The YouTube and Spotify rabbit hole caught me recently, as I was reflecting on an album I listened to a lot when I was younger, from my dad's collection. The title in question was a live album from the early 70s, by supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called 4 Way Street.
The group, originally just Crosby, Stills and Nash, was made up from a group of musicians, each of whom had already achieved success on their own in the 60s; David Crosby was a guitarist and vocalist in folk and psychedelic rock band The Byrds, from L.A. They found fame through a cover of Bob Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man and another cover, Turn!Turn!Turn!.
Stephen Stills was and still is a supremely talented American guitarist and worked most famously alongside Neil Young in the band Buffalo Springfield who somehow never seem to get the credit they deserve, but whose song For What It's Worth is very recognisable, not just for being awesome, but also for being heavily sampled by Public Enemy for the title track to the awesome Spike Lee film He Got Game, which is a certified banger!
Graham Nash was the outlier geographically as the sole Englishman, famous as the singer-songwriter from The Hollies, whose three-part vocal harmonies were their hallmark, although their best known songs such as their cover of He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother and Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress) were all released after Nash had left the group.
The fourth and final member of the group, Neil Young needs little introduction, but having worked with Stills in Buffalo Springfield, the Canadian singer and guitarist and having begun to establish himself as a solo artist, alongside his backing group Crazy Horse, Young joined the already-established trio to make them a four piece and stepped in and out of the group over the years.
That bit of background, not in any way related to the actual point of the blog, is just the sort of thing my wife loves about my storytelling, so it's quite apt that I'm writing this on the day of our ninth wedding anniversary! You're welcome, Cathryn and thank you for nine wonderful years! Anyway, it'll give you some entry points to the music. Now, back to the point at hand!
The double album was put together from recordings made during a US tour in June and July of 1970. It is absolutely magical throughout, but the two tracks that I listened to obsessively in my youth were the last two on the second side of the first disc, both written and performed largely by Stephen Stills - 49 Bye Byes/America's Children and Love the One You're With.
The latter of these, originally from Stills debut solo album, starts with Graham Nash sharing the full title: "This one's called, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" much to the amusement of the audience! The harmonies and interplay between the vocalists are incredible and the passion and energy on the recording is as exciting to me now as it was when I was a kid. Listening to the track while out walking the other day, however, I began to ruminate on the lyrical content, not in relation to romance and relationships, but in terms of jobs and work.
Some years back, I read a book I loved, by Angela Duckworth called Grit, which introduced me to the idea of strategic quitting; not just giving up on things when the going gets tough, but recognising when changing course is the prudent thing to do. Much of the content on social media these days glorifies a culture of 'grind' where people are encouraged to power on with whatever they're doing whether they like it or not, with the view that the breakthrough and the success are just on the other side of the mountain. The Protestant or Calvinist work ethic, in effect. On the other hand, however, there's another large and competing theme of self care and pleasure, which suggests quickly ditching things that don't make you happy, because life's too short. Maybe not quite Epicurus theory of hedonism, but perhaps Mill's idea of utilitarianism. So what to do when you're not happy in your job?
Well the first question to ask yourself, is this: if you don't love the one you're with, who do you love? And by that I mean two things - do you know what job you'd like to do, and do you know what you're good at? In my career I spent years chipping away at roles that I didn't enjoy and which weren't well suited to my skills. It seems, in retrospect, like wasted time, but in those days, I wasn't sure what a job I loved would look like and I wasn't really that clear on the skills I had, which could be deployed most effectively to build a fulfilling career.
In working with people who aren't happy, but aren't clear about the type of career they want to build, I often start with an exercise of listing all of the jobs they've done, both professionally and in their personal lives and for each, listing the things that they loved about it and the things that they hated. From these lists, look for themes and build a master list of loves and hates and then cross reference the loves with the things that you are objectively good at. Not just the things you think you're great at - which things (either skills/activities or traits/behaviours) have you delivered consistent results in and received consistently positive feedback on? This process of reflection and introspection helps you to shine a light on those things which really matter to you in work and that allows you, when you're job hunting, or even speaking to friends and colleagues about their work, to ask questions which help you to understand the types of jobs that'd let you build a career where passion, happiness and success are baked in.
Something that can really help with this sifting, when you're feeling stuck, is getting as much variety as possible. The wider you cast the net and the more data you gather, the more easily the lists will come to you. In your work, take on placements and job swaps. Find people to shadow in roles which are different from your own. Ask to be involved in new projects and initiatives. Outside of work, speak to as many people as you can about their work, and what's involved. Volunteer for different organisations to give you more grist for the mill. And remember, it's not just about identifying the specific discrete tasks that you love and hate. It can be the types of work too; working with others vs working alone. Detail vs big picture. Working with your hands vs working at a desk. Thinking and creating new things vs working within defined parameters. There are many dimensions to help you think broadly.
Ultimately, I believe that life really is too short to be miserable, especially when it's related to your work, which is something we spend such a large part of our lives doing. But that being said, just jacking it all in on a whim and going down a path which you've no real understanding of isn't possible for most people, especially as commitments begin to take hold. So find a happy medium - do the work, do the thinking and then, when it does come time to make that move, you'll have a much better idea of who you love!