Love isn’t clear-cut - it can ebb and flow. So why shouldn't you feel the same about work?, writes Shannon McKeogh. Photo: Stocksy
Sitting around a restaurant table, my friends agonise about their jobs. One is thinking of quitting, one is thinking of doing more study ("easier than the rat-race"), and one is spending their days writing brain-numbing key selection criteria after being made redundant.
The phrase "I just want a job I love" is tossed around continuously, anxiously. But do we need to love our job? Or is there something else we can strive for without the pressure?
We are the generation that was raised on Oprah and positive therapy. Glossy self-help books began crowding shelves offering life solutions for everything from relationships (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), happiness (You Can Heal Your Life) and well, everything you could ever dream of as long as you put your mind to it and created a nice collage? (The Secret).
Hannah Horvath, sticking around at GQ for the free snacks.
With the focus on self-improvement came the abundance of career advice - because more than ever we had choices on how we wanted to earn a living. You don't have to go back far to see generational differences in career expectations. My parents never had this amount of freedom. My mum's career aspirations when leaving school as a woman were limited to being a secretary, teacher, nurse, hairdresser, or a stay-at-home mum.
The rise of choice and opportunity is a solid two thumbs up for progress. But with this progress combined with positive therapy came the pressure to find your true calling. Your dream job. Your purpose. To Follow Your Passion.
In Cal Newport's article, 'Solving Gen Y's Passion Problem', he shows a Google-gram which has captured all the print books that have used the term "Follow your dream". This phrase sky-rocketed during the 1990s to 2000s.
The reinforcement from society and culture that jobs are intrinsically linked to one's happiness is setting us up to fail.
The questions starts at school: "What are you going to do?". Somehow the next 70 years of your life seem tied up to that moment - to know your purpose and go chase it.
Some people do know what they want. They go to uni, but then they switch courses. They change their minds, they get lost and try again. At the end of university, the same question occupies everyone's lips: "What are you going to do?" It's overwhelming.
We are fed ideas that we need to do it all before 30. Well, Charles Darwin was 50 when On The Origin Of Species was published. Samuel L. Jackson was in his 40s when he starred in Pulp Fiction. This 90-year-old went back to uni and graduated with a Masters of Philosophy.
Purpose isn't linear and it can take time to find out what you like doing, and even then you might not enjoy it as a career.
Love also isn't clear-cut. It can ebb and flow. You might start off unsure about a job, but as you learn and develop your skills, you find it more enjoyable.
If we become fixated on one idea of what we want from a job, we can lose sight of everything else.
Be open to new opportunities
In an episode of Girls, Hannah quits her job at GQ magazine. At first she is wooed by the free snacks and the health insurance and pursuit of being a professional writer. But she soon quits because she can't see the value in the type of work she is doing:
"Do you think I think this is the best use of my literary voice and my myriad of talents?," she asks.
After quitting, she takes on a job as substitute teacher, which one could say is further away from becoming a professional writer.
If you don't take on new opportunities or try new jobs, you won't learn anything new or develop great new skills. If you find you hate it, at least you know what to avoid for next time. In other words, taking a job you don't immediately love is not always the worst thing you can do.
Live in the now
If someone asks you that all-so-meaningful and nausea-inducing question "What are you going to do?", don't feel like you have to answer. Shrug your shoulders. Tell them you're going to buy a blueberry muffin and sit on the grass and read your book.
Jamie Varon's ace article 'To Anyone Who Thinks They're Falling Behind' encourages you to care less:
"You need less shame around the idea that you're not doing your best. You need to stop listening to people who are in vastly different life circumstances and life stages than you tell you that you're just not doing or being enough. You need to let timing do what it needs to do. You need to see lessons where you see barriers. You need to understand that what's right now becomes inspiration later."
We tend to overthink things. Worrying makes us feel good temporarily, which is why it is so addictive. But thinking ahead is not a very useful way to pass the time - we can't control everything. Go and buy that muffin. Enjoy it.
Finding out what you value
What work environment do you work best in? What kind of company do you want to work for? What type of work culture do you like? How important is work/life balance? What do you care about?
Finding a job you enjoy can have a lot to do with aligning with your values. A socially conscious person will find little joy working for the gambling industry, while a money-hungry ambitious person may like the pressure to compete in a corporate firm especially if a big salary is is on the cards.
Consider a 'passion sponsor'
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert urges you to not get hung up on the idea of doing your passion as a career. Instead Gilbert says to consider finding a job that works as your "passion sponsor".
"There's no dishonour in having a job. What is dishonourable is scaring away your creativity by demanding that it pay for your entire existence."
This may be choosing to work part-time or less hours to work on your projects.
We don't need to love our job, but rather find ways in which they give us meaning. Whether that be finding useful skills and opportunities which give us hope for continuing to rock up day-after-day, focusing on the values, or the cash which allows you to cover your expenses so you can do what you want outside of work.
It will take you time to work it out but, as This American Life's Ira Glass says in this killer clip, that's pretty damn normal.
This article first appeared on The Vocal.