Why We Do Jobs We Hate

Recently I finished Andre Agassi’s autobiography, “Open,” the most interesting and entertaining non-fiction book I’ve read since the Steve Jobs biography.

From the first chapter on, Agassi states that he “hates tennis.” As soon as he could hold a racket, his domineering father began grooming Andre with the goal of him becoming the number 1 player in the world. Every day from grade school until he left home for Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Andre was forced to hit for hours with a ball machine his dad had souped up, which he named “The Dragon.” His dad would stand behind him constantly yelling, “Hit Harder!”

Agassi played as a child because his father gave him no choice. His father was determined to spawn a tennis champion, and he had fallen short with all of Agassi’s older siblings.

Agassi lost a match for the first time at age 10 to the future pro, Jeff Tarango, when Tarango blatantly cheated on a line call in the final point of a tiebreaker. Agassi cried afterward. He was devastated. He hated the feeling of losing so much that from that day on, he devoted himself to perfectionism in his tennis despite his stated hatred of the sport.

He still hated the solitude of playing singles. He hated being forced to practice every day when normal kids got to play with friends. He resented tennis because it represented not having a choice for his life’s path.

As he got older, Agassi came to believe that playing tennis was his only option for an occupation. He had manipulated Nick Bollettieri to let him drop out of school in eighth grade, which further limited his career options. As a teenager he had no money, so with his older brother Philly coaching him, he traveled the U.S. playing the on the Satellite Tour in an old beater, trying to win enough to pay for gas and food.

Many times in the book, Agassi justifies playing the sport he hates by comparing himself to the countless other people in the world who strive for excellence in their jobs despite hating what they do. How many people in this world choose a job because they have been ordered to do it since birth? How many people have a certain occupation because they just happen to be great at it and they believe it’s the only job they can succeed in? How many people stay in a job they hate because they equate quitting with losing and failure?

I often watch professional athletes and think to myself, what they do would be my dream job. Wouldn’t it be nice to play a game as your job, get paid millions, and have unconditional love from fans? I have always taken it for granted that people who make a living playing a sport, devoting their lives to a sport, playing with the passion to be the best in the world must love playing it.

But think about all of the Olympic champions the last few weeks from countries like China and Russia, who are forced to devote their lives to winning a contest they never chose to participate in on their own. I’m sure some of the champions do love their sport, but I wonder … how many of them just hate losing?

Question: Do you have to love what you do to be great at it?

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14 thoughts on “Why We Do Jobs We Hate

  1. Jon Groth

    You might be able to be great at something because of innate abilities, but the question is whether being great is more important than at least some level of happiness and career satisfaction. Would Agassi have been better off to find another career that he enjoyed, maybe was less than great at, but made enough to satisfy his lifestyle. He might have been less of an angry young man.

  2. Lucy Glib

    I don’t believe so, because there is a passion one can feel in succeeding, in merely *being* great at something, even if the “something” isn’t their passion. How’s that for a twisted sentence. Simply, the satisfaction of a job well done is sometimes enough to drive people, even if the job itself isn’t all that satisfying. Who is lucky enough to be doing their dream job anyway?

    As for Young Andre, I read and enjoyed the book as well. I’m not sure if he hated the sport of tennis so much (the court – the net – the racket) as the pressure he felt to succeed.

  3. Doug M

    I think being great at something, most strive for and few attain. How others perceive greatness is something that many can achieve, “he is great at that” while in reality the person whom they speak of is thinking “I am good but I have to keep pushing to be great” so greatness all depends on where you are with yourself and who is watching. I was always taught to be the best you can be, learn from the best and give it your all. Looking at my life and career and did or do I follow teachings? Yeah, I am pretty great, I do the best I can 🙂

  4. Derek

    My nephew just started playing tackle football. He comes to me looking for tips and advice not juts for football, but nutrition, strength training, and overall health. I’ll answer anything he asks, but at the end, I always say ‘play because you want to, not for someone else or becuase it’s my favorite sport.’ He’s only 14 and is projected to be 6’3″ 225+, so he will have the frame to play at college level if he wants to. The next few years will dictate what he wants to do. I for one, encourage him to do what he wants, as long as his grades come first (which he has done well so far.)

    In Agassi’s case, he was simply trying to please his father from an early age. I say all that weight he put on his shoulders for playing tennis came from his father. I hate seeing parenting like this. Least in his case, he now has the money to do whatever he wants. I hope he finds enjoyment in life….I’m starting to see the finer things in life are not materialistic.

  5. dan k

    I’ve always wanted to be a race car driver since I was like 5 yrs old.
    I -know- I would have been good at it. It never happened.

    There, do I feel better now?

  6. Nick Bloom

    In the rare cases where everyone agrees something’s “great,” finding satisfaction somewhere in the achievement is pretty easy. I think Agassi’s take is intentionally dramatic in order to make a point and maybe it’s his attempt to find satisfaction on his own terms. OK, so Agassi had a dominant father. Welcome to life. But how about everyday people who no one knows, who work hard even at the things they don’t like in order to survive, or achieve a greater, more important end? No $millions, no recognition, no trophies, no book, no speaking tour, no glamorous lifestyle. That makes for boring reading but we all do it one way or another. It’s called real life.

  7. clayton smith


    This doesn’t change anything (a softball tag article instead of politics) and I still think your dad (I think LLoyd is your dad) has used the same tactics to “brainwash” your entire family into supporting the most incompetent individual ever to hold the office of president. You could never have embraced such liberal claptrap if Llloyd hadn’t forced you to endure countless hours of “Weissweltschuld” endoctrination! So is there really any difference between you and Agassi? I didn’t think so.
    All is not lost however as redemption is right around the corner. You can counter years of abuse by voting Republican in November!

    RGDS / C. Smith / Jax. FL

  8. Steve Welch

    What is worse is being great at something you enjoy and not attaining the opportunity to participate.


    If I answer for myself and define greatness as a condition of recognition, yes I would have to love what I am doing to make up for the innate characteristics, that i lack, that comprise the matrix of greatness. I doubt than any of the athletes that competed in the London Olympics really love the sport they are engaged in and that accords a momentary period of greatness, quickly forgotten. On the other hand, I can’t imagine some of the great musicians, not loving music or their instruments, to produce such beautiful music. I think of Cassals and Yo Yo Ma on cello and the three or four violinists of my almost one hundred years, Physical disability never interfered with their beauty. Greatness could be defined as that compete commitment of life that benefits others that your name become a household word for your particular type of greatness. The machining world is replete with family names given to tools or processes. This infers some greatness. No I don’t think you have to love what you are doing to achieve recognition. Love is an all consuming commitment. Interpersonal relations need a broader base. Maybe it is better to just like what one does.

  10. Lloyd Graff

    Clayton Smith,
    Please keep writing comments like your latest. Absolutely hilarious, and the beauty of it is that I am not sure if you are kidding or real. Weissweltschuld? I don’t know what your are talking about, but it reminds my of Patrick Buchanon’s short lived Republican primary campaign. “It was better in the original German”.

  11. Fritz

    You should read Jackie Chan’s book and compare thier reactions to the conditions that were forced upon them from thier earliest days. Do you think that thier differing reaction was more cultural or more personal? I find it curious that you pick China and Russia for comparison rather than a class separation comparison stateside. Did the book mention any Love or hate for his Father rather than the sport? I am more interested in that dynamic. How many people run their family business, not because they Love machining or making interesting parts/systems for their customers, but instead only stick with it because it makes them a decent buck… Or worse yet, hate thier business because it makes them rich in spite of themselves?

    As for C. Smith’s comment… It seems to me that N. Graff looks to have tons of options. You never know what really goes on behind closed doors but he seems to be forging what he can with what he has. It is interesting watching a writer who has matured and comparing the thoughts of one that is burgeoning. This may be mixing thoughts but I post rarely enough that I might as well throw them all out there because I am curious about class interactions in the States with family owned businesses. I remember one comment that Lloyd made about the criticism he got after posting a company picture where the individual groups within the company were separated out… The execs were together, the worker bees were all bunched up etc. You could see clear delimiations between them and apparently he got blasted about it in comparison to something he was saying. I’ve always been curious about the reaction which was to eliminate the picture instead of taking another one with everyone mingled together. There are literally hundreds, if not conceivably thousands of reasons why one reaction was chosen. Instead of listing a few conjectures (or acquisitions based on my own personal failings and fears) I just wonder why. To have a suicide occur in ones midsts while you are the one of the ones in charge is a sole searching event. If Aggasi had committed suicide would anyone care about his story up until that point to the level of detail we are discussing it now? How could a suicide be so much more important an act than publishing a popular book yet the book spawn so much more discussion?

  12. Lloyd Graff

    Wow, Fritz. Fascinating comment. I am fascinated by Noah’s development as a writer and now as a machinery dealer. He is trying to keep me real, which is not always easy. Clayton Smith’s comment is absurd on its face because I have no idea how he will vote and consider myself undecided but leaning toward Romney after picking Ryan for VP.

    How interesting that you bring up the blog about the suicide of a Graff Pinkert employee a few years ago and the strange reaction to the photo we ran of the G-P team. I had long forgotten the comments about the photo, but perhaps it was safer to discuss the employees than the effect of the suicide.

    Noah made an interesting writer’s choice to play the “hating tennis” angle not the tyrannical father story that ran through the book. He can answer why he made that choice.

  13. Rick

    As an engineer, I have disdain for imperfection, carelessness and lack of attention to detail…all of the atttributes that engineers strive to overcome by having polar opposition to the aforementioned elements: things we “hate” and overcome by becoming an engineer. Being a musician as well, I always hated not being able to play that guitar riff, or hit that high note on my horn…so I practiced until I could achieve those elements. Also, in athletics and as a former high school and collegiate baseball player, I always hated when my teammates didn’t put in the requisite hours to perform at the level of competition they were participating in. “Hate” is a strong word, and, if true as an emotion, is indicative of passion. I don’t believe Agassi “hated” tennis, no more that I “hated” the elements I described above. The father element aside (my dad chucked dirt rocks at my behind if I didn’t hustle during my Little League baseball practices), I believe Agassi hated to miss that baseline shot or lob, and bottomline, hated to lose. True mastery of any sport, or endeavor, takes monumental effort: I practiced my trumpet until I was sick, spent hours in the batting cage until I could barely lift the bat; worked 16 hour days until that proof of concept model worked, the way it should. Hate? Perhaps. Love. Definitely. I’m sure Agassi did not hate when he won…”6-Love”! Thanks for the forum, Rick


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