Love What You Do

Loving what you do, along with doing what you love, is the fourth step of Barefoot Leadership. When we love what we do …

  • We do small things with great love
  • We develop patience, pragmatism and persistence without giving up our dreams
  • We become agents of contagious joy.

There is a price to pay for not loving what we do. When we work halfheartedly …

  • We feel great resentment over the  most tiny bit of success achieved by others
  • We wait passively for the perfect job to drop on our laps
  • We become toxic agents – spreading contagion wherever we go.

It is hard to find work you love. It is even harder to get paid for it. So what do you do in the meanwhile?

Implicitly or explicitly, people employ two strategies as they strive for job satisfaction:

  • Plan A: Tolerate your work and keep on climbing the corporate ladder. As you gain power, gradually increase the parts of your job that you like, and farm off the rest to junior staff.
  • Plan B: Tolerate your work, and try to make as much money to survive. Do not get sucked in by work. Create work-life balance so you can do the things you want to do outside work – like golfing, cooking or rearing koi.

Plan A and Plan B work entirely fine for most people. However, in the course of my research, it struck me that Barefoot Leaders reject both plans.

Plan B does not work because Barefoot Leaders don’t just work to survive. They work hard to do what they love. A few Barefoot Leaders have become independently wealthy because of that. However, even the social activists and community organizers who earn much less do not work purely for money’s sake. They enjoy their work.

Plan A, also, does not work for Barefoot Leaders. They do not care much about climbing corporate ladders, though a few have risen to the top. And yes, they do believe in delegating or outsourcing the work they are not good at doing. But the funny thing is that they also roll up their sleeves to do the boring or menial tasks that appear to be below their station.

For example, when Dato’ Sri Idris Jala was chief executive of MAS, he found himself held back by a manager who was unable to provide him the report he had been asking for. Most CEOs would have exerted more pressure on the manager. But Idris chose a third way: he decided to do the work himself. One evening, he quietly walked into the manager’s department, sat at her workstation, and began digging through the files to look for what he needed. The mortified secretary called the manager: “Your managing director’s sitting at your place doing your report, you’d better come back!” Idris’ Barefoot Leadership ended up galvanizing everyone present to pitch in to help him.

Idris and other Barefoot Leaders do not just cope with work. They make an active choice to love what they do. No matter how grueling or toxic or dull or frustrating their current work is, they focus on that one essential action: they do their work with love. It is not something they do in the bright and distant future. It is a decision to love whatever they are doing … now.

Why is it so important to love what we do?

Because it is a given that not every aspect of work is enjoyable. And circumstances do not always allow us to pursue our dreams. A single mother with four children living together in a rented room faces a different future compared to a young woman who has just graduated loan-free from an Ivy League university.

Barefoot Leaders insist that loving what we do is not a form of psychological surrender or creative accommodation to a terrible job. No one is meant to marinate in a toxic workplace; there are times when we must courageously move on from soul-deadening jobs.

We are called to live our lives creatively. Loving what we do is the radical call to savor joy in small things everyday. Barefoot Leaders show us that as we creatively seek to love what we do more and more, we may find to our delight one day that we are already doing what we love.

This is the excerpt from Barefoot Leadership: The Art and Heart of Going That Extra Mile by Alvin Ung.