“Unemployed at last!” is the immortal first line from the classic Australian novel Such Is Life, and like all good first lines, it lends itself to being shouted wildly at the top of your lungs as you charge out of the (literal/metaphorical) revolving doors of your hated workplace for the last time, reports and paperwork billowing up around you as you release them to the will of the wind. Hopefully there will also be some work colleagues watching you, wistfully or aghast, faces pressed to the (dirty, basement) window.
At least, this is the resignation scenario I have played out in my dreams. I’ve actually always enjoyed my job, which is the only fly in the ointment when it comes to dramatic career exits – this kind of behaviour really is the preserve of the downtrodden corporate slave, rising like a phoenix from the pile of shredded legal documents they were supposed to archive, ready to launch into a new career in online organic juicing.
The thing is, part of the reason why this dream holds such allure is that for many of us, our perspective on careers is radically different from the one we imagined when we were at university. If you’re anything like me, your early thoughts on career varied wildly between the perceived grit and glamour of policewoman/investigative journalist/lawyer (human rights, obvs) and something creative yet unassuming like, oh, senior stylist at Vogue with my own globally successful fashion line and a celebrity friend or two – you know, the usual.
In my head, my job was always glamourous, always well-paid, and NEVER involved filing, stapling, tax returns, or spending 20 minutes every week trying to sort and filter data from tabbed spreadsheets (please, please, why?! And where does the other data go once you’ve filtered it? WHERE?!).
But somewhere along my extremely varied career path, as I stand facing my 31st year square in the eye, I know that my priorities have changed. And it seems that’s the case for many of my peers as well.
According to Fortune, people in their 20s and 30s are far more likely to seek a career that gives them a sense of purpose and fulfilment, rather than chasing the dollar. As our generational spokeswoman (Jessie J) once sang: “It ain’t about the (uh) cha-ching cha-ching.” No, forget about the price tag. We want to MAKE THE WORLD DANCE. We do. And the thing is, why not?
But what if it doesn’t end up like that? What if our efforts to make the global population do the two-step end up in a disastrous polka, or worse still, they stay standing at the sidelines?
This metaphor probably reached its natural limit some time ago, so I’ll just get to the point: you’ve decided that you don’t want to pursue a career unless it offers you meaning and purpose. That’s great. But what if we’re still missing the point? What if we’re not all meant to save the world after all?
Now, before you get me excommunicated, I want to say clearly that my faith gives my life purpose and meaning, and whatever I do, I want to stay connected to that. And I believe that my faith is capable of transforming and renewing this world and seeing God’s kingdom come. But I don’t think that’s about my job; that’s about my life. My job might explicitly be part of that (and actually, it is), but it could equally be something seemingly unrelated, and that’s ok.
The point is, our measures of success, whether it be a ‘purposeful’ job or a ‘meaningful’ career, can become as narrow-minded and limiting as we have found the pursuit of success or wealth to be. It’s still a way for us to categorise certain professions into a toxic hierarchy, often to shore up a low sense of self-worth.
I will leave you with some final wisdom from Bill Watterson, the creator of the Calvin & Hobbes comics, which makes exactly my point (check out a cartoon version here): your job, no matter how meaningful and fulfilling, is never the sole measure of your worth. Isn’t that kind of a relief?