Why It’s OK If You Don’t Love Your Job Right Now
Sometimes we really do need to wade through the muck to get where we should have been all along.
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If there’s one truth we can probably all get behind it’s that life sure as hell doesn’t turn out the way we think it will. And let me tell you from experience, this can be a pretty brutal realization, especially when you drank the ‘hard work unequivocally equals success’ kool-aid your whole life.
Writing recently in New York Times Magazine, author Charles Duhigg acknowledges his own struggle with this absolute bitch of a life lesson. By any estimation, Duhigg had it made: He rocked his way through a history degree at Yale and received an MBA from Harvard Business School soon after. Upon graduation, however, he was rejected by every single private equity firm, management consulting group, and real estate conglomerate he applied to. You know, the kinds of positions people who attend elite schools like H.B.S. often assume lie at the end of their education.
This is a story that I, too, know a little something about. I still remember sending out those first resumés, oh so confident that I would have my pick of jobs in my chosen field of publishing. I also knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would make an annual salary larger than what I make right now. (Hahahaha. No.) Because of course I would: I had always been at the top of my class, had done all the extracurriculars and internships and volunteering and part time job thing. I had checked all the boxes for success I was told to check. There was no way I wouldn’t be chosen for an amazing job. No damn way.
The reality was that there was no damn way I was going to be getting much of any job of any kind at that point in the middle of 2008. After being turned down from all the academic publishing houses, I had no choice but to broaden my search. Student loans were looming, so I applied to whatever I could find that seemed like a good fit for someone who could competently write a sentence. Sales, PR, marketing, administrative assistant, executive assistant, assistant to the executive assistant, so many assistants.
By the time I finally landed a position as a marketing coordinator with an insurance fraud investigation firm making $13.50 an hour, I was exhausted, demoralized, and frankly desperate. My coworkers were admittedly wonderful, but the job itself left me feeling practically lobotomized each day. Mind-numbing is an understatement.
But here I am today, getting paid to tell you fine folks about it, and while I’m certainly not leading a lavish lifestyle, I do enjoy what I get to do every day. I also make enough money to support myself and my son. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.
Duhigg, too, made out alright, as is clearly evidenced by his article being published in NYT Mag. Oh, and he’s also won a Pulitzer Prize.
But that’s ultimately incidental here. Yes, Duhigg and I both figured out how to make it work because that’s what adults have to do. But in the process, we learned so much more about life and happiness and real success than we would have in a decade of getting everything the easy way. As Duhigg reminds us, “the smoothest life paths sometimes fail to teach us about what really brings us satisfaction day to day.”
“Some of my classmates thought I was making a huge mistake by ignoring all the doors H.B.S. had opened for me in high finance and Silicon Valley,” he explains in his piece entitled “Wealthy, Successful, and Miserable.” “What they didn’t know was that those doors, in fact, had stayed shut – and that as a result, I was saved from the temptation of easy riches. I’ve been thankful ever since, grateful that my bad luck made it easier to choose a profession that I’ve loved.”
Would I have also been tempted to stick with my marketing position had it paid an actually respectable wage? While I would love to say no, I don’t know that that would necessarily have been the case. The albatross that is student loan debt is a mightily persuasive motivator. But I had nothing to lose and seemingly everything to gain, so I jumped ship a few months in. Sure, I had to flounder for a bit to find a new direction, working in some pretty terrible and even lower-wage jobs for a while, not to mention taking on another unpaid internship. But in the end I found a new home as a professional writer. There are worse things than getting to do the thing that inspired you as a child.
The point, though, of sharing stories like Duhigg’s or my own isn’t about highlighting some innate characteristics that made us capable of overcoming adversity. It’s about proving, once and for all, that success really is what we make of it, and there is perhaps no better way to achieve this outlook than by having our teeth kicked in a few times along the way (metaphorically speaking of course).
When necessity forces us to disconnect from our own rigid idealism, we open ourselves up for so much more. Duhigg notes that his fellow H.B.S. also-rans “seemed to have learned the lessons about workplace meaning preached by people like Barry Schwartz” – mainly that there’s only so much satisfaction money can buy. “It wasn’t that their workplaces were enlightened or … that H.B.S. had taught them anything special,” he continues. “Rather, they had learned from their own setbacks. And often they wound up richer, more powerful and more content than everyone else.”
Well, maybe not actually richer for the most part – Duhigg’s own journalism salary admittedly pales in comparison to that of his $1.2 million dollar-per-year trader friend – but at least Duhigg and the rest of us “late bloomers” will never have to feel like we’ve wasted our lives doing work that means nothing.
So, if you find yourself hating your job because all the doors you thought would open for you never did, rest easy knowing that it doesn’t have to stay that way. As long as you’re willing to start again – which is admittedly terrifying – there’s always hope you’ll eventually find something that will make you grateful for all the hardship. And if you’re one of the so-called lucky people who landed everything you ever wanted only to realize how truly soul-crushing it is, you, too, have the power to move on. None of us, after all, are trees.
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