“My definition of self-actualization…when you are confused about the difference between work and play.” — Ken Blanchard, leadership author and consultant

Years ago I worked in a company with a powerful and emotionally intelligent CEO. A favorite motto of his was, “If you love what you’re doing, you never have to work again.” The wisdom of those words had strong and lasting effect on me. I hate work. It really is a disgusting four-letter word. Hard work is why I left the family farm. Whenever a job has started to feel like work, I quit. Fortunately, that’s only been a few times in the last three decades. I’ve put years of 60- or 70-hour weeks into my career, but rarely has it felt like work.

To stop working and start living means I need to continually clarify what really turns me on in a career and where I want to take my life. Then I need a clear picture of the ideal job that expresses my unique talents and character. Our work can just be a job or the canvas that allows us to paint a rich and textured portrait of our deeper selves. It inspires us to draw forth our deepest creativity. Through our life work, we can paint the many facets of our being. The entrepreneur and business consultant in me gives a big “yes” to American pop artist, Andy Warhol’s, assertion that “being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.”

Most highly paid professionals and wealthy entrepreneurs don’t start with a goal of getting rich. People in love with money, fame, and “success” are among the saddest and unhappiest souls on earth. If they’re driven hard enough, many end up with the wealth they love. But they usually hate their emotional poverty and despise themselves as much as their associates and family often do.

Money can be a powerful tool or well-deserved result. It’s usually destructive when it’s a goal in itself. When we do what we love and get really good at it, the money will follow. I know I am in the perfect job if I am being well paid for something I’d gladly do for free if nobody were willing to pay me. I was an unpaid speaker and writer for a few years. Of course, in those early years I was getting paid about what I was worth. Eventually I became a good-for-nothing speaker and writer. Finally I could charge for doing what I love.

I once led a leadership development discussion group with a group of university presidents. As we discussed passion and commitment, a consensus emerged that society has robbed many people of their pride-of-craft. This group of leading academics concluded that universities have been major contributors to the problem. They have helped build a job class system that puts many white-collar professionals well ahead of blue-collar trades people and technicians. But we all agreed that a highly skilled mechanic who loves his or her work and is continually growing and developing in it is a much stronger and productive leader than a doctor who feels trapped in a system he or she despises.

I’ve met cleaners, security guards, bus drivers and other people in low skilled, low paying jobs who love what they do and make strong contributions to their organizations and society. As the highly passionate American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “If a man is called a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” There are no dead-end jobs, only dead-end people.

We all have our Doubt Days when we’re not sure we’re in the right job. But our jobs aren’t work unless those doubt days become as routine as getting up in the morning. If my work has become work, I’ve lost the passion. If I’d rather be doing something else, I need to go do it. Life is too short to give in to the Victimitis Virus and get stuck in the rut of a meaningless job wishing and hoping I win the lottery, my fairy-job mother magically appears, or I can hang in there. Meaningful work goes well beyond what I do for a living, it joyfully expresses what I do with my living.