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.
One day, I got on a tour bus. I promptly found a bunch of new problems. Now, I’m back in a van, so I had a lot of problems. The bottom line is the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
So, all right. Number four: “Understand the positive effects of your work.” This is something that sounds simple, but I’m kind of amazed when I talk to people about their work, how not keyed in it’s possible to be to the positive impact of what you do. I think of the guy that brings pizza to my house every Friday night. And now he knows I’m so psych to see him that he’s got this big grin when he shows up — doing it. But you’re bringing the best food in the world — non-negotiable — to someone’s house. It just is that way, you know.
So, I think of my accountant, who takes a big scary mess of papers and the looming threat of the IRS and possibly jail, and he turns that into sometimes a tax return. I think of a realtor who takes in a young couple, who says, “We want this much house, and we have this much money,” and, somehow, they make it work. I could do this with every job. Obviously, we don’t have time to do that, but, seriously, email me, and I will help you find the positive impact of your work, if you can’t, unless you’re a criminal, in which case — I can’t help you there. This moment really came for me. I’d been out there — I think I can say I feel at home with you. You know, I was trying to bolster my ego, sell more records, sell more tickets, be a bigger deal. And I’d been on tour and doing that for about six years. And I got a call to play at the Saint Jude Children’s Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee. And I went, and I played to about a dozen patients, and parents and staff. And at that small concert, I had an “aha” moment, because I saw people who had so little to smile about smiling back at me. And I realized that this skill set I’d been working on I had developed so that people without an inclination to smile could have joy again. And I never played a gig different — I never played the same way, after that. So, key into whatever it is that you do that’s positive, and hang on to that. You’ll be happier with your work.
The fifth and final strategy, or insight, or truth that’s made work like sex for me is this: “Maintain your integrity and core values.” Core values are some of those buzzwords, that you hear so much that it’s kind of become white noise. But I’m really talking about your soul. And probably the most humiliating moment of my professional career came a couple years ago. It was decided I should have a hit song. So, I flew out to Los Angeles, where all hit songs come from, to work with some writers. And we wrote a song that was intended to be a tip of the hat to Simon & Garfunkel. Suffice it to say we pretty much put the hat on. And, when the song came out, my fans called me out on it and said, “You know, that song sounds like Paul Simon.” My four-year-old daughter walked into my office one day, and she said, “Daddy, Paul Simon’s song sounds like your song.” And that was definitely, definitely the lowest moment of my career. I felt very out of touch with what I’m about.
The good news is you can make those things right. And, in this case, I withdrew the song, rewrote it to be 100% mine, feel like mine. I explained as best as I could to my fans, kind of how that had happened. And, out of the lowest moment of my career, came really the proudest moment of my career, because I knew exactly who I was in that moment, and I could continue my mission. So, don’t ever underestimate the power of keeping your integrity and your values in your work. You do these five things, and we are going to show Forbes who’s boss, my friends.
So, I’m going to finish this talk with a song. It’s what I do. I’m not really known for brevity, and no one that’s ever interviewed me has accused me of being too concise. But this opportunity to do this today and boil down some of why work has been a positive thing, it gets me really excited. I hope that somebody out there who’s not satisfied can grab on to that and can think, “If I know why I’m working, if I climb ladders worth climbing, if I don’t spend all my time dreaming that the grass is greener on the other side, if I can understand the positive impacts of my work, and if I can keep my soul intact in the process, I’m going to get more out of my job.”
This song I’m going to leave you with is my final comment on job satisfaction. And it’s the last thing that I want to share with you. I’ve put it in this song. It’s, your work is just your work. It happens to be what we spend most of our waking hours doing, but it’s not the whole of who you are, and it’s just one part of your identity. You can switch it up, you can do whatever you have to do to be happy. But I hope we’re happy. This song’s called “Satisfied Man”.
♪ There are some things you never get over ♪
♪ Whatever your parents say ♪
♪ First on my list of these three things ♪
♪ is the sight of my father walking away ♪
♪ Next on my list would be heaven ♪
♪ I already know what it’s like ♪
♪ because I fell in love when I was sixteen ♪
♪ with the absolute love of my life ♪
♪ Last on my list would be losing ♪
♪ Someone always needs to win ♪
♪ And thumbing your nose at the boss I suppose ♪
♪ just feels like a beautiful thing ♪
♪ The thing that nobody tells you ♪
♪ you figure it out if you can ♪
♪ There’s one thing on Earth no one can touch ♪
♪ It’s the sleep of a satisfied man ♪
♪ Yeah, the sleep of a satisfied man ♪
♪ And I don’t know why I love believing ♪
♪ It’s not from lack of loving you ♪
♪ You can’t remember when you stopped breathing ♪
♪ and I can’t remember it too ♪
♪ But I’m coming home tomorrow ♪
♪ and I wanted you to know ♪
♪ that the part of me that can make you smile ♪
♪ is the same part that needed to go ♪
♪ And the thing that nobody tells you ♪
♪ you figure it out if you can ♪
♪ It’s that they can’t interfere or get inside here ♪
♪ to the sleep of a satisfied man ♪
♪ Yeah, the sleep of a satisfied man ♪
♪ And of all the things I’ve had to learn ♪
♪ there’s just one that won’t quit ♪
♪ no matter how I try ♪
♪ one that won’t quit, it’s all that I can stand ♪
♪ one that won’t quit, I’ll never learn to say goodbye ♪
♪ but I hope for your sakes that you can ♪
♪ Then, on April 2nd, the birth of my heart ♪
♪ the day that the zombie awoke with a start ♪
♪ When I fell for Button and she fell for me ♪
♪ back in the spring in 1993 ♪
♪ January 7th, 2005 ♪
♪ the birth of my blood came fully to life ♪
♪ Now, when I see Saint Peter and ask for my wings ♪
♪ leave me that memory and the joy that it brings ♪
♪ Because the thing that nobody tells you ♪
♪ you figure it out if you can ♪
♪ it’s the things that you never get over ♪
♪ that build the character of a man ♪
♪ And if heaven, and family, and children ♪
♪ are what’s left to me when I die ♪
♪ then, I hope for your sake that you’re better than me ♪
♪ at learning to say goodbye ♪
♪ Oh, if heaven, and family, and children ♪
♪ are what’s left to the race that I ran ♪
♪ then, I’ll quietly slip to this slumbering peace ♪
♪ of the sleep of a satisfied man ♪
♪ Yeah, the sleep of a satisfied man ♪
♪ Oh, the sleep of a satisfied. ♪
♪ And may you all be satisfied ♪
Thank you all very much. Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.
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