Reminder: You Don't Need to Be Obsessed With Your Job to Be Happy
When I first moved to Portland, I was desperate for career stability. I had been freelance writing and editing for a while, and the constant hustle for the next gig was an exhausting pressure. A friend of mine got me a contract that eventually turned into a full time, salaried position, imbuing me with the sense of relief that only the promise of corporately subsidized healthcare and a purse full of comped snacks can provide.
Recently, I grabbed drinks with some friends who I hadn’t synced up with in a while. We were catching up and one of them asked, “So how’s your desk job going?” The italics were palpable. She’s an artist who, for all intents and purposes, is working her dream job. One of the rare ones who got a job using her creative liberal arts degree right out of college. She obviously thought I was settling. I took the bait and found myself trying to validate my work. Speaking about how in love I was with it, like it was some sort of indicator of my level of self-actualization/worth. Which was a lie. Both because I am not working my dream job and I don’t believe that one is necessary for a fulfilled life.
I didn’t always think this way. The vision of a career in a sleek, kombucha-on-tap converted-warehouse-office was tempting, of course. But after hundreds of interviews, a few crappy jobs, and a poignant and timely reminder from The Onion, I began to see that when the job description called for passion in excessive doses and cocooned benefits with terms like “office dogs!” “laundry service onsite!” and “in-house Michelin-starred chefs!” it came with an expectation that you be available and rabid for whatever they’re shilling. Sorry—I meant to say whatever we’re shilling. Because we built this thing together, guys! We’re a team, and teams don’t let each other down by leaving before 8 p.m.
Being in love with the way you make ends meet is great if it works out that way, but it’s not a requirement for a fulfilling life or career. But this can be a difficult thing to remember when we collectively cling to the raft of “So, what do you do?” whenever we meet someone new, and just about every job interview finds you staring down the barrel of that unavoidable question: “Why do you want to work here?”
Displaying palpable enthusiasm for your career can be especially tricky for women, as we have to contend with having our personalities assessed along with our performance—something I learned firsthand while vying for a promotion. It turned out the organization valued a particular brand of manic-pixie effervescence over work ethic. I left as soon as I was able. But that job gave me my first lesson in faking passion, and even personality, to get what you want.
Not all organizations are like this. And certainly not all jobs that offer sleeping pods and playful, Bjarke Ingels designed offices are a sham. But jobs should be symbiotic. You provide them with the skills, work ethic, and professional growth that benefits their bottom line, and they enable you to pursue the life you want by paying you, ideally, a living wage. While it may not be the formula for a passionate vocational affair, it certainly has allowed me a pleasant, though sometimes italicized, one.