It sounds so obvious that it almost goes without saying: of course we’re more engaged in work we like. And everyone loves an engaged worker. And every worker loves engaging work. Why are we sometimes then so dismissive about liking our work?

Guilt of Liking Work

It’s almost like there’s a tendency toward guilt if we like our work. It’s almost like we believe that we’re not being responsible if we like our work. It’s like we’re not eating our vegetables, like we’re not being an adult, or like we didn’t grow up to be as serious and responsible as we imagine our parents wanted us to be.

It is possible to like your work. You’ll work better, and your company will value you you more. Find something you like. Why not?

Above and Beyond

If we like something, we’re more engaged. We go above and beyond. It’s not automatic, but we increase the odds. If we like a subject, we’ll learn more about it. This serves our own future interest. We learn as much as we can. We see future usefulness in new-found knowledge. We want to add to a permanent toolbox. If we’re doing something we have no apparent interest, we’ll do enough to finish the task. There are few personal incentives to go beyond that.

When we like something, we give our discretionary effort. This is natural. It’s not necessarily the case that we’re stuck up and entitled, only lifting a finger on projects that meet our particular profile. When we find opportunities for our team, that engineers like, it’s not that we’re pandering to them. We’re setting them up – us all up – for success.

If it feels like pandering, it could definitely be that something in the relationship is amiss. Perhaps the engineer is stuck up and entitled or at least inflexible. Perhaps the leader is dismissive of the individual’s desires and preferences, viewing them as replaceable cogs in a machine. If this is the feeling, address this part of the relationship first, then work on finding satisfying work arrangements.

Good Sport Professionals

Often we’ll do the work just because it needs to be done. We’ll find a reason to like something (or at least to do it). Perhaps we like feeling reliable or that we’re doing our duty. Perhaps we’re willing to take one for the team. Perhaps we just have a habit of being diligent. Perhaps we’ll use extra effort to engage, hopefully temporarily, while looking forward to better things in the future. Often we label this professionalism. And it’s true. Though even the professionals I know will figure out a way to do something they can engage and offer their full selves in. This is also professional

Other Industry Examples

This applies to more than just the software industry. A chef that likes making pastry dough will figure out how to put more croissants in his menu. The plumber who really likes install walk-in showers will find a way to bid on more shower installation jobs. The race car driver that loves open country tracks will find a way to enter more of those races. Doesn’t this seem natural in all these contexts?

Affinities Are Natural

When we have an affinity toward something, we’ll try harder to do more of it. This is natural. We’ll do our duty along the way. This is right and professional. We’re always looking for fulfillment. Eventually we’ll rearrange our situation to allow for more of this. Creatives (and really all people) don’t want just a dutiful job.
Fortunately for software engineers, there’s a great market to choose from. Engineers have the opportunity to find a job that suits them. We should be good at helping them find something suitable for their talents and interests. Life’s short anyway. We should all be doing fulfilling work. Work, yes. Satisfying, yes.

Do you ever feel guilty when you’re looking to do more work you enjoy? If so, why do you think that is? What do you do when this happens?