How would you describe your relationship with work? Do you feel like one of those couples in new infatuations where it’s all love heart emojis, public displays of affection, and big sloppy kisses? Or do you feel like you’re simply going through the motions to pay the bills? Many of us have been told subtly or directly that it’s not important to enjoy our job Monday to Friday, that we can do what we love on the weekends. But what if there’s a way to integrate our passions into our work and be our authentic selves while still making a living? That’s exactly what Ben, a Performer, in the Opera, theatre, choirs, and bands did when he made the decision to reject the career path that “society” wanted him to follow and chose to follow his passion instead. Ben’s story is all about the choices we make and how we can live the lives that feel right for us.
Ben’s love affair with music and performing started early. He grew up in a musically talented family, he was surrounded by the joy and sounds of classical and all sorts of music. This lifelong passion developed through his childhood into singing, acting, and performing. It’s obvious immediately in his body language when I ask him what he loves about the Opera. His face lights up, he becomes animated:
“Firstly, it’s music! Secondly, it’s a process of creating an idea to express something. I think in your life, you eventually realise that you need to express something, because we all need to express something. I love this process of expression in the theatre and opera!”
Ben is one of those people that seems like he’s in the new sloppy-kisses relationship with his job. Working in the Opera, being involved in music, and performing seems to be such a natural fit. He seems absolutely the real and best version of “himself”. It’s obvious how much joy he gets from it, that it’s hard to imagine him ever doing something else. But in fact it took him some time to arrive at this point and it might never have happened at all. He explains:
“Actually, it was more or less by accident because I was studying at the university something completely different. I was always of the belief that there is one part of your life, this thing called work, that you don’t like, you just do it to make money. Then it gets to the weekend and your life can start. I believed that because that’s the way I was raised. I always thought, with studying I’m in that part of my life that I don’t like and that’s normal and just how it is. Then, it hits you. Some things get too much and you need to change something and I really needed to stop studying this thing I didn’t love”
So, what do you do when your life’s plans have been thrown up in the air? When you don’t know what you want to do? Ben started with the one thing that he was knew that he loved and that he knew he could do well:
“Because I was always musical, I was always singing, always playing in bands, I started to work in a choir in a theatre. I just applied. And it was a case of ‘why not do this until I figure out what to do?’ And suddenly, at the end of the month, I got my pay and I realised it was the first time in my life where I worked and I didn’t feel like I was at work. And that’s when life hit me. It really hit me. Why would I ever want work to be a part of my life that I don’t like? It REALLY opened my eyes at that moment. I said to myself ‘NO! I want to do what I really like to do!’”
That seems so obvious and logical to him now but with Ben, like so many of us, he was raised with a different programming. Doing what you ‘love’ seemed like a luxury pursuit ahead of making a good living. Ben realised there is a BIG difference between a good living and a good life. No amount of money is worth sacrificing his life for. Of course, these discussions can often feel so oversimplified and make it seem black-and-white. Do what you love OR earn money. In real life however, it’s more nuanced, more complicated.
“I cannot say if I reached that point yet where everything is worked out.I like what I’m doing now but let’s see where the journey goes. I recognise it’s not always as easy as saying “do what you love” because life can be difficult, it can be hard to make it work. We need to work, we need to earn money. What I’m doing works for me now and that’s what I learned. To feel comfortable in the moment and change something later if it doesn’t feel right then.”
And it does work for Ben now. He earns enough money with his performing to live, to do all of the things he wants to do, to enjoy his life. What is fascinating are the other things, apart from money that he gets from this work. Performing GIVES Ben so much more. He gets genuine fulfilment from his work.
“Of course everybody has a shitty day, but on those days I remind myself that I’m having a shitty day surrounded by music and ideas and creativity that I love. Then there are the moments on the stage where I feel connected to the audience, I can feel their appreciation for what I’m doing, how I’m expressing myself is giving joy to those people, and that feels amazing”
This makes Ben’s work feel awesome. He’s found that by following a path of authenticity through artistic expression he has also created as a by-product all the other elements that lead to meaningful work. Feeling the audience’s appreciation gives him a sense of purpose, and social impact. He also feels a strong sense of belonging and connection with his colleagues, all working toward the same goal. He feels the satisfaction and self-esteem of achievement when a challenging and opaque creative process turns into an end product.
This feeling of meaning, that what we are doing is worthwhile is essential for us to feel good about our work. There are so many scientifically-proven benefits that come from finding meaning in our work: We’re happier, more productive, creative, we live longer, and we have better relationships to name just a few. Ben is a great example of the biggest benefit of all. It just feels awesome when we love what we’re doing!
So, how do we do work that we love? Like Ben, sometimes our biggest challenge to being authentic in our work life comes down to realising that we have the freedom to make our own choices. For Ben that was a real liberator, he didn’t have to do what society expected of him. Ben also encountered the other major challenge we face in searching for work we love, how do we know what we’re passionate about? At first Ben discovered what he wasn’t passionate about and he made an intentional choice to change it. He didn’t have a grand plan linked to his passions, but he gave himself permission to go searching. I love the way he approached this, he simply followed his nose into something that he thought he’d like and tried it.
Most importantly Ben found the solutions that worked for him, and for his own situation. Of course, we all have our different situations, our own values, passions, needs, and money pressures. We all have to find our own balance between earning money and pursuing passions but, as Ben discovered, sometimes when you really question your values, challenge your priorities, and explore your options, you can find a way to combine your work and your passion. It is possible to find the work that you love with lots of heart emojis and big sloppy kisses!
For more info and inspiration about the theme of authenticity why not try these articles and sign up to my upcoming workshop:
How to stay true to yourself at work (blog) – https://rossreekie.com/how-to-stay-true-to-yourself-at-work/
Jodi the Artist (podcast) – https://rossreekie.com/episodes/s01-e03-jodi-the-artist/
Ross Reekie TEDx Glasgow – Can You Find Happiness at Work? https://www.ted.com/talks/ross_reekie_can_you_find_happiness_at_work
FM4 Radio Series – Episode 1 – https://rossreekie.com/fm4-radio-series/
Authenticity Workshop – https://rossreekie.com/events-workshops/