I once told a former boss of mine that my job wasn’t a priority for me. Our team was having a discussion on personal priorities as part of a ‘team building’ exercise, so it’s slightly less awkward than it sounds. Nevertheless, an understandable look of concern came across his face. In hindsight, it’s not really something I’d normally say out loud, but if they genuinely wanted to understand my priorities, some nuance was required.
Fundamentally though, I was being 100% honest. The priorities in my life extend to my family, my friends, and my own happiness. That’s it. Working for someone else so I can better facilitate those priorities is not a priority in itself, it’s an obligation.
Now, here is the really important part to remember, and it's what most people seem to get wrong. My job is not a priority, but my work is a priority. Doing things to the best of my ability makes me happy, solving problems makes me happy, delighting people with the unexpected makes me happy. If I prioritize my happiness within the scope of the obligation, I do better work, and I can better enjoy the obligation. Everyone wins.
The problem becomes when your job is your priority. In a search for meaning, the surest route to an easy out is to bury yourself under the mountain known as “Your Job”. The work becomes the obligation for a priority that is entirely illusory. You lose sense of the real priorities in your life, and you start to make sacrifices for an obligation rather than making sacrifices for a priority. Your work will suffer, you will suffer, and the things you care about in life will suffer.
It’s a subtle shift in how you think about your role, but I think it’s important to make the distinction. Great bosses prioritize employee happiness, and that means prioritizing for their priorities. My job is not one of those priorities.
(I said the word priority 19 times in this post).