When I was younger, I always imagined that my future career would fulfill a few key requirements. I would be paid no less than one-million dollars, it would probably involve a crown or puppies, and I would truly, genuinely love going to work every day for the rest of my life.
This, I quickly learned, was pretty much completely delusional. I went through college with no idea what I wanted to “be,” no marketable skills that would pay anywhere NEAR a million dollars, and no desire to be a veterinarian or run a country. Honestly, I just wanted someone to pay me a lot of money to do absolutely nothing.
I graduated college last year with a respectable amount of loan debt, practically no direction, and no hobbies or passions other than binge drinking and binge watching Netflix. That’s not to say I didn’t have a plan; I took my $1,500 in savings and moved across the country with my best friend to start a job at the company where I’d interned before graduating.
That fact makes me a lot better off than many of my peers, who don’t have a salaried job a year after graduation. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but at least I’m happy at an amazing company that’s allowing me to pay my all my bills and take a vacation every few months. However, the farther I get from the comfortable, structured ease of childhood, the more I’m learning that I cannot live the rest of my life relying on my career to make me happy.
I tell people that I love my job. This is not untrue; I love my job. I’m also really good at my job, and I am learning so much about myself, the corporate world, and working with other people. The experience I’m gaining is invaluable, and I’ve already grown so much in the past year both professional and personally.
Therefore, the realization that I shouldn’t tie my happiness to my job is a startling one, especially at the very beginning of what I hope is a long, rewarding professional career. I spend at least eight hours a day in the office, and a few more hours outside of work spending time with my co-workers and on company-sponsored sports teams. “Where do you work?” is typically the first question I’m asked by my parents’ friends, new acquaintances, and potential Tinder suitors.
My job is inexorably linked to my identity, but it’s a quantitative part of my life, not qualitative. It fills the hours in a day and fills the bank, but it doesn’t necessarily excite my soul.
Possibly the worst advice I’ve encountered in recent memory is part of some existential diatribe that includes “quitting your day job and traveling the world” to find your happiness. This will seldom solve the problem of your unhappiness. Quitting my day job, right now, would leave me with no income, no health insurance, and over 40 hours a week that I’d have to fill.
This is not to say that you should allow yourself to stay in a job where you are unhappy. There is a huge difference between allowing your job to define your happiness and being utterly miserable at work. A paycheck is a paycheck, but not at the expense of your ability to be a person and develop passions outside of your day job.
I think the idea of a “dream job” is utterly antiquated in this society. We imagine this typically unattainable career (like my dreams of being a princess) that will fill our lives and pay us enough to take frequent trips to exotic locales. We grow up thinking that the possibilities are endless, and as millennials we tend to have a rather inflated sense of self. In turn, we lack the qualifications necessary to actually get those high-paying jobs and we take on more student loan debt than we can handle. We’re left with a multitude of lower-level jobs that pay the bills, but hardly qualify as anyone’s dream job.
I’ve been led to believe all my life that above all else, I have to always have a job. My grandmother’s most important advice is to always have a significant amount of money in my own savings account, just in case. This, to me, now means job security, not necessarily finding my dream career at 22.
Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’.” I’m learning that making a living allows you to make a life. The opportunities I’ve been afforded through my job, and the people I’ve met, have given me the unencumbered ability to thoroughly enjoy my life outside of office hours, rather than relying solely on my job to make me happy.