What is your attitude towards work and how have you made it work for you?
July 9, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm a firm believer that being passionate about my career path and job is necessary for my personal happiness, and that's it's possible. I have definitely experienced having jobs I loved, or working on projects I am completely engaged and enthusiastic about, and this is when I am my best possible self.

The flip side is that I'm super unhappy and grumpy if I don't currently love my work. And even more frustrating for me is that I can start out loving a job, and then grow to hate it as the learning curve flattens out. I like to learn new things and feel mentally challenged, unfortunately I learn really quickly and am usually bored by 6 months into any new position. It gets tiring to always be looking for the next thing to be interested in, and I wonder if I should just stop chasing the career nirvana I want?

In talking to friends about unhappy times, I find that people really have two different attitudes about it. Some people are like me and belive in passionate fufilling workdays and say it's worth pursuing that goal, and some say things like: "it's called work for a reason" or "it's just a means to an end" My second category of friend usually tells me I will be happier if I just punch the clock and see my job as a way to support my life. (my job is awesome for all of the superficial reasons jobs can be awesome - so people also tell me it's ridiculous to compain about a job most people would kill for)

What is your story and how has it worked out for you?
posted by rainydayfilms to Work & Money (15 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a few years in a firm as a UX consultant, and found the constant turnover of projects and challenges to be intellectually stimulating and exciting. And I have a number of friends and ex-coworkers who will never consider going in-house for precisely this reason. They are never doing one thing for too long and are always encountering new problems, new technologies, new industries/domains, and evolving practices. That something new is just around the corners is what staves off boredom and complacency.
posted by kables at 10:17 AM on July 9, 2010

There are plenty of people willing to give up everything, and spend every ounce of their being to follow their passion. I am not one of these people. It would be nice if I had a passion for, say, healing the sick. There's a lot of clearly demarcated entrances into the field, of varying levels of difficulty. Not so much for a poorly disciplined person devoted to pop culture. So, I want to live a comfortable, middle-class life, and I want to deserve it.

In high school I could never figure what I wanted to do, because I always saw the jobs I was aware of as either menial or putting money in someone else's pocket. So, I decided that if I was going to work, it was going to be for the Good Guys. I was going to, even in the most minimal fashion, leave work every day knowing I've made something better and not someone richer. So, I plan to enter the city government bureaucracy. Yeah, I can't say it is something that will bolt me out of bed every day with the excitement of a kid on the first day of summer. But few things do. It will, however, let me get out of bed every morning knowing that when I finish off the day, the world will be an incrementally better place because of what I did. This isn't necessarily true, but my overall life will be devoted to the fact and even if what I will work on is against my view, I know that I'm in the system and that sometimes I will make a difference in the lives of the sick, the underprivileged, et. al.
posted by griphus at 10:28 AM on July 9, 2010

Work as little as possible, make as little as possible, require as little as possible, travel as much as possible. Relationships and Experiences over possessions. Every time.

The only work I'll do is working for myself, with my own business. It's the only work I have done in a very long while. I'm Mr. Happy to my friends.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:28 AM on July 9, 2010 [10 favorites]

What I thought was my dream career turned out to be a big disappointment to me. Like huge. I don't know if it's that I changed or what, but the path I've taken for the past three years --- it's clear it's a job and not a career, certainly not what I hoped I could do with my master's degree, and the realization broke my heart. I also sort of got stuck. I'm in the process of trying to get unstuck, but it sucks to feel like I'm blind in a cave and everyone else is having so much more success than me.

How do I cope with it? I think about how much down time I get, I think about what I want to do on the weekends, I get out and have fun after work. I also realize that there are tons of people not writing in to my alum magazine crowing about how wonderful their lives are and they're probably experiencing a similar rude awakening. This actually helps me. Most of my unhappiness comes from not knowing what happens next that's going to be different and I want things to be different five years from now.

I stash money away, I plan, I persevere, I use my vacation time, I want to make new friends, join clubs, look for newness elsewhere. I have a lot of self-improvement to do. There's newness and learning in that.
posted by anniecat at 10:29 AM on July 9, 2010

I'm a business analyst at a software company. My job, in itself, is probably not thrilling, and I wouldn't have thought I'd like it. I really do, and here's why:

1. I have fantastic coworkers and managers, both in terms of personality and skill.
2. From day to day, it's varied. I don't do the same thing all the time, but I do most things often enough to remember how to do them perfectly.
3. I'm given a lot of responsibility. (This has been both bad and good.)
4. I'm given a good deal of autonomy.
5. I get to travel.
6. My company pays and treats me very well.
7. I have both deep and broad knowledge - deep in a few key areas, broad through the entire application. I like having complete mastery of a subject.
8. There's a lot of room for growth and advancement, and I feel assured that I will be promoted if I feel ready for it. This has been true in the past.

That all said, I usually stop working when I leave work. I do enjoy my work, and derive a lot of pleasure from what I do, but my passions are outside of my career. It reminds me of that Harry Chapin song, Mr. Tanner - I'd rather not make my for-fun activities my career. That would kill how happy they make me.

But if you need to be passionate about your job, good for you. From your post, it doesn't sound like you can stop chasing the next best job - if you're not happy, you're not happy. It sounds like you'd be a great consultant.
posted by punchtothehead at 10:34 AM on July 9, 2010

Oh, and grumblebee's amazing comment about "passion" may help you out as well.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm more of a punching-the-clock type -- I like stability and having a feeling of confidence in my work more than I like taking on completely different things all the time. But that doesn't mean that I completely zone out at work either.

I believe there's a large grey area here that is worth exploring. Maybe you can try to maintain the sense of learning and discovery longer in your jobs, through the way you approach the work rather than the work itself. A sense of curiosity and desire to engage deeper helps with this, I find.

So even if the project itself doesn't light you on fire, even if you're making widgets, you can still be experiencing that sense of growth while doing it by asking questions ("How do other companies make these widgets?" "How exactly does this widget machine work?"), closely observing the people around you ("Martha is so good at putting the widget customer at ease when she uses that particular body language, I wonder if I could try that"), challenging yourself to do it better every time, doing research into the history of the widget you're making and why it's made like that, etc.

Obviously you shouldn't make a pest of yourself or waste time or constantly reinvent the wheel. But there's something to be said for recognizing that none of us are perfect at our jobs and there's always something we can learn from the people around us and from the complexity of the world we find ourselves in.
posted by EmilyFlew at 10:51 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this depends on your personality. I've discovered that I have a really hard time feeling happy about life in general if I'm not doing work that engages and satisfies me. I can't just punch a clock and focus on the rest of life - it wears me down and I can't enjoy my free time. If I'm doing work I love, on the other hand, it fills me with energy and I find that my free time mysteriously multiplies.

What I thought was my dream career turned out to be a big disappointment to me. Like huge.

A few years back I landed my dream job: a senior position on the team responsible for the most successful product in a field I'd spent fifteen years working on. I was excited, I couldn't wait, I was going to be working with people whose work I'd been following and learning from for my entire career.

The group turned out to be using the most godawful tedious development process I've ever waded through, and I ran smack into the worst personality conflict / coworker communication issue I've ever experienced; I spent my (long) work days grinding through pointless drudge work in an office full of people who didn't seem to like me. On paper, it had everything: lots of money, terrific benefits, brand-name prestige; but in practice, the commute was the best part of my day.

I stuck it out for fourteen months, because where else was I going to go? This was supposed to be the entire point of my career! This is what I had been working for all those years! And the economy was crashing, and everyone was getting laid off, so shouldn't I just be happy I had a job at all? But my life fell apart. I was miserable, I started developing health problems, I broke up with my fianceƩ, I started pissing off my friends, I felt worthless and incompetent. So I quit, and I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Thing is, while the job was hellish for me, it's easy to see how someone motivated by different things could have had a great time in exactly the same position. The friend who recommended me for the job had a very similar position in another team, and he's been happy and comfortable there for years. All around me there were people who simply didn't find the heavy process and repetitive maintenance work tedious - or, at least, who weren't emotionally bothered by having to do it. At the same time, clearly they were able to feel happy and fulfilled with less of the design work that is my primary motivation.

Different people need different things. You've articulated your needs pretty clearly: what motivates you in work is the challenge of learning. What motivates your second category of friends is clearly something different. That's great for them - but it has nothing to do with you. You need what you need, and your challenge is simply to figure that out and find a way to get it.

The job I'm working in now is an engineering consultancy; companies hire us to design products which they will then have some factory produce, and which they will then advertise and sell. We work on projects both large and small, and there's a constant stream of new stuff to learn. I haven't been here long, but so far I love it: most of what I'm doing is learning how things work and figuring out how to build stuff out of what I've learned. Mix in a friendly, collaborative social atmosphere, and this - despite having nothing to do with the career ambition I pursued for fifteen years - looks a lot more like my dream job than the last one did.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:02 AM on July 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Well, my experience was the flip side of anniecat's: I knew what I wanted to do, I left the job I didn't like to go back to school and get a degree allowing me what I wanted to do, and now I do that. It has good days and bad, and not EVERY day is one where I'm living my dream, but I can see the path heading in that direction. Also, money helps get through the tough times: for the times when my "dream job" turns out not to be all it's cracked up to be and seems like "just a job," I don't have to worry that I've sacrificed my ability to make a living on the altar of something that turned out not to be all it's cracked up to be.

Seconding Mars' point about consultancy: you jump in, learn a lot of new stuff very quickly, solve the problem, and then head off to the next problem before the current one gets too mundane and clock-punching.
posted by deanc at 12:48 PM on July 9, 2010

I've always figured that I spend 1/3 of 5 days a week at my job. I don't want to spend it doing something that I'm not interested in or find enjoyable.

The best way I have found to deal with this is to have multiple passions (luckily, that's how I've been since I was little...other people who have trouble finding their 'thing' might have a harder time with this.)

So I have one passion that lends itself well to a practical, stable career...and other passions that are less practical, but totally something I can pursue in my spare time when the urge hits.

I also think it's important, however, to maintain a good work-life separation, which can be hard to do when your work is an all-engrossing passion. But if you find yourself in this situation, be careful about doing extra work at home or putting in lots of overtime -- it can lead to burnout and disillusionment with your passion.

If you end up doing a job you're not omgpassionate! about, it should at least be low-stress and enjoyable. I have had jobs like this in the past, and it was still pretty fulfilling.
posted by Ouisch at 12:52 PM on July 9, 2010

Also: it doesn't so much matter if a job is one that "most people would kill for." What matters most is how it suits you. One of the best jobs I ever had was working at a deli for minimum wage, oddly enough. I wouldn't want to do it for the rest of my life, but it was a dramatic illustration of how little surface characteristics of a job description matter less than how the actual work (and the people you work with) suit your preferences and personality.
posted by Ouisch at 12:56 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that being "passionate" is really just believing that you will never grow bored of whatever you're doing. Even if you're not challenged by most of the work, as long as you think that maybe something really satisfying and interesting is going to show up soon, you'll feel satisfied. In fact, it's better that the promised Thing you desire so much should never arrive - if it did, you'd get bored very quickly. Once you achieve your dreams, there's nothing left to dream about.

In this sense, your desire is not like hunger, where you have the desire, and then the object that can satisfy and eliminate the desire. Really, your main desire is for desire itself, to always feel hungry for something, always have something to dream about so you can believe that the blissful moment of satisfaction is accessible and yet also just out of your grasp.

One thing that struck me was how you said that the learning curve always flattens out. Why? There is nothing that says you need to follow the curve, you could create your own learning curve. Why don't you do that? Because your desire depends on the desire of your managers and the company as a whole - what they want from you. In a way, they are dreaming for you, and your problem is really that they aren't dreaming enough, their dreams come to an end. The company's desire is more like hunger: it doesn't want to keep on being hungry, it wants to end the hunger. You and the function you perform are its food. So I think the solution is some variation on not defining your desire according to what the company wants from you - this could mean leaving to start your own company, or less radically, to start ignoring the limits of your job description.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

"It gets tiring to always be looking for the next thing to be interested in, and I wonder if I should just stop chasing the career nirvana I want?"

Litigation is a great job for someone who always likes to be learning something new. Last year at this time my husband was learning EVERYTHING THERE WAS TO KNOW about kidney surgery short of actually physically touching bodies for a medical malpractice case. Right now he's learning EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW about how money managers work (for a fraud lawsuit, sort-of -- it's complicated). Earlier this year there was a bunch of complex research on the "in-house" rules of the Mormon Church relating to a lawsuit about childcare and what "being a member" of the church means to other members of the church ...

There are jobs where learning deeply about a topic in a fairly short period is the core of the job. Consulting can be like this, where you move from company to company; litigation (as long as you have a sufficiently broad practice); some types of researchers; journalists; you still master the underlying skill (how to fix broken management, how to litigate, how to research, how to report, whatever), but the new clients & new topics helps fuel people like you who have a passion for learning and mastering new knowledge.

I feel your pain; I am able to work out much of my burning desire to learn new stuff through hobbies, but I still start to get itchy at work when I plateau. (Right now I'm at home with my son most of the time, and teaching part-time (and doing a couple of other things part time), which is pretty good, since with teaching at least the students change every semester even if I'm getting bored of the standard text and want a new one to master!)

So my advice is to either be like my husband, and find a job where you can but that burning urge for newness and mastering new information to work, or be like me and burn it off in your hobbies so you get itchy less-fast!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:36 PM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like all of your stories. And the suggestions for career paths, etc. are encouraging should I suck it up and take some action. It's so true that everyone is slightly different and it's hard to say what one's attitude "should" be. I'm fascinated by hearing what you all say about your own attitudes, thanks very much.

I like all of your answers, so I'm not marking a fav.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:29 PM on July 10, 2010

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