Most mornings I drive to a train station and hop on a commuter train heading to New York City from my town in the suburbs. I have lots and lots of company doing the same thing every day. Sometimes I see someone older than me getting on the same train heading to work just like me. I used to think that it was a shame that that person was still commuting after working for so many years. Today it impresses me.
When I was younger I, like many, believed the goal was to be ‘done’ and retired at as young an age as possible. Getting down about the day-to-day professional struggles was something to try to avoid. What I’ve come to realize is that the daily struggle itself is something to embrace and not eschew. When you stop having to struggle with professional challenges (being very specific since there are many challenges physical, mental and otherwise that you always wish to avoid), there’s a good chance that you begin to lose your professional edge on the road to your likely future professional irrelevancy. That’s the way it goes for most people once they retire. There’s lots more ‘free’ time, but also there’s the loss of connection and energy that one gets from testing oneself on a daily bases.
Life is an unending series of challenges. We humans want to make things easier, for ourselves, and the people we care about. That’s always a good goal, but believe it or not we should not want to make things TOO easy. Overcoming challenges is fundamental to a feeling of accomplishment and personal growth. Why would you EVER want to stop doing that?
I am not blowing smoke here and realize that there are many circumstances where ‘embracing the professional struggle’ would seem laughable. When you have a lousy boss, or a less than stellar product or service you have to represent, or a totally dysfunctional team or situation, it’s just a pain in the neck every day. Yet you can manage to find ways to work around the problems to make it at least tolerable and in that process can learn something about yourself. Lifelong learning is something in which I strongly believe.
People work because they have an ongoing need to ….SURVIVE! When lucky people win a lottery (or an inheritance) most often the first thing they say or do is quit their job. Figuring out what to do next is often a bigger problem than they might have imagined. When I talk with my friends and colleagues about what they will do once they stop working at their current job, I ask them about what they plan to do ‘next’? At times it’s as if they’ve not really considered anything aside from stopping what they were doing. Which is fine. But stopping altogether means giving up the struggle and in the process you are giving up much more than you ever thought.
Work, struggle, win, lose, fight, decide to not fight now; all of these are part of a professional life and all combine to give your life meaning and forward motion. Struggling is key to your survival – now and forever.