I’ve realized this week how much I miss work.
If you’re around me in life these days, that might sound like a surprise. Each week, I’m counting down the days until I’m “on parole” from the office for a couple of days. All weekend, I dread Monday arriving again.
If you didn’t know any better, you would assume I hate work. You would assume I’m just lazy and want to play all the time. But you’d be wrong.
I miss loving my work so much that it was a bigger high than any drug I knew of. I miss the days when working long hours was more fun than any entertainment I might be missing. I miss the times when I was learning so much that I believed I was laying a foundation for building something bigger.
I miss working for something that was my own. Something with my name on it. Something nobody else could control. Something that was mine.
I felt this way when I worked on certain projects as a teen-ager. I felt that way about my high school newspaper. I felt that way about projects I did to build my church youth group. I didn’t feel it for my first high school job — as an office janitor — so I can’t say that I felt it about every form of work.
It really kicked into high gear when I started my first newspaper job as a freshman in college. I was supposed to work 20 hours a week for the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, Ala., but I was there more like 40 to 60 hours each week. I knew when to clock out — because I wasn’t going to be paid for more than my normal schedule — but nobody made me leave.
I was having fun. I was learning how to do almost every job in the building. I was only supposed to be working in the newsroom and the darkroom, but I learned everything.
I learned our archaic computer equipment inside and out. When technicians would come to do repairs or upgrades, I was their constant shadow, learning all they would tell me. I learned everything about the composing department and became just as expert as those who had worked there for years.
I learned the jobs of those in the camera and stripping department — where the pages were turned into big negatives and then metal plates. Late at night when nobody was around, I experimented with things nobody had told me how to do. I invented my own ways of doing things and later used many of those techniques. (The only thing I never learned was how to run the press.)
My father used to complain that I was allowing the newspaper to abuse me since I spent so many hours there without being paid. I thought he was crazy. I thought I was just getting a fantastic education at their expense.
I continued to love work as I moved through several newspapers, but it showed up its strongest when I owned my own small newspaper company.
I’ve told you before about starting this company and about why it had to shut down. But for that last year, my ex-wife and I were working between 80 and 100 hours each week. I’m not going to say that’s good for the human body or for a person’s mental state, but the work itself was euphoric for me.
And it made me happy beyond words each week when I saw the copyright notice on the front page: Copyright McElroy Media, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
It was mine — and I was willing to put everything into it. I’ve never had that much fun again.
When I worked for another newspaper company in the next couple of years, much of the thrill was gone. I still did work that I thought was good. I still put in long hours. But I had lost much of the control — because it was a bureaucratic chain of papers — and I’d lost the promise of feeling I had a big payoff from owning my own company.
In the years I worked in politics, there were emotional highs — times when I made a quick financial killing or election nights when a client won against all odds. But there wasn’t the same feeling of excitement all the time. There wasn’t the same sense that I was building something lasting and important.
I’ve realized this week how much I miss that.
I lost something during those years of working on other people’s projects and companies. I grew accustomed to simply doing what someone wanted to pay me to do. It seemed like a reasonable compromise when I was working as a publisher for a newspaper chain. At least I was still in the field where I had been so happy.
Then it seemed like a reasonable compromise when I started making good money as a political consultant. The money was so good that it would have seemed crazy to turn it down — but I had little passion for it to start with and then I lost all interest. It was destroying me ethically and it was making me cynical.
I completely lost touch with the part of me that had been so excited about work in the past.
These days, there’s nothing wrong with the real estate company I work for. I’m doing good work. I’m helping to grow a young company into something more mature. I’m working hard to build and improve internal control systems. I’m serving clients and I’m making a living.
But I’m still eager for Friday at 5 p.m. to get here. And I dread Monday morning. I don’t love what I do. I’m not building something for myself. I’m simply doing what I’m being paid to do. I don’t love what I do so much that I’m constantly dreaming about ways to make it better.
I’ve been figuring some things out lately and I’ve rediscovered an older part of myself that was passionate about success and changing the world. I had forgotten how much I’ve missed this. Now I have to find the right project — one I can reasonably jump to from where I am — that will make me so excited that I’ll be eager to get started each day.
I miss having that passion and excitement and drive for my work. Newspapers are dead, so I don’t expect to go back in that direction. But there will be directions that will make sense. Real estate is a good potential platform for doing something big and profitable at the right time, preferably with the right partner.
I don’t ever again want to kill myself with working 80 to 100 hours a week. But I do want to love what I’m doing so much that I’ll wish there were more hours in each day.
I’m excited to reconnect with that part of myself — and I can’t wait to feel that passion for work once again.