Is it possible to be happy in a low-level office job if you're working for a cause you’re passionately devoted to?
posted by désoeuvrée to Work & Money (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry for the hideous length; I honestly tried to edit this down as best I could.
I’m in the dissertation stage of a doctoral program for a degree I no longer particularly want, since I’ve realized academia is not for me and there are few, if any, uses for a PhD outside of academia in my field. Of course, ideally I’d like to finish anyway so I don't feel like I wasted the last six years with nothing to show for it. (I could get a “consolation" MA, but MAs in my field are a dime a dozen and it would be humiliating to emerge from six years in a rigorous doctoral program, ABD, with a flimsy two-year degree that any moron can get from the University of Phoenix. I'd almost rather leave with nothing.) I’m still plugging away for the time being, but the funding clock is ticking, I’m not at all invested in my dissertation project, and it feels like an impossible task. I’m growing more and more frustrated and depressed and I feel like I’m on the wrong track in life, pursuing a dead end.
With the encouragement of my sister and a close friend, I’ve started looking/applying for jobs in an advocacy field that I’m deeply passionate about and involved in as an activist on my own time (completely unrelated to my academic field). The idea of working for this cause excites me, and I think it could be the path to fulfillment that I had hoped to find through grad school. The jobs in question are mostly in writing, communications or development, which I think I could do well enough, although I’ve never been interested in this kind of work before (well, writing, I've always wanted to do; PR/communications and development, not so much). After college I worked for a few years as an online marketing assistant and an office manager, which I didn’t like, mainly because I didn’t like the people I worked for and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about selling people shit they didn’t need so my rich bosses could buy another vacation house.
Recently, though, I saw a job opening for an administrative assistant at a wonderful, important advocacy organization in the city I want to work in, and I’m thinking about applying for it, or one like it. From where I stand now, I feel like I could absolutely be happy and fulfilled even in such a rote, low-paying position because I'm so invested in the cause. I would be directly involved in the real, quantifiable work that this organization does, which I see as the most imperative work there is, and one of the few things I can conceive of devoting my life to (another being teaching, but I have many and serious reservations about that path). And I actually like the idea of a clearly-defined job that I never have to bring home or stress about too much. I've always said, only half-joking, that I would be quite happy as a career barista. I have problems with anxiety and I despise networking, self-promotion, office politics, ambiguous social interactions, etc.—I would never want to be a manager of other people, for instance. One draw of academia was the relative autonomy of the work. So in a weird way, an admin position seems MORE appealing than a higher-paying, more demanding communication or development position that requires a college degree. The money is a non-issue, as long as I can pay my rent—I’ve spent my entire adult life in poverty and I’m fine with that, if it means not being miserable at a job I hate. It’s a tradeoff I’m more than happy to make for the privilege of doing work that feels meaningful. I do have student loans but I plan to do income-based repayment. I don’t want kids and I don’t particularly want to own a house, and I’m not overly concerned with saving a ton of money for retirement because I don’t plan on living to be 80.
But I wonder if my thinking is clouded by my current desperation to get out of grad school and into this particular field. Is it ludicrous to want to leave a PhD program ABD for a job that only requires a high school diploma? Would I even have a shot, or would my resume go straight into the trash? If I do apply, should I leave my graduate work off my resume (probably not, since I'd need to account for the time)? What about accolades such as summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa? Would they work against me for a position like this?
TL;DR: I know you’re not me, but do you think it’s possible to be happy and fulfilled in a low-level job if it's for an organization you respect deeply and a cause that means everything to you? (I can’t overstate the importance of this cause to me—I’m like the people on Whale Wars who would die for the whales.) Any other guidance/insight/tough love also welcome! Thanks!