writing desk

I’ve been struggling to figure out how to start this essay on the best at work.

Work seems like such a mechanistic thing; you perform some kind of labor for some kind of reward. End of story. Right?

Work is something we all have in common. You’d think it’d be easy to write about. Or at least, I thought it would be.

But unlike where you live or how you sleep — where we can all agree on the aim of the thing, the point, the goal — work is a thing that pretends to be a million other things.

Houses should shelter and comfort you, give you a place to be.

Sleep should restore and energize you.

Work should pay your bills.

Or maybe it should be your passion? Or maybe work should be creative expression? Or make you powerful and important? Or give you a sense of purpose? Perhaps a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment? Or is it not “real” work unless it helps you change the world? Maybe work is about ambition, and risk? Then again, could it be about the people you work with?

Or — hell, let’s bring it full circle — maybe it really is all about the money, after all.


No wonder it’s hard for me to find my way into such an enormous topic. (Except by writing about how I can’t write about it — always a finishing move against writer’s block.)

Millions of gallons of ink have been spilled on the topic because the very idea of ‘work’ is so f*cking vague.

It’s easy to talk about what makes shitty work (abusive bosses, substandard wages, dangerous environments)… but the best?

You can’t answer “Why not the best?” until you know what the hell you want work to be.

You, specifically. Yes, you.

Tastes in homes and mattresses vary, but what constitutes the best work is deeply personal.

Any combination of these factors might make up the best for you:

  • your work environment
  • the skills you learn
  • how you use and apply those skills
  • the topic
  • the material
  • the people you work with
  • the tasks themselves
  • the completed product
  • the result your work creates
  • the reason you work
  • the money
  • the location
  • or freedom, power, passion, creativity, time…

And yet someone else who has the same skills and experience might find your best combination the worst for them.

So before you can answer, “Why not the best?”

First you’ve got to ask:

What is the best… for you?

Only you can answer that question.

And the best time to ask it is now.

It’s taken me nearly 20 years to get it right.

I’ve done just about every kind of work. I’ve made just about every mistake. I’ve worked hard to get places only to find out I didn’t even want to be there. I cut my losses and tried again.

Finally — finally — I’ve identified the best of work for myself.

My (lengthy) story will land in your inbox tomorrow! And I hope that it will help you start to answer that question for yourself.

In the mean time, a pair of questions for you:

  1. When did work make you happiest?
  2. When were you free to do your best work?

And if your answer isn’t, “Right now!” — why not?

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