Have you ever heard the saying "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life"? It's a nice sentiment, but it's not necessarily true.
The key to finding fulfilment in your work may be less to do with the specific type of work you do, and more to do with your attitude towards it.
Who loves chopping wood in the dead of winter? Who loves carrying water under the blistering heat?
If it was about love, no one would do it.
The labour itself isn’t intrinsically fulfilling yet plenty find fulfilment in it.
Work has the meaning you bring to it.
Take Paul Erdős for example. He was a Hungarian mathematician known for his prolific output and his unconventional lifestyle.
He spent much of his life travelling and collaborating with other mathematicians, often sleeping on their couches and subsisting on a diet of caffeine and amphetamines.
Few people would volunteer to live like this. That lifestyle isn’t fulfilling unless the work means enough to you.
Vincent Van Gough, in the same vein, only sold one painting in his lifetime.
Many aspiring artists wouldn’t persist under such circumstances. Nobody loves being broke. But it’s easy to persist when you love the action more than the outcome.
The way you feel about the work you do matters more than the work itself.
In a 1990 study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers set up two groups of rats on running wheels. One group could exercise voluntarily while the group was forced to exercise for the exact same amount of time.
The rats who exercised voluntarily got more health benefits from it and had fewer signs of anxiety and depression. The rats who were forced to exercise showed the opposite.
Even when you don’t start out with a passion for something, if you find meaning in it you’ll put more effort into it and get more fulfilment out of it.
As a result, you’ll be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled.
Chop wood and carry water. Do the work. Find the purpose.