Never Continue in a Job You Don’t Enjoy

Johnny Carson? Kenneth Tynan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The late-night talk-show host Johnny Carson was one of the most successful entertainers in U.S. history. He spent thirty years as the star of “The Tonight Show” on the NBC television network. Before he embraced the celebrated nocturnal hosting duties he held nine different jobs. That fact might help to explain the following guidance attributed to him:

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy.

His widely-distributed career advice quotation includes the above remark together with comments about inner peace and physical health. Would you kindly help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Johnny Carson attended high school in Norfolk, Nebraska, and a few decades later he was pleased to receive an invitation to deliver the 1976 commencement address. His speech was described by drama critic Kenneth Tynan who wrote a lengthy profile of Carson in “The New Yorker” in 1978. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Having picked a profession, feel no compulsion to stick to it: “If you don’t like it, stop doing it. Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy.”

After Carson’s prepared remarks he engaged in a question-and-answer session. He also highlighted the pride engendered by the opportunity to talk at his former school:

The applause at the end was so clamorous that Carson felt compelled to improvise a postscript. “If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself,” he said. “And if you like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined. I thank you all very much.”

Over the years the passages above have been combined and streamlined to generate a popular quotation.

In 2002 a Montana newspaper featured the following “Quote of the Week”: 2

“Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.”
— Johnny Carson

In 2006 the text given above was widely distributed via a syndicated feature called “Thought for Today” from the Associated Press. 3

In conclusion, the modern quotation attributed to Johnny Carson is based on the words recorded in a profile published in “The New Yorker” in 1978. The passage is a compact rendition of Carson’s spoken thoughts.

Image Notes: Publicity photo of Johnny Carson circa 1970; accessed via Wikipedia Commons. Low-resolution still image from a video introduction of “The Tonight Show”.

(Great thanks to Denise Montgomery whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1978 February 20, The New Yorker, Profiles: Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale by Kenneth Tynan, Start Page 47, Quote Page 85, Published by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc., New York. (Accessed Online Archive of Page Scans at archives.newyorker.com on November 4, 2017) link
  2. 2002 March 11, Great Falls Tribune, Quote of the Week, Quote Page 6S, Column 1, Great Falls, Montana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 2006 January 23, The Anniston Star, On This Day In History: Thought for Today (Associated Press), Quote Page 5B, Column 2, Anniston, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)