Below is the transcript of I Can’t Get No (Job) Satisfaction – a TEDx Talk by Stephen Kellogg at TEDxConcordiaUPortland.
Stephen Kellogg – Musician and songwriter
Hello. My name is Stephen Kellogg. I’m a professional singer and songwriter.
When I was kid, I wanted to be Bon Jovi: rock and roll, money, girls, leg kicks, moves wearing a headset, ironically. It’s part of that. But, by the time I graduated college, not only was I not Bon Jovi, but I found myself eagerly jumping into a $6 an hour job, no benefits, working in a ten-foot-by-ten-foot kiosk in a mall. So, needless to say, there was not a lot of room to practice leg kicks in that environment. But, over time, work became something for me that was like pizza or sex: even when it’s bad, it’s pretty great.
I believe that our ability to be satisfied with our work is something that is well within our grasp. I don’t think it’s specific to any one field. I don’t think it’s as subject to external forces as we give it credit for being. And I think that the strategies or the truths that have helped me find joy in my work are things that could work for anybody. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
When I was getting ready, I read a study in Forbes that said job satisfaction in America was at 19%. That’s grim. I’m not sure if I totally believe that, but it’s certainly supported my feeling that this might be a relevant talk. But even some of the more optimistic studies that I’ve found still had it well below 50%, which should mean that most people aren’t happy with the work that they’re doing. And that’s a serious bummer. I don’t think it has to be that way.
So I’m going to share some of those things. I know some of you guys might be thinking, “Well, you sing in a rock band. Of course you’re happy with what you’re doing.” And you’d be right. Musicians do rate high on the satisfaction poll. But I would also say to you that the challenges that I face are, I think, the challenges that we all face.
I’m going to introduce you to my four daughters here. These are my favorite people in the world. And, over the last 10 years, I’ve played 1,300 concerts and I figured out I’ve spent about four out of every seven days away from them. So, I know what it’s like to struggle with time commitments, and how much time we spend working versus doing other things.
I would also share with you a job performance review that I received, particularly public, in a newspaper, which says, “his music is likewise little more than an airbrushed fabrication… a victim of its own gritless contrivances and overproduced underproduction.” I don’t even know exactly what that means, but it’s not good. And I think anybody who received a job performance evaluation like that would be very disappointed. So, I know what that’s like too. And, if you still don’t believe that my struggles are your struggles, I will show you my tax returns from the first few years that I did this.
So, all right. Let’s talk about how to be happier with the work that we do. The first strategy or idea: “Know why you’re working.” As the same goes, measure your wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you wouldn’t take any amount of money. Before my time as an illustrious songwriter, I had my first job at Brooks Pharmacy. I was 16 years old. I was a sales associate, which meant that I was stocking shelves, checking people out, cleaning the toilet, whatever needed to be done, and not work that one would consider obviously fun type of stuff.
And one day, my mom came in and she was waving a phone bill, and she said, “If you’re going to keep dating this girl who lives 45 minutes away, you’re going to need to pay for this.” So, as you can see, I married that girl. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get from point A, my junior prom, to point B, my wedding day, unless I could continue that conversation with my future wife. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to continue that conversation, unless I paid that phone bill.
When I went back to Brooks Pharmacy, I went back with a bounce in my step, because I knew why I was working. And I got into the habit of saying — this is totally true — I’d say, “Welcome to Brooks, where you’ll love what we do for you.” which I am not even sure if it’s one of their sayings, but I just — you see, you’ve got to know why you’re working.
The second strategy. “It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, than the top of one you don’t.” I got that from The Office. I’m big into sayings. So, about three years after I took that $6 an hour job, I was selling advertising for a magazine, and I was doing pretty well at it. And I got a call to come play at this local steakhouse. And the gig was such that they said, “We want you to play four hours.” The pay was absurdly low. They made a big deal of the fact that I was going to be fed. And they asked me to wear this really goofy shirt, with a steakhouse emblem on it and everything. So, it was not a sexy gig.
But at the end of that first night doing that, I knew I was on a ladder I wanted to climb. I also knew I was at the bottom of that ladder, but it was all right. So, whenever possible, climb ladders worth climbing.
Number three: “The grass is always going to look greener.” This is such a cliché. I really hesitate to use it here at TED, but I don’t think there’s actually a better way to say this. We’re talking about being happy with your work, and I think one of the easiest ways to be unhappy with your work is to sit there, looking over your shoulder, at the other guy, thinking that they have it better and that their situation is better. I think that we have common denominators in all work, or rules of the game. Everybody’s going to have a boss who doesn’t always appreciate you as much as you wish they would. We’re going to have coworkers who don’t do things the way we would or who are just annoying, you know. Rarely do people get paid what they feel they’re worth. And, you know, sometimes, you have too many hours, too little hours, you could always do a better job, if only. It’s fine that we have these. These exist at every job, at every level.
The important thing, if you want to be happy with your work, is to realize that they exist at every level. Everybody’s got these, so you’re not sitting there thinking, “Ah, the grass is really greener on the other side.” This picture, I’ll just explain, that’s me in a van, about five years into my touring. I had it in my mind that, if I could get on a tour bus, all my problems would be solved.