I’ve been paying attention to all the mini biographies that show up on the Discovery channels.  People who worked on the space shuttle talk about how they felt coming to work every day. People who work in salvage talk about how they feel crushing huge air planes day after day.  People who worked on the moon landing projects can’t help but pour out their feelings about getting up every day and going to do their jobs.

They all say that they love it.  They all look forward to going to work!

Adam Savage considers himself the luckiest man alive because he loves his myth busting work.  Not just because he doesn’t dread working; because he actively loves the work that he does.

I had some glitches put one of my businesses at risk a few months ago, and so I had to scramble to come up with alternate income streams.  There is no way in hell I’m going to start back at the bottom again!  It didn’t take long to find avenues to easy money.  One way was a parasitical scam that would cause annoyance and minor financial loss to criminals.  Another was a victimless crime that would affect some decimal point on some bankers ledger.  I did the research, and enjoyed puzzling out how to beat the system.  There is a special taste to stolen watermelons, and there is a special thrill to illicit funds.

But I never did pull the trigger.

It’s fun to figure out how to hack the system, and yes there even can be some pride in accomplishment in that.  But is it the kind of job you’d wake up and be happy to do?

No, it’s the kind of thing you’d do for the money.  Not because you want to do it.

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I was surprised to notice a familiar internal dialogue lately.  “God my life is good”.  This was surprising because lately I’ve backed way off from my usual sources of happiness; sex and chi-kung.  I’m extremely work focused.

So how can my life feel so good?  I rarely go out, and spend my time doing things such as researching vinyl blends and UHMWPE additive patents.  Or the relationship between spindle speeds and cutter sizes, and if it’s possible to attach a gear reducer to a wood working spindle to do high torque low rev cutting into steel.  I wake up, work until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore, sleep and repeat.  I let my girls visit, but not even every day.  I used to see minimum two per day.

A few years ago I had a serious life threatening health scare, and was directly facing my very real mortality.  I made my financial arrangements in case of my death, and then I had to decide what to do with my time.  I was surprised that I did not want to stop working.

I did not want to stop working, even facing the possibility of soon dying.

I’ve heard my grandmother and my father talk about the importance of good work for life satisfaction.  I had never understood them.  Especially as a professional do nothing stare at the wall deliberately meditator.  Work was for those who couldn’t figure out how to beat the system.  Work was for those too antsy with their own itchy brains to settle down and enjoy silence.

But now I can empathize with why Steve Jobs kept working, even though he already had more money than he could spend on himself, and even though he had terminal cancer.  He did not want to retire.  He wanted to work.

I’m really happy with the projects that I’ve started.  They give me a feeling of accomplishment.  That I am doing something, and that I’m doing something that I like to do.  I’m proud of these projects.  They will affect many peoples lives, and they are also just cool.  It’s not the moon mission, and I don’t run a gigantic coal scoop.  But in my own way I’m making a positive difference, and am inventing and making new things that have never been made before.  Some happiness will be increased.  Actually I don’t even know why there is such a thing as work satisfaction, and I don’t know what causes it.

I just that it’s a real thing.  It’s not a pipe dream.  Work satisfaction is a real thing.

Update: oscarchambers said:

I think independence and working to enrich yourself instead of someone else plays a role. Also if you are doing something that is a real net positive ( cancer research, virology, helping society) it feels like you serve a greater purpose, like religion but with real world quantifiable effect. You get what I am saying, right?

Yes, working as an entrepreneur instead for someone else’s business can be motivational.

But I’ve also seen it be demotivational. When my businesses provide me security I can back off of work to explore other things.

And most of the examples that I see where people love their work are for employees.

So that still leaves it an open question.

Is it in the person’s character? We do know that some people are innately happier than others. Do you need to be born happy as a prerequisite for being able to love your work?

Or is it a matter of finding your bliss? Finding what type of job suits your character and interests?

Helping others is a type of reward, but that’s not always a factor. Some people just love the thrill of becoming one with gigantic machines, and having a crane be an extension of their arm.

I suppose there must be a type of pleasure that is associated with mechanical integration. Many men love working with tools, and many men have mechanical hobbies. They spend their time and hard earned money on building speed boats.

When we think of mechanical pleasure the first thing to come to mind is usually muscle cars. I was never much into them, and never enjoyed greasy wrenches and broken down engines. But a lot of my pleasure now comes from “mechanical pleasure”. I’m building machines, and it’s the machinyness of the projects that holds the key to why it’s enjoyable.

There is something magical about building machines, working with machines, extending ones capabilities through the use of machines.

I suppose we are evolved to love becoming 6 million dollar cyborgs. Our chainsaws don’t have to be welded to our arms in order to be an extension of them. Our tools are detachable, but when grasped are every bit as much an extension of our kinesthetically aware nervous system as are our our forearms and hands. The swordsman can reach to snuff out a candle with a three foot length of steel as easily as with his fingertips.

We’ve been forming tools since we crushed our first nut with a rock. For long enough to be preferentially selected for loving making and using tools.

Every example that I can remember of people loving their work has to do with mechanical pleasure. Integrating with machines or engineering machines. Working either alone as a machine or working in a team to create machines or working with tools to create objects.

As a teen and tweenager I often became one with my kinetic machines – I drove my Dads sedan around town as if it were a sports car, screeching around cul-de-sacs and fish tailing through stop signs. And took sublime pleasure in scraping the foot-pegs of my high powered sports bikes. Man and machine as one is a special class of pleasure.

And now I’m enjoying the other two types of mechanical pleasure.  I’m working in a team to engineer machines and using my machines to create objects.

This is different than the pleasures of building a business through online marketing.  The pleasure is intimately tied up with machines; building them, using them to make objects, and having them be an extension of me.