John Scherer: Quit Your Job and Find Your Work at TEDxKrakow (Transcript)

Don’t get nervous, it’s alright.

This is what I notice a lot in Poland. People actually build a wall between their life and their workplace. My friends have told me that in the old days your family system, your social and your friends were completely separate from work. They said, “You can work beside someone for years and not know really the name of their spouse or if they have children or any problems going on in their life.” It’s completely separate.

So what I’m saying is you can’t separate — How can you separate your life from your work? You are a human being in both of those places. So I’ve got a suggestion for you here. Oh, you can’t see that. It’s a really cool picture, but you can’t see it.

It’s not what you made today, when you go to work, it’s not just what you made, but what are you being made into. It’s not just what you produce for the company, but what is being produced in you while you’re producing that for the company.

Or like this: It’s not just what happened today at work, but what is happening inside of you while all that stuff is happening at work. Two people go to work, side by side: One person goes home at the end of the day and says, ‘Oh my God! What a disaster… I’m going to… I…”


The person working right beside them goes home and says, “Man, I really learned a lot. This is incredible.”

So, “Everyone gets the experience, some get the lesson.” My favorite quote from T.S. Eliot. I’m going to rip through some of this. I think we show up with an assignment of 3 parts: discover who we are, express it into the world in such a way that makes a creative difference.


Now, I’m going to suggest that you turn your job, your workplace into a classroom, or a dojo. I do a little Aikido. It’s like a place where you can practice being who you are. Why not? Your faculty is waiting for you every day. And the faculty are those idiots you have to work with. You know. In fact, the worst person there is your most important teacher. But that’s the advanced class, OK?

The curriculum is all that happens to you all day long. I know the word in Polish, but they told me not to say it. But it’s all the stuff that happens to you during the day, that’s your curriculum. And, you know what? There are no grades except what happens inside your body when you go home at the end of the day. That’s how you measure what happens at work.


And there is a final exam, but by then it’s too late. A “job” by the way, the word “job,” comes from the old-English word, “gobbe,” which means, “a lump of something.” So, in the old days you took stuff from here, and you moved it over here. You got paid by how many lumps, or “gobbes,” you moved from here to here. So, in, out, in, out. Today: in basket, out basket. In basket, out basket. All day every day, no matter where you are, whatever level. You take stuff in, you move it over here. That’s a job.

Personally, I don’t want to have a job. If that’s a job, I don’t want one, OK? I recommend that you not have a job, but you look for your work. What is your work? What is the work that you’re here for? “Work” comes from the Greek word for “erg,” which, I think, I’m going to look at my physics man here, I think it’s how many calories it takes to move one gram one centimeter. If I remember my physics right, 101. Is that close enough? Not bad.

So, work got switched from “erg” to “werk” in old German, which then became our word, “work.” So, “work” is energy with a direction. It’s purposeful energy. So, personally I think you should quit your job and find your work. Okay? It’s seriously a very important thing to do.


Now, I want to tell a story about this, real quickly. I was doing an executive seminar for a woman who ran a big corporation in Seattle, and her team of vice-presidents. We’ll call her Charlotte. And behind her back, they called her “the dragon-lady.” OK? So, How do you say, “dragon lady”? Smoczyca. Yeah, like that, OK.

So, at this point in the seminar, she says, “John, this is all sweet and wonderful, but what has this got to do with leadership and running this organization?”


And I said, “OK. What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to come to work every day?”

She said, “I’d go home and play with my grandchildren.”


I said, “OK. Let’s go with that.”

And I said, ‘One of the vice-presidents, would you come up here to the easel and take some notes?’ So they went up to the easel, flip-chart. And I said, “Tell us, what is this about your grandchildren?”


She said, “Well, first of all, I have to get the house ready.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I want to make sure it’s safe, I want to make sure that there’s some interesting things there for them to do. I want to make sure they have enough food and things to do, and then I have to get myself ready. I’ve got to have the right attitude.”

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