Should a Career Bring Life Meaning?

So many people are slaves to their jobs, indentured servants of corporate America. Their lives, while mostly spent at the office or in the field, are not defined by their work. Their work is a means to living a life of meaning. And they are thankful to have a job.

I’m spoiled, and expect more than that from my career. Just like any long-term relationship, there are bound to be ups and downs in the experience. But I have this deep-seated desire to know I’m making a… difference? It’s not that I want to save the whales, or even the children. I’ve tried non-profit and figured out that directly helping people isn’t up my alley either. What I want is to contribute to something larger. Well, I want to be Steve Jobs 2.0. But besides that, I want to feel like my everyday work has a purpose, one that I have some control over.

A study on Payscale.com notes that the ten “happiest” jobs are clergy, firefighters, travel agents, mechanics, architects, special ed teachers, actors & directors, scientific researchers, industrial engineers, and airline pilots.

Gimundo points out that of the jobs in the top 10, most are service jobs relying on specific skills, which contradicts the common notion that the more education you have, the happier and more successful you will be. He points out Matthew B. Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soulcraft, which discusses the loss of respect of trades/manual labor in America.

After a trip home to visit my judgmental father, I know he wouldn’t think as high of me had I become a firefighter or mechanic (however, he did always say I should be an architect). I just wonder how much of my… “our”… needs for happiness are based upon what we were told matters when we were kids versus what really matters in our psyche.

My family definitely wouldn’t think highly of me if I were to quit my job to become Mother Theresa. On the other hand, they would think I went nuts if I decided to start my own company. My parents are risk adverse. Heck, my dad was an actuary, which is a math job all about mitigating risk for big companies in case their employees live to a ripe old age (how morbid). And my mom? She married the first guy she met in college because she wasn’t ready to risk being alone. She’s unhappy now, in a loveless and abusive marriage, but divorce is out of the question. That would be too much risk.

It seems for me to ever get to some point of happiness in my career, I need to put all the voices in my head aside, and really risk… failure. I believe that failure, after trying really, really hard, is important in growth as an adult, yet I’ve recently realized that I’ve never fully dedicated myself to anything. Maybe it’s the ADD, maybe it’s the self doubt, maybe it’s my inability to find something worth caring about. I don’t know. I have such a driving need for narcissistic reward that it’s unclear I can ever be happy without some role of power. Yet I’m afraid of power, because with power comes an even bigger risk of failure.

When I started my current job, I was really inspired. I loved working for a web startup, being part of a team building something for lots of people to use. I thought I could help. Now, well, I’m feeling helpless. Things have changed. I also showed too much passion which scared the powers that be who need to care more about the business versus heart. Not that they don’t have heart, it’s just their job, in the power role, to think about all those stressful things. It’s my job too, though not directly, and any passion I have — beyond obtaining statistics to support my theories — is unacceptable.

I look to someone like Steve Jobs as an idol, yet he’s said to be a total totalitarian and not-so-fun to work for. But he obviously BELIEVES in himself and in his ideas. And they have led him, and his company to great success. He failed, got kicked out of Apple for a while, and then they basically begged him to come back because above all it was his mind — his understanding of innovation, design, and decision-making — that was so valuable. Not everyone can be Steve Jobs. Not everyone would want to be. But sometimes I think my ideas are pretty good, that I’ve got some talent of seeing the bigger picture, that I might be successful if someone would just give me a chance to run my own project. I don’t need to run a company, I’d be happy with the responsibility to manage a product. Or even a piece of a product.

That seems like a job that’s out there, right? But I have no idea how to get it. Or if I’d be any good at it. And… risk adverse genetics keeps me tied to stability. I mean, my current job is not bad at all. I like the people I work with. I respect them. I still like working for a startup. It’s just company morale is kind of on a downward spiral right now. The folks in charge are stressed and have no time to deal with making employees… with shrinking job descriptions… feel valued. Which is fair, but I just hate the feeling of having no voice. It’s suffocating. I just am not sure what to do about it other than hold my breath and wait.

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2 comments

  1. SeeJaneGetRich.com says:

    This article seems to assume everyone knows what it is that they love to do. I am about to graduate from law school and I really don't know what it is that I love nor how I can find out what it is that I love much less attempt to make a career out of it. As paranoidasteroid said, working on something day after day may be bound to wear on you and it is more likely that I will find something I like and then move onto something else I like and find interesting rather than love.

  2. paranoidasteroid says:

    I waver on the job love. On the one hand, yes, if you're going to spend almost a 3rd of your life doing something, you should enjoy it.On the other hand, doing anything day after day is bound to wear on you, even if it's something you love. Perhaps it's better to maintain your passion for your hobbies by letting it be something you do for pleasure.

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