Monday, March 21, 2011
Just a Job
As I get older I find myself asking my friends’ children some of the same questions that adults asked me when I was a child, especially “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I think my earliest answer to that question was veterinarian. That morphed into space shuttle pilot for NASA, which then became engineer (I had no clue what that was, but my mom thought it paid well), architect, writer, and English teacher. When I ask kids these days, I get answers like “I want to help animals” or an emphatic “skateboarder!” Maybe it’s a product of having been a child in the 80s, but I never had lofty aspirations – they were always really practical. When I hear the excitement or loving compassion that’s behind the answers I hear today, I start to lecture. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams,” I say, “You can do anything you want, and you can always find a way to make it work. Don’t settle.” Ten year olds don’t get settling, which is refreshing.
In college I settled on editor. Now, 15 years later I have a job. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like my company, I love my boss, and I enjoy the work that I do, but if I wasn’t being paid to do it, then I wouldn’t do it. This constantly causes a barrage of mind fucks. First and foremost I can easily slip into caring too much – so much that it’s detrimental to my health. It may not be my life’s work, but I spend 40+ hours a week focused on this one thing, and when shit goes wrong or gets held up, I can take it personally. Today I had a very sad discussion with a coworker who came to see me to confess that while the challenges in her department fall under her preview, her hands are tied. Above all else she was concerned what I thought about her professionally. It was heartbreaking, yet it’s something I see over and over again: the responsibility some of us assume is not proportional to what’s expected of us. Put simply, we care too much, and in many cases those of us who strive to move forward and conduct business as if we actually had a personal stake in it get burned when we hit a wall and are unable to do what we know needs to be done. Forget the asinine reasons why we hit those walls – focusing on them will only give you early heart disease – instead, relax and find comfort in the fact that this shit happens all the time in every industry. Unless you own the business, you shouldn’t ever take it personally and you shouldn’t care so much that you do take it personally. Naturally, this is easier said than done.
While I appreciate the free market capitalistic society in which I live in that allows me the opportunity to live the American Dream (make shitloads of money and move to an island owned by another country), I feel like I’m neither well poised to take advantage of what it has to offer, nor do I know what the hell I would actually want to do if given the choice. So instead, I do what everyone else does, and I get a job that pays me to live my life on the weekend. I’m reminded of this each time I find myself caring too much about my job, and it makes me feel like I need to scramble to find something more meaningful and more personally fulfilling. That, or trick myself into believing that what I’m currently doing actually is fulfilling. I really don’t want to continue to do this for the rest of my life, and I can’t tell if that makes me a whiny spoiled brat or someone with a higher purpose.
Going back to that question asked of every American child, I don’t know what I could have been told that would have changed the direction I took. Part of me thinks it was unavoidable. I guess the bigger question is what now?