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Do, Adjust, Do: A Journey to Meaningful, Satisfying Work

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” ~Proverb

I couldn’t drive, drink, vote, or stay out after nine, and yet I had two jobs.

I started working just before I turned twelve. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I knew early on I’d need to work if I wanted to do fun things, like go to music camp.

After school, I went to a program for kids where I led them in creative activities, like singing and arts and crafts. On the weekends, I ran the dozen counter at my family friends’ bagel shop.

I haven’t stopped working since I was twelve, and at times I’ve held more than three jobs at once. To some extent, it’s because I’m resourceful and ambitious.

But it’s partly because I’m one of those people who refuses to spend forty hours a week doing something I don’t love. So I end up spending sixty hours doing a combination of things, some I adore and some that allows me to do those other projects.

I have a lot of friends who work jobs they loathe, some in corporate environments, some in retail, and others at start-up companies. Though the atmosphere and job descriptions vary, they all involve eight-plus hours a day, work that doesn’t satisfy them, and steady paychecks that justify it.

When I chose to study writing and acting in college, I assumed it would all work out when I graduated—that I’d instantly make the right connections and fall into the perfect life.

Once I was in the real world, my confidence started to falter. I felt overwhelmed when I realized I’d have to struggle, and I began talking myself out of my dreams.

“You don’t need to be an actress or writer,” I told myself. “Everyone wants those jobs. Why waste your whole life chasing rainbows when you could find something that’s good enough and just enjoy it?”

So I did that. In my first job out of college, I provided respite services for adults with developmental disabilities. I’d pick them up, take them out for a recreational activity, and then bring them back home.

When I switched to a residential environment and one of the clients tried to stab me in the jugular with scissors, I decided the job wasn’t for me.

From there I fell into sales. I’d done a little in college, when I first learned the beauty of commission. I sold more overpriced vacuums than anyone else on my team by convincing customers the $500 investment would preserve their carpets and save money in the long run.

After a while, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t spend that on a vacuum. Overnight I developed an up-sell constricting conscience that limited my earning potential. Post-college telemarketing was an exercise in insanity—doing the same thing and expecting different results.

In my mid-twenties I fell into mobile marketing. You know when you go into a bar and see a girl handing out free shots? I was that girl, except I also gave out Frisbees, bumper stickers, and gum at sporting events, concerts, and neighborhood hot spots.

I even got to drive Will Ferrell to TRL when I was driving around in a fake news van, promoting the movie Anchor Man.

When I realized I could do this kind of thing on the road, taking promotional campaigns from city to city, I was all over it. It was kind of like touring with a play, but I didn’t have to audition (and potentially fail). I just had to smile, give people free stuff, and leave the selling to someone else. Beautiful!

I didn’t feel that way after the sixth tour. I’d already seen most of the country, and I was grateful for that, but I couldn’t do it as a long-term career. Not if I wanted to put down roots and form real relationships.

Around that time I asked my friend who owned a yoga studio how she knew what she was meant to do.

I’d worn so many different hats but I didn’t feel passionate about any of it, and none of it was sustainable over the long haul. I didn’t want to tour forever, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life as a workaholic just to avoid a salaried position.

She made a Captain Obvious observation that seemed unhelpful at first, but was actually reassuring.

“You’re figuring out what you don’t want to do, and that’s progress.”

Progress.

I realized then that if I was ever going to feel fulfilled by my work, I needed to change my thinking on a few levels:

1. I had to stop assuming the work I’d love would be impossible to get.

That limiting belief kept me from even trying to write until I turned 27 years old.

2. I needed to take the pressure off finding the “perfect job.”

In my youthful confidence, I assumed I’d fall into it; in my adult cynicism, I refused to work for it—but in both cases, I thought my ideal life was some pie-in-the-sky pipe dream, as opposed to an achievable goal. Of course it was overwhelming to work toward a dream I felt was reserved for the chosen few.

3. I had to accept that finding the right situation might be a long-term project.

And I had to accept that getting specific about what I actually wanted might entail a lot of trial and error.

I’ve been trying and erring for over a decade, but with a different purpose these past several years.

Since I started writing professionally in 2006, I’ve realized I don’t want to write full-time. I’m eternally grateful that I’m able to earn money doing something I love; but I don’t love spending twelve hours a day tied to my computer, balancing my passion projects with freelance work that doesn’t excite me.

That realization is progress.

It started as “I want to be a writer.

It turned into “It’s too hard to be a writer—what else would be fun?”

That became, “I will write, even if I have to take every unpaid Craigslist gig I can find.”

That evolved into, “Now I’m a writer, but something is missing.”

And right now it’s, “I’m writing full-time but I’d like to spend more time engaging with people and doing physical activities.”

I’ve been on a long journey of do, adjust, do, to create a work life that feels balanced, meaningful, and satisfying. Somehow just being on the journey with intention, courage, and commitment feels like a major success.

Finding your passion isn’t about identifying a concrete vision and getting there as fast as possible. It isn’t about making one solid plan and sticking to it at all costs, sometimes against your instincts and honest desires.

It’s about jumping in, exploring, paying attention to how you feel, and then making changes as you go if necessary. Some of those changes will be minor adjustments; some might be major life decisions.

What matters is that we do. That we’re honest with ourselves about what we want, take strides to create it, and then have the courage to change courses if and when it feels right.

Satisfaction is in the doing and adjusting. Meaning is in the journey itself.

Photo by JohnONolan

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series (which includes one free eBook) and Tiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself. She's also the co-founder of the eCourse Recreate Your Life Story: Change the Script and Be the HeroFollow @tinybuddha for inspiring posts and wisdom quotes.

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  • http://www.riendemoins.com Julie

    How my god, how I relate to this post.
    My last blog post (in french) is precisely about that topic. Having too many jobs and projects, having to choose to close a few doors, not knowing which one to let open and panicking over the fact that I can’t seem to stop changing my mind about what I really want to do – nor access what would be my “ideal situation” (way too ambitious plan – scared to fail or suffer). I too planned to be a writer but have the exact same relationship with the computer (hense why I can’t stand my full time day job anymore). I guess we have to trust ourselves and remember that we never choose for ever. We can always change our minds and ajust. Thanks Lori, I just came across you blog and I love it.

  • sphoon

    Hey Lori,

    Your punctual posts seem to always hit the spot on my current existential crises. Today I applied for more than 30 different jobs. I am a 21 year old student who is being supported by my mother and is currently unemployed. I don’t know if my bachelors is “what i’m meant to be doing”, and after working in an office related to that field, I know I do not want to be doing that for the rest of my life.. So I pipe dream away at the wonderful career options I could enjoy, which led me feeling lost as they are not very realistic!

    Thanks for reminding me to take one step at a time, and that putting on different “hats” isn’t a waste of time.

    Best
    sphoon

  • Richard Awesome

    Excellent post. I feel we’ve been on a similar path. I was in a dead-end job wishing I was dead, then began to set goals for myself and really feed my passions. Now I’m happy and that’s what matters. People forget that the American dream is about paving your own way, not getting rich quick. When did that idea take over?

  • QuinnCreative

    Very smart post. You have a good head–although a stubborn one–and it has finally listened to your heart. We do not FIND meaning in life, we MAKE meaning in life. Once I learned that, it got a lot easier.

  • http://twitter.com/Sam_Russell_ Sam Russell

    Y’know, it’s weird how I hear about writers not seriously writing anything until they’re teetering on the edge of their thirties but gosh it is reassuring!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom on a topic rather close to my own heart, and no doubt many other’s who are young and finding it tough to find their place and follow their dreams.

    I’d like to say that I wish I’d heard you say all of this when I was younger, but I probably would have been stubborn and too busy spouting all the answers to actually listen. Analytics aside, you have a knack of delivering the things people need to hear (me especially!) when they reckon they have nowhere left to turn.

    My impending 30′s aren’t looking so grim anymore, particularly with the prospect of opening myself up to them and letting go of my awkward 20′s (lessons learnt along the way).

    Haha! So this is what being an adult feels like – not terrible at all but completely liberating!

    (one massive) Kudos :)

  • http://twitter.com/Stacey_Alex Stacey Alexander

    I’ve been bouncing around different places for a while doing the same thing you’re talking about. Good to know I’m not the only one and that it can be part of a process to finding the right path. Thanks for sharing!

  • Coach2xl

    It is a journey and at times can be terrifying! And at times it can be the most wonderful experience you can have.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.nirvanamamma.com Erin Hill

    Thank you for sharing your background. You’re a jack-of-all-trades! I can completely understand where you’re coming from. Doubt has always been a friend of mine. And sometimes I’ll try something I think I REALLY want and get discouraged becuase it ends up NOT being what I REALLY want. You said it perfectly: “It’s about jumping in, exploring, paying attention to how you feel, and then making changes as you go if necessary. What matters is that we do. That we’re honest with ourselves about what we want, take strides to create it, and then have the courage to change courses if and when it feels right.” Just Do–and PAY attention to how you feel. Our passion, our bliss, is in constant flux. That’s just our inner knowing telling us it’s time to move to a different place and make a positive difference there.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ILADC67X2POBYHNYZLNXKFAIAI Chris

    Very, very well put. I have toyed with the idea of writing myself, and just dont really know if i’d enjoy it, OR be any good at it! I tend to ramble and forget to get to the point. I have also had my share of carreer choices and after a life changing accident stiil am searching for that ‘thing to do that just feels right’!

  • http://www.nolanstudios.com Daniel Nolan

    It is very true. Do, adjust, do is key to finding what to do. My goals seem to constantly change and the only way I am able to evolve closer to what I believe I want to the try it. I usually quickly realize that what I wanted was not quite right. Close but not “it”. But in doing so I have had experiences I never imagined and have met people I would not have if I just stuck to the plan. Trial and error is now fun because I know that eventually it will lead me forward.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Sphoon,

    I felt the same way when I was 21. Everything I wanted to do sounded too hard, but as soon as I tried to do those hard things, I realized it was easier than I’d made it out to be if I was willing to work. Not easy–but easier.

    I think it’s really hard for anyone to know at 18 years old how they want to spend their life. We decide on our major before we have life experience, so a lot of people end up changing courses several times. It might take a while to find your niche, and you may find your niche and then change it. My best advice is to keep doing what you’re doing (putting yourself out there) and be patient with everything. Even if it takes a while, this time is very productive toward finding out what you want!

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Yes! I can relate to everything you wrote. We can’t possibly know how we’ll feel about something until we try it, and then we can figure out what to do next from there. As long as we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll keep moving in the right direction.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That’s what editors are for =) Well, that and self-editing, which I still struggle with. I’m sorry to hear about your life-changing accident, though it seems like you’re taking everything in stride. I think just being willing to work toward that thing that feels just right puts you in a wonderful place to find it. Not everyone makes that effort. Best of luck with finding your niche!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Absolutely! My passions are constantly in flux. Sometimes it’s hard to know when you need to push yourself and stay the course, and when you should change directions. Like you wrote, though, it has a lot to do with listening to our instincts. Thank you for commenting–I’m glad to know you can relate!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Well said! And you are most welcome. Thanks for commenting =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I think bouncing around can be a really good thing. It lets us explore and learn about what it is we want. It’s also more fun than just picking one thing, accepting it for better or for worse, and perhaps ignoring our gut instincts. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m glad it’s reassuring! I think my late 20s/30s so far have been a lot more enjoyable than my early 20s. I was also awkward in a lot ways (hell, I still am!) I had a lot of learning, exploring, and experimenting to do. It’s by no means over, but I’m glad I’m through some of the earlier messy work.

    I read your stuff, I think you’re on the right track in all kinds of ways =)

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I love what you wrote about making meaning. (And I agree I am stubborn!) Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Congrats! I’m always inspired by people who challenge what they think they should do and decide what they want to do instead. It sounds like you’re doing just that.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    By the way, I want MY last name to be awesome…

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  • Glassy

    nice post, Lori…and talking about “perfect job”, i always want to work as freelancer so i can spend more time for writing fictions at home. Then, since being a freelancer cannot give me that financial security so I decided to work in a company. I’m happy to be a copywriter here but sometimes i’m still thinking of being at home and writing anything I want. I’ve tried to stay awake at night to write but it just makes me feel tired at the office on the following day…I think all i must do is adjusting myself to this situation then finding the best time to write for myself.

    Thanks for your post Lori. It’s really inspiring. By the way, your site’s new look is awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Glassy,

    I’m glad I could be of service! I know how difficult it is to balance copywriting with creative writing. I find it’s difficult not just in regards to time, but also because I get burnt out staring at a computer for so long.

    It sounds like you are finding ways to make your schedule work for you, as I’ve been trying to do. I think that’s a fantastic step in the right direction =)

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/blueroompub Martin Williams

    Terrific post….Helped me a lot.

  • http://twitter.com/chutes2narrow88 Samantha N

    This post meant so much to me, especially since I am going to graduate school to someday become a writer. Its hard not to give up on your dream sometimes…but this helped me realize that I CAN become a writer. I should never give up on my dream. And if my dream changes a bit, if I need to tweak it, thats okay too. :)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks–I’m so glad it helped you!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Samantha~

    You absolutely can become a writer! Now with the Internet it’s easier than ever to get started. I found my first writing job, and many after, on Craigslist. Writing for the Internet was a great way to get started, and later led to magazine articles.

    Best of luck =)

    Lori

  • Stewart

    What a great post! It’s very well structured and more importantly exactly poinent to my thoughts of switching careers after 15 years. It’s always good to know you’re not alone. Thanks!

    -Stewart

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Stewart~

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Best of luck with the career switch =)

    ~Lori

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  • Frances

    Sphoon could not have said it better- I’m in the exact same situation and this was an excellent and inspiring post. Thank you Lori.

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  • http://zeromilediet.net Foodie

    Thanks for this.
    I’m a serial “seeker” who has worn a variety of different vocational hats. Heading into my mid-thirties and working on yet another series of existential questions is more than tiring.
    I stumbled upon your words today and they put a little peace into a heart that has been struggling to find a little light all morning.
    Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    From one serial “seeker” to another, I’m glad this post was helpful for you!

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  • Lucy

    This post has helped me a lot! Thank you Lori! I am 25 and after 5 years of university studying Law-I’ve no idea if it’s for me and I’m finding it impossible to even gain experience in that field. I’m always worrying that everyone is passing me out finding their perfect career paths and getting their lives in order and that I’m so far behind. It’s nice to know other people are also trying to find their paths through trial and error!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m glad it helped you Lucy! I know what you mean about worrying that people are passing you by. I used to feel the same way. One thing I realized, however, was that a lot of my friends who seemed to have already found their perfect career path eventually changed paths. Either they lost their job, decided they wanted something else, or just felt an itch to explore what else is out there. So I really wasn’t as far behind as I thought I was. I was just on my own path, figuring things out and learning as I went, like everyone else!

  • http://www.belowtradeprices.co.uk/multideck.aspx Multidecks

    Mindfulness and Meaningful Work deepens our understanding of the concept of “right livelihood;” shows us how to go about overcoming the obstacles in our path so that we can find and maintain meaningful, satisfying work; and encourages us to live in a way that increases our inner peace, self-worth, and purpose.

  • http://www.belowtradeprices.co.uk/serve-over-counter.aspx Serve Over Counter

    Sometimes it seems that work is something I’ve always done. For me, working is basic, like eating and sleeping. I’ve never considered for a moment that I wouldn’t work. If I had all the money I needed or could do whatever I wanted, I know I would still work. For me, working is a way of being fully alive. It is more than the identity by which others know me. Work is the place in time and space where I am most fulfilled. And work provides me with most of the opportunities I have to practice mindfulness.

  • http://www.belowtradeprices.co.uk/prep-station.aspx Prep Station

    The nature of the work you do, should be challenging enough to stretch you. When work is challenging, there is a sense of personal accomplishment when tasks are completed. 

    If as an employee, you can see how your work contributes to the success of a company (ie. meaningful), then you are more likely to put in extra effort to achieve objectives – especially when the work is challenging.

    Of course, personal fulfillment is only one side of the coin. Employees also want to be rewarded for the effort they put in. The more effort, the more the reward should be. 

    Now, if this is the case, are you telling me that you wouldn’t find a way to manage yourself, especially when:

    a) you are motivated because the work is challengning
    b) you are rewarded for you effort?

    In general, financial rewards are the most common way of incentivising people, but it is also important to note that employees require more that just money. Recognition, encouragement and praise from managers is also an important driving force.

    Once again, it all comes down to the culture of the organisation, job-design and attitude of management.

  • http://www.belowtradeprices.co.uk/prep-station.aspx Prep Station

    I emerged from the shower, greeted by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I dressed, a bit reluctant to put on yesterday’s clothes again, but having no real choice until payday. I had landed a job as an apprentice civil engineer, which meant days divided between drawing plot plans in the office and laying them out in the field so the bulldozers could begin grading.
    I threw the bed covers up over the pillow and double checked my pockets for wallet, knife, and the few bills of lunch money that I had left for the week. I made my way into the kitchen arriving just as my older brother turned off the stove to let the percolator come to a halt. We had enjoyed mornings like this, my brother and I, since I had joined the ranks of the working men in my family. Up early to share a quick breakfast, and then off to the work of the day. Sometimes it was work that required thinking, and sometimes it required sweat. It helped support our family, and we received a kind of status from it. We worked, we made a contribution, and we were proud of it.

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  • Joseph

    This is a great website! I’ve found other writings helpful on Tiny Buddha before, but I found this one to be one of my favorites. I’ve went through many of the same struggles in life, and I’ve come to many similar conclusions.

    Joseph
    ChristianHedonist.com

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Joseph. I’m so glad you’ve found the site helpful!