Tuesday, October 9, 2007

:: Work and Happiness ::

My mom was here again this weekend. Brian was away and having the help was great, but mostly it was just fun to watch Evan and his grandma together. So many smiles and laughs from both of them! And rolling over - you should have seen my mom! She got all the way from her back to her stomach.

Oh, I know. Ha ha.

Anyway, yesterday morning we were all talking (OK, Evan was mostly listening) about all the things he can do with grandma when he gets older: ride in a snow plow, meet the firemen, see the construction equipment. My mom works for the town I grew up in and so has access to all the cool public works stuff - things any kid would think were So Cool.

At one point my mom mentioned a particular unskilled job and then said, "But you don't want that to be your job, Evan" and then caught herself and said, "Well, unless it's what you really love."

Throughout the years, I've decided that the single worst thing my parents' generation did for my generation was to tell us that we should do what we love. I have journals full of entries in which I lament the fact that I haven't found my One True Passion yet. I have a resume to match: it doesn't have a single job lasting more than a year unless being in school is a job (it is).

Me, my husband, my friends, his friends, we all share this common sense of dissatisfaction with work. We search out the paths that will make us happy, the jobs we will love love love and when we don't love love love them we think there's either something wrong with us or that it's time to move on to the next job.

Our parents' hearts, of course, were in the right place. They did not always love their jobs but they worked them so that they could give us what we needed: food, shelter, clothing, and Trapper Keepers. They worked them so that they could nurture the dream that we might do better. That we might find jobs that provided not only satisfaction but also fulfillment.

I suspect that it's not just my parents' generation but all generations of parents that want this for their children. We see it all throughout literature, after all - in books that span centuries and continents. But the special curse our own parents put on us was to saddle us with the belief that work should be something we enjoy.

And why is this a curse? Because it teaches us to be unhappy with life when we are unhappy with work. We have this strong sense that we should find great contentment from our jobs and when we do not, we wallow about it at home.

Better, no, to find happiness in life and to consider work something that allows us to live that life? Better to do work because we must do work in order to make society function and to find happiness in our communities, our relationships, our leisure.

This is what I hope to teach my own son: do whatever you can for work, but make sure your life makes you happy.

I invite you to join me.


Maria October 9, 2007 at 11:48 AM  

Holy crap, I totally agree.
This is an idea that has been haunting me throughout my entire life. Thanks to my parents, I know that I could be anything, but the real struggle has been narrowing it down to something.
So I went from future teacher, astronaut, baker, hippie, preacher, college professor, mechanic, journalist, ?, and then this summer I decided lawyer. I just took the LSATs a couple of weeks ago. We'll see how this current hare-brained scheme pans out, but if it doesn't, it'll be back to wading through the whole wide world of options. Gross. I wish my dad were a shoemaker or something. Or that housewifery were practical.

bubandpie October 9, 2007 at 6:51 PM  

I'm with Maria - the whole "you can be anything" schtick is so destructive - because you may or may not be able to be anything, but you certainly cannot be everything. I do get great enjoyment from my work, though - but only because I limit the value I set on work (and especially on success in the workplace). In a nutshell, I figured out awhile ago that the way to be happy as a sessional is to do what you're paid to do and then go home.

Toni October 9, 2007 at 7:24 PM  

When I was in the work force (Inventory Planner for major automotive part company --- exciting, I know) I used to feel the same way. But since we decided to slow down and live a more simplistic life I've actually run across a number of people who truly love their jobs. (Kindermusik teacher, Bradley Method Instructor, a number of doulas and midwives just to name a few). I wonder sometimes if the problem is not that we can't find a job that we love but that we confuse "love" with "like" and even more we confuse love with "like and enjoy ALL the time." Just a thought.

Julie Pippert October 10, 2007 at 8:18 AM  

Oh. My. Gosh.


This "right to happiness" mistake from the Boomers is like to drive me (and maybe my generation) mad (as in crazy, but maybe also angry, LOL).

We are not entitled to unending joy and passion. ARGH

And I get so annoyed when I read op eds and articles by Boomers about the cynical X Gen. Blah blah blah. It's called getting real.

I can't be anything (nor can anyone) and I can't love, or even like, what I do all the time. I can do my best at what I'm good at, and find enough value and reward from it to make it worthwhile.

Your last line? Pure gold.

As for Toni's point, good one. I think the key is to understand *why* you are doing it, and make sure it's for the "right" reasons. So to speak.

Christina October 10, 2007 at 5:19 PM  

You're so right. We were raised to find the job that makes us happy, yet that's the wrong thinking entirely. Work isn't supposed to be totally fun - it's work. The goal should be to find a career we enjoy, or that provides for us to go do the things we enjoy, but we shouldn't expect the job to provide us with happiness.

I've been through so many false career starts, and I'm still not completely sure what I want to do. I'm in nursing school now because it sounded interesting, you can do a hundred different things with it, and I like the flexibility in hours. I like writing, too. Maybe I'll find a way to do both?

It's really no wonder our generation is so depressed. We're looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and then feeling like we will never find it.