October 27, 2019

It’s A Job

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” the adults would ask.

“A teacher!”

I was five years old. My dad was the principal at Prince Street School in Charlottetown. Of course, I wanted to be a teacher. Eighteen years later, I was. My teaching career didn’t last long, though. There were a few reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that I didn’t like the work.

We adults like asking children what they want to be when they grow up. However, it’s not a fair question because first, they’re likely too young to know, and second, it sends a message that how people earn a living is central to their identity. Even when I’m meeting someone for the first time, I often catch myself asking, “What do you do?” as though how a person earns a living is his or her only defining attribute.

Cute story: Over a year ago, Raymond and I joined my parents, siblings, and their partners at the Lucy Maud Dining Room (Culinary Institute of Canada) to celebrate my father’s eightieth birthday. At one point in the evening, a man stopped at the table to say hello to my parents because he knew both of them well.

As my father was introducing all of us, the man blurted, in a voice that resonated across the dining room, “Which one’s the doctor?” My oldest brother (the doctor) turned white while I snorted. Then I looked at him and said, “Well, I guess we know which of us counts.”

It’s no wonder that we often take our jobs too seriously and give them some sort of celebrity status. It’s because society conditions us to believe our jobs define who we are. But I’m saying, “Bullshit.”

I’m fortunate. I have a job that pays well, has excellent benefits, and offers a generous pension plan. It’s about as secure as any job can be. That said, do I love my job? Absolutely not. Depending on the day, I like it to varying degrees, but in general, I like the people I work with more than I like the job itself.

Does this mean I’m a slacker? Quite the contrary. Not that long ago, I got so caught up in my job that I burned out. The experience proved to be a good lesson. I no longer take my job as seriously, and I’ve set boundaries around the time I spend doing it.

Now if you have zero sense of job satisfaction, it’s likely time to find a new job, go back to school to improve your options, or branch out on your own. After all, most of us have to work a significant portion of the week to pay the bills so it’s best not to be miserable.

Still, if you look to your job as a primary source of inspiration and fulfillment, you may end up disappointed.

I’ve been working for many years, and during that time, I’ve learned some things that help me keep my job in perspective.

My job doesn’t define my personal worth. I work so that I can support myself and even pay for things I enjoy like having a facial, enrolling in a one-year writing program, and going on a writing retreat in Greece. In my case, my job is something I do. It’s not who I am, and how I earn a pay cheque doesn’t define me.

My job isn’t as important as I might like to think. Most jobs aren’t. I also know that if I die tomorrow, someone will take over my work within a day or so. This bit of cold, hard reality keeps me humble and helps me maintain a healthy perspective when I spend my days in meetings while the emails pile up.

My job shouldn’t throw my life out of balance. When I was spending too much time at my job, I was tired, irritable and ultimately, not any more effective or efficient. I burned out, and that certainly wasn’t helpful.

This experience taught me that I can’t do everything and that I need to balance work with outside pursuits like maintaining my home, exercising, and engaging in activities I enjoy. My job doesn’t need to take up all of my head space. I now shut my work phone off at 5:00 p.m., and I don’t look at it on the weekends. The result? I have time to myself, I’m not bitter and twisted, and I’m more efficient and engaged when I am working.

I will retire in eight years. I’m already planning for retirement and working on other things  to prepare for the time that I no longer spend Monday to Friday in the office. In the meantime, I continue to give my job no more or no less attention than it deserves. The biggest payoff? I’m happier and more balanced, and who can argue with that?