Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

What an Angry Flight Attendant Taught Me about Doing Meaningful Work

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.
—Steve Jobs

Not too long ago, I was traveling and came across a rude flight attendant. This woman was clearly jaded about her job. Nonetheless, she taught me something important about doing meaningful work.

Flight Attendant

Photo credit: Bas Bogers (Creative Commons)

The attendant was curt and sarcastic with passengers, responding to drink requests with a quick reply: “Yes, I heard you the first time.” She never smiled or seemed sincere. More than once, I overheard her complaining to another attendant.

The experience left a mark on me. Nobody likes being around people who hate their jobs. We all need to love what we do, or go work somewhere else. It’s really that simple.

We can learn a thing or two from these types of people: the snappy flight attendant, the disgruntled Walmart cashier, the bitter toll booth operator. We’ve all encountered someone like this: angry, frustrated workers who make their jobs worse by complaining about them. It’s not fun, is it? However, these observations can serve as lessons for what not to do.

When nobody cares what you do

Flight attendants are used to nobody listening to them. They’re used to boring people. They probably even bore themselves. Going through the same motions (instructions on crash landings and emergency exists) over and over again — I’m sure it’s easy to fall into a rut.

If you have a job like that, you may feel like you don’t have a choice. But that’s ridiculous. You always have a choice. You can always be creative. You can always make what you do matter in some small or large way.

It’s time to call your own bluff, to face the lie that says what you do mandates how you do it. Time to remember that anything can be remarkable, if you have eyes to see.

It doesn’t have to be this way

On that same trip that I encountered the rude flight attendant, I read an interesting story.

In the book, Made to Stick, the Heath brothers tell of a real-life flight attendant who changed things up. While going through routine safety checks during pre-flight, she surprised travelers starting to tune her out with this announcement:

If I could have your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features.

If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release.

And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-wing removable window exits, and two aft exit doors.

The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle.

Made ya look!

You don’t have to give in to the temptation to believe your job is boring. It can be amazing, if you let it be.

How to make your work matter

It’s easy to get lost in day-dreaming of the perfect job, of waiting for something extraordinary to just come along. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with a little dreaming. But in doing this consistently, you miss out on the chance to be amazing now.

Want to do work that matters? Make your work matter. Do what the flight attendant did:

  1. Reject the mundane-ness of your circumstance.
  2. Embrace your creative spirit.
  3. Enjoy yourself.

If you do this, you will surprise and delight your boss, coworkers, and even yourself. You can do creative, interesting work that people will pay attention to. But only if you want. Here’s a final illustration from a Psychology Today article I found:

Three men are in a quarry, crushing rocks. Someone asks them what they’re doing. One says, “Breaking these boulders into little rocks.” Another says, “Earning a living to feed my family.” The last one says, “Building a cathedral.”

The best way to do what you love is to love what you do. And if that’s just not possible, pick something else. You have a choice.

Have you encountered someone who obviously loves what they do? What kind of impression did that experience leave on you? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.

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