should your work be fulfilling? sometimes no, but ultimately yes.

Andrei Marks · July 26, 2010

Brown Diamond Camera on CampusI came across this blog post yesterday, and it certainly got me thinking. It’s titled “Post College: Realizing they were talking about you…” Here’s the tl;dr version.

  • College student dreams of becoming a movie director or some kind of video editor.
  • College grad has trouble finding a job, and when he does take jobs, they're not in his dream field. When he gets a job offer in his dream field, albeit in a menial, entry level position with worse pay, he gets angry at that offer because was "beneath" him (the article doesn't clearly say if he took it and then left it, or rejected it outright).
  • College grad now works in telephone technical support, and as he describes it, "it's been almost 7 years since [he's] edited anything substantial. [His] demo reel is moldy, [his] skill-set is ambiguous -- and [he'll] be 31 this year."
  • College grad has an epiphany, and blogs about it:
In hindsight, I can’t remember ever accomplishing anything really HARD that I didn’t already love to do before I started. Most of my successes have been in things that I was really already naturally good at and didn’t have to try very hard to finish. At some point I got it in my head then , since that was the case, work wasn’t supposed to be difficult. Which is why the last seven years have been such a mystery to me. Like many in our media saturated culture, when I was young I adopted the notion that we all had a calling. That was the career that took advantage of whatever you were naturally good at. Success in life then was simply going to be a matter of finding that calling and sliding right in behind it’s desk. If things were too hard then you just weren’t doing it right. Since I hadn’t found “it” yet, I picked jobs that were less money but also less work and responsibility. That was preferable to having to bust my ass at something that wasn’t “fulfilling” (the word tastes a little acidic now.) When things have gotten tough I’ve bitched and cried and switched jobs. In my present position I have told friends before that a monkey could do my job, and yet sometimes I do my job poorly because I “just don’t wanna.” The inherent implications of this make me cringe. “This isn’t really what I’m doing, this is just what I’m doing until my ship comes in.” Even now considering this, my propensity to just complain and resist difficulty is already kicking in. The realization that you’re an alcoholic doesn’t make the urge to drink go away. I guess what I’m saying is it occurs to me today that I never learned how to be a hard worker. I had quite a number of dreams and aspirations, but was totally unwilling to suffer for them. Now that the thought occurs to me, I’m not sure where to start.

Before I start on this, I just want to thank this guy for taking the time to write about his soul-searching and put it out there. It’s given me a lot to think about and I think many others will appreciate it. I also respect him for deciding that he needs to move on out of his old mindset and figure out what to do next.

But...

That being said, when I first read this,  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the post rubbed me the wrong way. Now, I realize that it was because the targets of his blame-fest don’t really seem to be the source of his problems. He blames the media (i.e. popular culture and contemporary American society) for pushing the idea of a “calling,” and then he blames the idea of a “calling” for causing him to settle for nothing less than rapturous career fulfillment. But while that seems plausible enough, it doesn’t quite jive with his story.

First, he defines a calling as a career that has you doing what you’re good at. If you find a job that you’re good at, then you’re automatically successful.  Okay, so his calling was videography; if he would just do something involving videography, then he would be automatically successful.

One problem: according to his story he never actually took a job that involved his aspirations. At what point did he feel unfulfilled while working in a job related to videography? It seems like there was no such point, because he turned down the one job that was remotely related to his aspirations and one would expect that he would find the other ones unfulfilling anyway.

He didn’t give up on his dreams because he was working in his dream field and found it hard, he gave up on his dreams because he had the unrealistic expectation that his dream would simply come to him.

Maybe he meant it was hard work just finding a job that would be fulfilling? But what does that have to do with his criticisms of callings and fulfilling work? Again, there’s a vast difference between quitting because something is hard work, and quitting because something didn’t fall into your lap.

For instance, he links to a Cracked.com article criticizing the “training montages” trope in movies because they create the impression that “hard work isn’t really that hard.” (Amusing article, by the way.)  But even in the montages, the characters actually go out and try things out. The Karate Kid learns from Mr. Miyagi, Rocky’s pounding away in the gym, et cetera, et cetera. They didn’t wait for their victories before training.

Why do I care?

Well first, I feel for the guy. Realizing shit like that sucks.

Second, I don’t think that the blanket mocking of the ideas that people have callings and that people should find work that fulfills them is the proper sentiment to throw out there. Granted, sometimes people have unrealistic estimates of their own ability, and granted, sometimes people will be good at things they can’t possibly make a living off of, but that doesn’t mean they should settle for grinding away at any shitty job that comes their way.

That’s not to say there aren’t situations where you shouldn’t take jobs like that. If you have no choice, then so be it. But if it’s unfulfilling, then don’t blindly go through the motions just because you bought into the bullshit zombie notion that “any work is a privilege.” Is the “system” some sort of feudal overlord handing out scraps? That attitude’s just indicative of a lack of imagination.

If you have to do a shitty job, you do it for as long as you have to. Sometimes that will be as long as it takes to save up whatever resources you need to overcome real world obstacles. And sometimes it will be as long as it takes for you to clear your head. If you can’t do hard work at anything, then yes, that’s a problem. But once you figure out that life requires hard work that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your calling and the search for fulfillment.

Third, I have related entitlement issues, though I think I draw different conclusions about them. But that’s another post.

So to address the question in the title: Should your work be fulfilling? Sometimes it won’t be, but that should only be until you find new work that is. If you don’t, then in the end, what’s the fucking point?

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