Today is my five year anniversary at the place I work. I don’t talk about work much except to say I’m busy at it, or in the abstract, and that’s for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how many people have found talking about their place of employment on their blog to be a grave error. Not that I have much bad to say about where I work, really. Hell, I’ve worked there for five years, which is the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere. I enjoy what I do and the people I do it with, and am about as happy here as I would be anywhere.
For a long time the subject of work was a huge problem for me. I spent a good deal of our ten years in Illinois in various stages of mania and depression regarding work. I let the idea of work play an overly large and damaging part in my life for too long.
The gist of the problem was that when someone asked, “So…what do you do for a living, Dave?” I didn’t really have what I thought was a good answer. Sure, I had a job at any given time, but I didn’t have a career, like I felt I should. I did something, but I wasn’t anything. And more often than not, that something I did wasn’t anything of great consequence.
This was a problem for me for many reasons. On a social level, we here in America enjoy defining ourselves and others through our jobs. When someone new asks me, “What do you do, Dave?” they don’t want to hear about comics or games or geocaching, even though that’s often what they’re gonna hear. They want to know what I do for a living. What I do to pay my way on Earth and what I contribute to my family’s income. (In contrast, I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone I’m meeting what they do for a living. That’s just not something I care much about in a person.) And many folks will use the answer to pigeonhole you and form all kids of weirdo opinions about you. (Or worse: when the answer was, “I’m studying to be a Math Teacher,” the reply was usually, “Oh god I hate math! It’s so worthless!” Thanks! And you’re useless as well!)
In addition to the social expectations, there are personal expectations. You get to be a certain age in this country, and if you’re not making a certain amount of money, you often feel like something’s wrong. I knew that my succession of jobs were all low-level grunt work, usually without much of an upgrade path and future. I knew I wasn’t making a lot of cash. And more, I had friends who would all talk about this business-related stuff that I had no interest in. If you get to a certain point and you’re not obsessing over your mutual-fund investments and the shake-up over in the Project Management department, you feel like you have failed. You feel like a kid, someone nobody takes seriously and everyone is waiting for you to grow up.
For many people, they go to college or get out of college having something they want to do. Teach or build or design or program or create or provide or whatever. I never had that knowledge. Still don’t. I’ve never found any kind of “calling,” anything that spoke to me as something I’d like to do for a living. The only time I came close — teaching Math — turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and waste of time and money. Given a choice of punching a clock or nearly anything else, I would always opt for the latter. I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do for eight hours a day, five days a week, for the next fifty years or so.
But I finally realized that the illnesses of American society are not my own. Just because everyone else has agreed that their sole purpose on Earth is to be proper worker bees and consumers does not make me wrong for not agreeing. My job that I have, while probably pretty lame by most standards, perfectly satisfies my criteria: I don’t mind doing it; It pays enough for me to have a home, food, and most frivolities I want; at 5:00 I leave and don’t think about the place until 8:30 the next morning. I hardly ever put in overtime or get calls at 10 p.m. about some emergency that needs to be handled. I guess there’s also room for advancement should I want it, but my experience is that taking that path means giving up a finite resource, time, in addition for a replenishable resource, money. That’s not a good trade to me.
I’ve told people this before and usually they at least pretend to support it, saying “Hey, good for you!” or whatever. Sometimes, though, I get this reaction of, “Oh, that’s so sad! You should love your job or quit it and get one you do love!” I don’t even know how to reply to that.
So yay me! Five years at my job! But you know, it’s just my job. It’s what I do to pay the bills. It’s not me, and it’s not my life.