A Job with Heart


Author Steve Biddulph

Do you take your heart to work? If not, why not? In this edited extract from his book Manhood, Steve Biddulph looks at the importance of putting the heart back into work.

"The strongest predictor of life expectancy in a man whether he likes his job."


Men love to work. Late in the evening if you drive through working men's suburbs, you will often see garage lights on. Inside, groups of men labour over old cars, lovingly modifying, repairing and maintaining late into the night. Others are busy building furniture in their workshop, or working in metal and wood. These are mostly men who have worked hard all day in uninteresting jobs but who with passion and intelligence apply themselves at nighttime to their real interests. Among the middle classes, the focus shifts to "renovating" – that endless fixing-up of our dwellings that seems to fill the whole of the years from 25 to 50 – before we give up and slide downhill again! In other countries, (England, for instance) a plethora of exotic and weird hobbies – from electric trains to rose-breeding, guinea pigs to Shakespearean acting – seem to draw men out from the stifling ordinariness of their daytime lives.


It isn't the fact of working that does harm. Work is good. It’s what men love to do. It's the nature of the work that is the problem. If you do a job that lacks heart, it will kill you. THE predictor. Two elements: the lack of real purpose and the lack of personal control are the main problems.

Watch any documentary or archival footage of pre-literate people, you will see the same thing. Our ancestors laughed as they worked and sang; they enjoyed the rush of the hunt, the steady teamwork of digging for yams, or the discovery of a honey-filled tree. Life was often hard, but it was rarely without laughter. In time though, cultures evolved away from the forest and the coast and into the village and the town. We did the work that others commanded, and it became a grind, increasingly repetitive. It was a numbing of human senses and subjugation of our purpose beneath the need just to survive. Today, as we verge on the 21st Century, work has become more comfortable, but not more fulfilling. It's still a separate compartment in life – something you tolerate in exchange for "real " living in the time left over from doing your job, getting to your job, and recovering from your job! Work today drives an unhealthy wedge into the very core of our life. The time has come to heal it.

Most people today, men and women, do work they do not much like – jobs that are beneath them. When I was a teenager, there was a new idea being introduced in schools called "career guidance". Its aim was to help you find something you liked to do. But underneath it all we dimly sensed the real purpose. Since you had to work to purchase the good life, the aim was just to find the best paying job you could tolerate. That's what jobs were. Why else would you do them? (At least in those days there was a choice – with unemployment rates today, to have any job is seen as a privilege and being choosy is a sin.)

We have to fight this selling-short of human potential –reject it in our own lives, and not pass it on to our kids, blighting their childhood with recessionary gloom. The purpose of adolescence is to find what you really love to do. Once you find this you must learn to do it well enough, so that it will pay as a by-product. You will either be happy, or rich and happy! The aim is to have work that your heart is in. Work that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, keen to get started. This is not so hard as you might have been led to believe.


What follows are eight criteria for assessing your working life.

If you achieve any one of these, you deserve to feel good. If you feel bored and stuck in your work, then look to the next stage as your guide. The aim isn't to achieve all the stages, since you may be perfectly happy where you are. (However natural restlessness will probably keep you moving forwards!)

1. Do you do your share?

This begins early - even a three- year-old can and should contribute around the house. You can be an unemployed teenager, living at home, and still add to the wellbeing of your household. Perhaps you care for younger children, cook meals, fix up the house, grow food in a garden, take classes, travel and learn about the world, as money allows. You can feel proud that you contribute as well as receive. What we need are more people who can simply carry their own weight.

2. Can you support yourself?

If you have a job or earn an income of some kind then you are not drawing on the resources of the nation. They can be used to care for others who haven't that accomplishment. You are a plus to society. This is the second step on the way. If this is all you ever do, you are an asset.

3. Is your job one that allows you to improve the lives of others?

Many unglamorous jobs - bus drivers, shopkeepers, or doctors’ receptionists for example, have an important daily impact on hundreds of people they deal with. By realizing that your real work is the contact you make with people; and by doing so in a friendly, interested way – not just carrying out the mechanics of your task – you can have a positive effect on the people you deal with and the people they deal with in turn.

4. Are you a provider for others?

Even if you only have a job that is very routine, supporting others is an achievement. Partner, children and family, can benefit and get a good start under the umbrella created by your being the provider. You support the continuation of life and the generations that follow.

5. Does your work provide an infrastructure for the work of others?

Does your job create other jobs, give leadership and structure, opportunity and growth to other people. Your work or business may provide a niche for others that otherwise might not have existed.

6. Do you train and develop other people, enhancing their lives and futures?

No-one is grown-up when they begin work. We all need mentors and father figures in the workplace, not just bosses. We need men and women who have our interests at heart. Sit down and write out the qualities of the kind of boss you would like to work for. Then see if you can match up to these qualities. Being a mentor and friend can be the most satisfying aspect of any job.

7. Does your work harm the earth, its people or its life?

Doctors have an ancient rule – at least, do no harm. If we all applied this in our jobs, it would be interesting. For instance you may make a good living distributing a farm chemical which is banned in Europe, yet protected in Australia by powerful lobbying. Doing this would not be illegal, but clearly (like the plumbers at Auschwitz, say) you are part of something fundamentally bad. Would a caring shopkeeper refuse to sell cigarettes – to anyone? A moviemaker needs to ask – what kind of movies does the world need? The ad man – what kind of ads? A journalist – what kind of news items? A real man has to look at these questions. It isn't enough just to be successful. You have to ask – successful at what?

8. Does your work use your innate abilities and talents so that it is unique and powerful in its effect on the world?

Fred Hollows knew how to fix eyes and how to organise others to do the same – on a global scale. John Lennon knew how to write songs. Comedian Glyn Nichols knows how to make people not just laugh but smile on the inside. Some men know how to solve crimes, others can heal pain, paint pictures, make violins, train dogs, ride a wave, kick a ball, lay cement, design glorious buildings, make new laws. We need them all.


You have things inside you to do. These lie dormant waiting to be expressed. How can you tell? You will know - an unexpressed urge will actually hurt you if it isn't let out. You have to set yourself free.

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