Live to Work or Work to Live?

You have to love your job, right? Your job should fulfill you. That thing you do, that place you go, that place that gets eight, ten hours of your life every day in exchange for whatever you and your boss decided an hour of your life is worth… That should complete you, right, like Renée Zellweger completed Jerry McGuire?

I know, it’s a Recession, they’ll tell you. 12 million people in this country are out of work, some of them for a couple of years now. These people would love to have a job, any job. But over 143 million Americans do have a job and, according to Salary.com’s annual survey, 85% of them aren’t happy. In fact, over two-thirds of people with jobs are actively looking for other ones.

“Do you really have to love your job?” I asked my psychologist during a session, once. It was suppose to be rhetorical, sort of. I was quoting an Op Ed piece I read in the Times; I thought I was so smart. The column ran on a Labor Day weekend. The author put it out there that finding personal or spiritual fulfillment through employment is a modern notion. That up until about 40 or 50 years ago, the self-actualized 70s or 80s, maybe, the days of EST, all that feel good stuff… up until then, you just went to work. You got a job however you got it and you went there. You were damn lucky you could make a living doing whatever you fell into or your father fell into before you or however it worked out. Maybe your uncle got you a union card so you could climb down into a coalmine or build coffins or drive a garbage truck, whatever, and that was that. There was no “find my calling” angst. No quest for “inner fulfillment.” No need to “find yourself.” You kept your mouth shut and your nose to the grindstone. Suck it up, buttercup, fulfillment’s for sissies, it’s not part of the deal.

My therapist pretty much told me Op-Ed Guy was an idiot. And I was ridiculous for even bringing it up. Of course your job should fulfill you, she said! Otherwise, you’re wasting a lot of precious time.

sears astronautWhen I was a kid people always asked: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” They didn’t say, “What do you want to do?” “Where do you want to waste ten hours a day everyday, bitter and brooding?” They wanted to know what I wanted to be. My answer was: astronaut. Some kids said fireman. Whatever your answer, it was a fantasy profession, something you’d never actually do but would certainly find fulfilling. And, of course, there was a costume or an action figure for that fantasy job or what they called a “playset.” Cowboys or spies. You didn’t see a lot of tax accountant playsets. Or Systems Analyst action figures. (Girls back then got babies and kitchen toys so they could “play house.” That was closer to a dose of reality, at least in the 60s.)

So is this why most men end up becoming their job? Their job description fills in that empty part of them until their identity and their job merge, like Borg parts, and no one can tell where Brian ends and Insurance Actuary begins? Men’s jobs tell them who they are, tell them how to behave so they don’t have to think about it so much. It tells them what role they’re supposed to play. Butcher. Baker. Candlestick Manufacturing Consultant.

Maybe that’s what’s been wrong with me all along. I never became my job whatever that job happened to be at the time. I worked as a photographer. Limo driver. A Temp. A bartender in four different bars. I was on unemployment for 15 months. TV producer. Improv comic. Movie extra. And an ad guy. But in all that time, I was still just me inside.

Of course, the best part of my checkered résumé so far was that 15 months on unemployment after I was laid off and I stayed home with my kids— taking them to and from school, stopping to watch trains on our way to PB&Js for lunch.

If you had asked me then if what I did was fulfilling, I would’ve told you: “you had me at ‘hello.’”

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Filed under: Humor, Lifestyle

Tags: fulfillment, jobs, work

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