On this morning’s run I listened to two interesting podcasts. One was a Richard Fiedler conversation with historian Sheila Fitzpatrick. The second was a Life Matters segment about the dilemma of being stuck in a sensible but boring job. Clearly I related to both of these podcasts in a different way. In the shower afterwards, where I do all my good thinking, I mused about my reaction to the second. To be honest it was a 5 km run so I didn’t get past the opening where a question was posed and reacted to. But I generally have an annoyed response to these sort of discussions where people who have either paid off their mortgage or found someone who will pay them to do what they love enthuse to others about the benefits of their truly engaged and fulfilling lives. And encourage others to Make A Change! My perspective on this has crystallized further recently as I've reduced my working hours to spend more time with the kids and been actively focusing my out-of-work time on doing more of the things I love. Life sometimes does feel like a crazy juggle. So here are my thoughts on the subject.
I have a sensible job. It’s a decent job. I get paid well for what I do, and I think I’m pretty good at it. But I’m not passionate about it. I don’t love it, and if I’m not kept really busy there are times I will be bored and need to fight against my disengagement to keep being productive. But this does not mean it is a bad job, or a job not worth doing. I don’t believe that it is the equivalent of a Victorian workhouse treadmill where there are no outcomes except for my own exhaustion.
I work for an organisation which has an agenda and tries to make change happen in the community. It’s a government agency so of course I make a productive contribution to budgeted outputs and outcomes. But regardless of the what of the work, there is this simple fact: I earn an income. That’s what I do there. We could be baking pies or counting frogs or killing cows. It’s a job. A good honest exchange of my time, energy and skills for money. I’m not sure how precisely we have started to think about this economic reality as some kind of dishonest thievery of our precious time.
I think about my family history - there’s generations of hard working people who struggled every day to feed their families, to buy shoes for their kids and more than one pair of clothes. They were farmers, coal miners, and factory workers. My granny would find my office job an unbelievable luxury and my paycheck ridiculous. I look at the rest of the world and the staggering number of people who live below the subsistence line. In that context of poverty, degradation and disadvantage, sometimes happening within our own communities, the very modern notion that work must be self fulfilling or else it is a life half-lived seems self-indulgent. It’s a rich person’s conceit.
If you have a job you love, if you spend your days being paid for something you are also passionate about, that’s great for you. That doesn’t give you any moral right to project this as a universally desired value onto others, to imply or suggest that a those with jobs they don’t love are “selling out” or living less of a life.
In fact I could equally argue that mine is a life of perspective and balance. I value my own time so much more, and appreciate the sense of connectedness and peace and passion I can bring to the activities I choose to do outside my day job because I have had time away from them. It’s a compromise but I know it’s a compromise.
And having said that, it is now time to go out and play in the garden in the gorgeous spring sun and get that feeling of connectedness I get when I touch bare feet on green grass. I promise more updates soon!