Ask More of Business

Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Matt Bloom

'Bliss' is bunk or why Tina Turner was (partly) right

January 4, 2012

Tag: Careers

When students talk about finding a great job, they often use the adage of “finding their bliss.” The basic idea, which is very appealing, goes back to an older adage attributed to Confucius that if you find work you love, you will never work a day in your life. The trouble with these adages is that they are only half true. To really be able to perform a job, you need the right knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s hard to hold a job you love if you can’t perform it well.

Here is an example. I love baseball. I know, some of you hate it, but rest assured that hard science has proven that baseball is wonderful. (OK, that part about science is balderdash). I would love to play professional baseball — that would be at least one bliss for me. Trouble is, I have no talent for baseball. I can’t hit well, throwing across the infield with accuracy is a distant dream, and I run the bases like a whirling dervish: arms and legs flailing but going nowhere fast. My deep and profound affinity for baseball simply cannot overcome the total lack of talent.

So, what’s love got to do with it? (There’s the link to Tina Turner). Well, some things we can do well we don’t particularly enjoy. For example, I have a talent for math, and with a lot of graduate courses in math, I honed it into a skill. But I don’t like math very much, so while I can do it well, it is certainly not my bliss. My youngest son has both a talent for and love of math. Talent + bliss is a potent combination.

I think that some, maybe many, people take a job that uses their bliss-less talents. They are likely to perform their bliss-less job well, but they are very unlikely to find the job intrinsically rewarding. Instead, they will probably wonder why they don’t love something they can perform so well and this may lead to further frustrations that they will never find their bliss.

So, love has something to do with finding the right job, but so does natural ability (as long as that ability is honed and developed into a useful skill.) For my youngest son, his love of math has a lot to do with finding the right job. For me, math is a wonderful skill to have, it is one I use often as a researcher, but I am much better off studying human well-being than abstract mathematics.

The challenge is to gently lead people to consider whether they have the talent to pursue their bliss. When we love something so much, we can easily deceive ourselves that we really do have the right knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform well.

The lesson: At least part of the recipe for finding the right job is one that you love and one that you can perform well.

Matt Bloom conducts research in the area of the improvement of the human condition at work, with a focus on intrinsic motivation, happiness and meaning, and innovation. He writes about his research on his "Well-Being at Work" blog.