Work should be fun! (Really?)

By Caitlin Kelly

Long loud harrumph.

Thumps cane for emphasis.


Ok, yes, of course, often, maybe, if you’re really lucky, much of the time.

But always, every damn day of a 40+ year career?

Unlikely and foolish to desire.

The tedious cliche is “that’s why they call it work.”

The opposite fantasy is “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Ask anyone who’s been in the working world for a decade, let alone 20, 30 or 40 years.

This is also, I know, somewhat stiff-upper-lip generational — and I think an insistence work be “fun” is really proxy for a lot of other frustrations: carrying massive student debt for decades, low wages, terrible/non-existent promotions and raises, toxic managers, coworkers and/or customers (hello, foodservice and retail!)

As I’ve written here many times, I generally enjoy my work as a writer of journalism and content marketing, coaching and teaching. But there have been many times I was utterly miserable, even for a full year — like my last staff job as a reporter at the New York Daily News — where I was consistently ignored or bullied. It was torture.

It was a steady, decent paycheck at a then-respected newspaper, then the nation’s sixth-largest.

But happy? No, I was not happy. Fun? No, it was not, ever, fun.

When I worked for a few months in Toronto at Canadian Press, the national wire service, I had to write up every weekend’s accidental deaths across the province, slugged (named) Fatalities — aka Fats. NOPE. Not fun.

As a trade magazine editor in New York, I had a terribly low freelance budget and a highly demanding boss. Not a fun combination.

I do not subscribe to the belief that all work is, or should be, drudgery. But accepting that even the coolest-looking work has downsides and frustrations is more realistic. Even the best-known and wealthiest musicians and film stars have had work that failed to find an audience, auditions that were a disaster, spent years in the trenches working away before hitting the big time. Fun? Probably not.

I think we’re fortunate if we can find work that:

pays decently

offers kind, fun, funny, smart co-workers (even one of these!)

decent management

respect for the work we do

offers room for growth, internally or a boost to our next job elsewhere

helps other people live better/safer lives

I admit that, at its best, journalism has been amazing fun for me, many many times.

But it’s not a well-paid career.

It’s not a secure career and getting fired or laid off is pretty normal, even if expensive and annoying.

Forget a pension.

It’s often insanely competitive, even within your organization. So there’s plenty of stress and anxiety as well.

What’s the most fun job you’ve ever had?

14 thoughts on “Work should be fun! (Really?)

  1. W.L. Jorden civil engineers, Atlanta, 1986-1990. The work was interesting, there was an environment of cooperation and mutual respect, the pay was good and there were opportunities for advancement. I had to move to Florida, believe me I didn’t want to.

  2. Jan Jasper

    My best gig was being the editor of an alumni magazine at the University of Michigan. I also did most of the writing. It was an unusual situation as I was a freelancer but I worked an average of about 25 hours a week. They even gave me my own office at the school, near the Development Director, and the Assistant Dean to whom I reported. I was there for 3-1/2 years. So in some ways I was like a staffer. It was fascinating – interviewing professors and researchers and writing about their work. Working with their staff photographers and graphic designers. It was well over 2 decades ago but honestly, I look back at it with aching fondness as the most fun work I ever did. I felt respected and appreciated and I had warm relationships with some folks in the alumni affairs office. Later when I moved back to the New York City area, I pursued writing work with various University alumni offices, but I never ever found a fit like this again. What was great was that this gig at the U-M was a combination of steady work – enough income that I could fill in with other freelance jobs but I always knew I could pay my bills – with the intellectual stimulation, the warm environment, and feeling respected and appreciated. The Dean of the school said I was the best editor they’d ever had. Wow, was I lucky. I realize that even more in hindsight. I get misty-eyed thinking about it.

  3. as odd as it might sound, I loved my days of catering/foodservice/bartending. it was always different, very hard work, often crazy, but the very nature of the work encourages a strong sense of camaraderie and out of the box thinking. also enjoyed my advertising days for the creative side but not the hours or the corporate/client aspect. now, as a teacher of young children, I honestly look forward to it and enjoy my time there, without much stress and summers off. I plan to retire in a couple of years and will do some volunteering and maybe pick up something now and then part time that I enjoy, but I don’t think that jobs always have to be fun, just something you are good at or want to do for whatever your own reasons.

  4. CRGardenJoe

    I loved being a small town newspaper reporter and editor in the 1980s. It was demanding, frustrating and time consuming, but also meaningful and fulfilling, although not in a financial sense. I also love my work as a college professor today, although I loathe grading and faculty meetings. I have to write an annual summary report this weekend, and hate it. But you’re making a valid and important point. No endeavor is just endless joy. A career or job that is a good fit still has challenging parts in it.

  5. I worked decades as a RN in a hospital. I worked different areas and some were better than others but I had few days that were actually fun. My last 10 years before retiring was as a middle school nurse. Mostly good teachers and administrators. It was the kids who made at least part of every day fun. No matter what was happening, at least one kid made me LOL every day. Like the kid who thought the audiometer was a lie detector.

  6. paulatquebec

    What a great question! As I thought about my life (I’m 64) and the different jobs I’ve done (many) one hit me, coming at me under the radar. As an 11-12 year old boy delivering the daily morning paper (before 7AM), winter, spring, summer and fall. It was hard, physical work for a boy. I had to manage unruly customers that refused to pay, trudge through snow with a heavy load, make amends for the broken window I had caused throwing the neatly folded ”paper missile”, balance the books (I think I received 2 cents per delivered paper and collected the total amount owed from customers, forwarding the bulk of the money back to the newspaper). Yet, there was the feeling of freedom each morning as I did the rounds – about 35 papers to deliver. And the Christmas tips!! i was rich!! Upon reflexion, this first job gave me a sense of myself – of what I could do – heck, I could do anything!

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