After many years I have finally got my “dream” job – it’s perfect for me, the work is meaningful and genuinely interesting. However, a new problem has reared its head that I was not expecting – while I love my job, I resent having to work at all. I have become irrationally angry at the amount of time work takes up, that its schedule dictates most of my days, decisions on where I can live, that I have to request days off.
What I do is important to me, but I cannot fathom that this is what my life will be for maybe the next 40 years – wearing dress code-appropriate clothing, wolfing down sandwiches in my 30-minute lunch break, then puttering back to my home to get a good eight hours so I can do it all again. The dream job did not exactly come with a dream salary, so shorter hours are out of the question, and I honestly don’t think that would solve the underlying issue. While I wait for automation to take away the need for humans to work at all, any advice?
First, let me warn you that many people who hear this may bristle and start telling you about the noble value of a job. “It’s character building; you should be grateful you even have one.” Don’t listen.
While it’s true that some people find meaning in their career or use it to forge an identity they’re proud of, the fact that’s true for them doesn’t mean it should be for you. You’re not deviant for feeling this way – I’ve said elsewhere that the idea that work has moral value unto itself is a myth we pay for with the one resource we can never replenish: our time.
But that doesn’t soften the brute reality that we have to get money somehow. I think a lot of the resentment we can feel at work comes from knowing quite how brute that reality is: it’s not just that the tasks grate, whether we’re sending emails or stacking shelves. It’s the feeling that there’s no choice about it. That can make us feel hollowed of agency, conveyor-belted into a life we don’t recognise – you capture it when you talk about wolfing meals, dressing for others, constantly needing permission. No one likes to feel they’re not the author of their own life.
The task in front of you, I think, is to restore a sense of agency.
Start with the parts of life that aren’t work. It’s perilously easy to commute home, mush-brained and worn through, and collapse into screens until bedtime. Try very hard not to do that. Find whatever it is that restores your energy and identity after work and insist on doing it. Cycle home; dance to loud music when you get there; join a community group that will expect you at a certain time; put cold pickles on your eyes if you need to – anything that will wash the work torpor off you so can insist your leisure time will be spent on your joys and projects, not just the absence of work. The more you can populate life with things you recognise as yours, the less it will feel like work is swallowing you whole.
Then think about work itself. What can you do that will make your relationship to your job feel more deliberate, more inhabited? Is it being a workplace organiser for something you care about; resolving you don’t answer emails after a certain time? Is it making a passion project of the history of work, so time spent at work feels like field notes rather than drudgery? You could even sit down and work out exactly how much money you need to live the life you want, and ask whether this job is the best way to make that money. You can answer either way, as long as you answer – as long as it feels like a decision.
You aren’t alone in feeling this way. But the world does constrain our choices – every day we have to make decisions about what we’ll sacrifice in exchange for something else. The key to not letting that fact erode you is being able to recognise yourself in what is decided.
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