It was Erich Fromm who believed that love and productive work were the two most essential elements for mental health and happiness. If you’re like a lot of people you’ll readily agree with love being important but might scoff at the idea of giving work equal billing, even going so far as to say that work is precisely what gets in the way of your well-being.
But the key to understanding Fromm’s point of view is emphasizing the ‘productive’ part of productive work. What we mean by productive is the concrete, external expression of your internal will, the human striving to create and transform, the need to turn something ephemeral into something real. Productive work is meaningful work because it represents who you are, not just what you do.
From this angle we see that most have the idea of work all wrong. They see the whole enterprise as something to grudgingly put up with for the financial compensation. They work for the weekends, they think longingly towards the day they can retire. When they’re at work they wish they were anywhere else, while they’re working they wish they were doing anything else.
If this is you then you’re not at the right job or in the right career, and whatever the reasons for your current situation you’ve got to take that first step now to create an exit strategy that will get you to a place where your job becomes an expression of who you are rather than a torture to bear as best you can. Work can be the most enriching or the most draining aspect of your existence. Since it’s going to take up a huge part of your life either way, make the choice to do whatever you have to do to find the career path that lets you be productive, even if this means a lot of extra effort and struggle, even if it means making less money. When your work becomes the expression of who you are and a means for further self-actualization it becomes an indispensable part of your life, not something to complain about and rail against.