LJ Evans and Suzanne Bishop volunteered at the animal rescue center in Valdez, Alaska after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and recorded their story for NPR’s StoryCorps. They remember working up to eighteen hours a day, the screams of the otters in dog kennels stacked high in the hallways, nightmares that lasted for years, and going home exhausted by the sadness and hard work. But, LJ Evans recalled one joyous day….
The one joyous day, in this whole, long, stressful experience – we took all these birds that had been washed and lined up all these kennels on the beach, thirty of them, forty of them, each one with half-a-dozen birds. We opened all those crates and they swarmed out into the water and made such an incredible noise. They either paddled or they flew but they got the hell out of there. There was so much stress, so much tension for so many months, at least for that moment, that little while, you could feel good about something we had done.
When we seek work that is meaningful to us our expectation should not be months of sadness for one joyous day of fulfillment. Though our expectation should also not be repeated days of joy. Fulfillment and sadness are closely linked. If we didn’t care about our work it wouldn’t have the capacity to evoke either emotion. Work we are uninterested in can result in boredom and frustration. Work that does not provide us with means to meet our needs can cause us extraordinary distress. But sadness comes from caring and our efforts not being enough to fully realize what we believe should be. Lucky are we who have something we care about enough to make us sad.