask a farmer in the middle ages if work was any fun, he what tell you it was a necessary thing to do to survive: live was work and that was it.

Where do modern kids get the idea that work is supposed to be fun? They get through college, university or whatever other path of education they chose – if any – and then expect to get jobs that are fun? Where does the sense of entitlement come from? Are we just a bunch of hedonists out for fun at all costs? Are we back to roman decadence? I really have heard that last theory. Let me tell you about my theory.

I was one of those chasing for fun at work.

Work is stress

Three weeks into my first real job I learned that work is not fun at all: you have to get up early, spend most of the daylight hours each day doing stuff that somebody else tells you to do and which often makes no sense to you. I was badly disappointed with that work thing. I was doubting that I had followed the right career path. I was thinking I had chosen the wrong education.

More often than not I came home from work complaining “That was so not fun today …”. Most jobs consist of so many parts that are “all work and no fun” that I could make a really long list of it, so here’s just the first few things that come to mind:

  • the part where the project is behind schedule
  • the time spent in hours of boring meetings
  • the endless hunt for bugs and the ever-elusive solutions
  • the huge pile of work that never shrinks
  • the fighting about priorities
  • the finger pointing when something goes wrong
  • the waiting for appreciation

All this is no fun at all. But is there really no fun to be had at work? Is that all that most jobs consist of?

Fun at work

Since I don’t give up easily I kept at it, trying to find the fun-part. Over the years I found lots of fun at work:

  • joking around with the colleagues
  • web-surfing lolcats
  • going out for lunch
  • playing Tischkicker
  • all these “last day before vacation” days
  • having project celebration parties drinking bubbly at 11 a.m.
  • doing Wally impersonations in the hallway
  • laughing about your country’s version of The Office
  • playing the office game

Except all these things are not the work itself. They may or may not be part of your work day if you’re lucky. These are actually recreation at work. If you are less lucky, you hate your colleages, icanhazcheesburger is firewalled, there are no places to go out for lunch near your office, the table football game is broken, you don’t know who Wally is and nobody will play the office game with you.

My job had a lot of the features of the second list and more than enough of the first. For a while it seemed to balance out “ok”. Until it didn’t and I quit, still feeling entitled to fun after so many years.

Only it had never been “fun” I was chasing. I had been wrong all along. I was after something totally different. Sometimes I got home excited and talking how great the day had been. I never meant anything from the list above. What was it then? What I had been chasing? I found out about it just a few weeks ago.

The real thing

Experiment IAfter quitting I had a lot of different ideas what to do next. I wanted to do something new, to find out what I really enjoyed. I used to work as a software developer. When I had the total freedom to choose whatever I wanted to do, I chose to start developing software again even though my job experience had taught me it was not fun. Weird?

After so many years it was actually the only thing I could say I was really good at and it was more or less a random choice to start out into my new-found freedom with some programming. So I guess my subconscience helped me along the way to more fun: because once I got really started, I felt like I was having fun. There are multiple elements that make this a totally different experience and I am no longer doubting that I my choice of education was a good one.

Now that it happens more often I had a chance to notice how much I enjoy getting into the Flow:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

It happens to me all the time once I start programming or writing (of course not when I actively think about the Flow, that kind of makes a mess of it). To get into the zone you need a lot of factors like

  • clarity of purpose
  • concentration
  • a balanced challenge
  • the right environment
  • enough time

Many of these are hard to obtain in most typical corporate jobs and so it rarely happens. It is incredibly productive however. Once I get the flow going I can work on some project for a long time, with absolute concentration and turn out a massive amount of progress in whatever area I am focussed on. Once I am done and look back it feels great and I get an incredible rush seeing the results. That rush resulting from the flow is the “fun” I was chasing all along. My problem was a misconception of what fun really meant.

When I complained that work was supposed to be more fun, I was really looking for the zone.

Work in my opinion is supposed to be flow and when there’s flow, work seems less work.

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