I remember talking with a friend from Australia years ago, and we were discussing interesting differences between countries. For example, when meeting someone for the first time, we often both ask, “What do you do?” For those in the US, this is generally answered by providing a job title or description of your work. He told me that if he asked anyone in his area that question during a friendly conversation, he might get an answer that included what they did for a living, but most often they would answer what they liked to do for fun.
I find it strange and somewhat disheartening that we in the US define ourselves by our employment. Especially since the modern world has opened up a wide variety of new job titles – helpdesk support, administrative assistant, aide, retail clerk, customer service rep – that often aren’t long-term careers. They might be a step on the ladder to a better career, but often they are simply a “job”.
It can be hard to define yourself by your career if your career is a telemarketer or a retail clerk. (I’m not saying people can’t find these types of jobs rewarding. But overall many people who are in these jobs would rather be doing something else.)
Aaron has lately been feeling trapped in a “job”. Yes, he has a cushy position with room for advancement working for the state and making better money than his old job. But his degree is in theatre, and he wants to eventually work in that field, either teaching or directing or something. However, a simple BFA in Theatre is not enough, and there is further training he must pursue to reach his goals, which means that for now it would be close to impossible to make a living in the performing arts field. With a family to support, he must keep the good office job, even if it is just a job.
Luckily, he is still making progress towards his goals. But as is true with many of us, that progress is not coming fast enough for him, even though there is no way to speed it up. He will get there in the end, but it will take time, and he will have to fight off the depression that constantly tries to drag him down and pull him away from doing what needs to be done in the present. That same depression tries to tell him that everything he’s doing is pointless, and he’ll never do what he wants to do.
Thinking about his situation made me wonder: how many people feel like they’re in the same situation? How many people are really where they want to be right now? Are you really happy with your job? Is what you’re doing a career or just a job? Did you see yourself doing something else when you first started out? Do you think you’ll never do what you want to do?
Are the scores of people who are depressed today (and the numbers keep growing) feeling hopeless because they see no purpose in their lives? Can they only see the current job chaining them down instead of providing them the means to keep going and hopefully one day find something that will provide them meaning?
Before the modern age, many jobs actually produced something. At the end of the day, you could go to sleep knowing you harvested 10 bushels of food to feed your family and others, or made two wagon wheels, or produced two bolts of cloth. Usually your job was important to your town or area – you were a needed link in the chain of society.
In the present day, many people go to work, and come home at the end of the day with nothing to show for it. Oh sure, they may have sat at a phone bank all day and tried to sell people supplementary life insurance. They probably got yelled at or hung up on many times, and may have even sold a few policies. But some of these people will feel no sense of accomplishment for what they did. If they weren’t doing that job, society would continue to function.
And when you look at really interesting jobs that many people want to go into, there are usually a limited number of those jobs available or they require a lot of extra training and waiting. There is a plethora of less interesting jobs, however.
As a college student advisor, I see a lot of students coming back to school because they are so miserable in their current jobs and want only to find some job to give them some meaning. They pick a new major and hope that a degree in Human Resources or Accounting or Marketing might provide the exciting job they hope for. Sadly, some of these people graduate with those degrees, go out into the world, and then are disappointed when all they can find is an administrative assistant position.
I’m curious to know how you, my readers, feel about your current situation, or your partner’s situation. Are you happy with your job, your family, your life? Are you where you want to be? If not, do you see yourself ever getting to where you want to be?
As for me, I don’t think I’m happy with my current situation, but I am at least content for the moment. My job is often frustrating and not what I wanted to do, but it does have its rewarding moments. I am going back to school for nursing, since my BA in History is doing nothing for me at the moment. Hopefully I will find nursing more rewarding.
My ideal situation would be to stay home with my children full-time until they were in school, and then go to work in nursing part-time so I could still pick them up from school most days. However, real life steps in and reminds me that we don’t have the finances to do that, so for now I must be content with working part-time. If I let it really bother me, I could end up right back on antidepressants, so I try to keep a positive outlook. At least I have the ability to be part-time, and at least my job doesn’t completely suck the life out of me.
I look forward to hearing your answers. It’s totally OK to answer that your life sucks, and at the same time, feel free to express if you’re really happy, too. I’m curious to see the entire spectrum.