Okay. This may be a controversial opinion, but after my failed attempt to be a thriving, budding academic, I have started to think a lot about our modern-day work mantra that you should have a passion for your job. And my conclusion is: you really don’t have to.
Let me elaborate. The observant reader, or anyone who has spent a little bit of time with me, knows that I don’t usually settle. Whether it’s in my work, love life, or friendships: either I’m all in, or I’m out. I’ve made an art out of ‘following my dreams’ and all that jazz, but several jobs and relationships later I can tell you this: it doesn’t always work out.
Sure, having a passion for anything that takes up a big chunk of your life can be a good thing. It’s often what gets us into a certain place, and that’s commendable to a certain degree. But the moment you have arrived at your dream destination, there’s a good chance that things don’t stay as rosy and magical as you thought at first hand.
Staying committed to something is hard work. Ask anyone who’s been married for a long time, and they usually say that longterm relationships take a lot of work. You go through waves of not liking each other as much or maybe even tolerating each other’s existence at most, but if in the end you’re still a happy camper (and your partner gets to enjoy that side of you too) then things will probably be alright. The same goes for work and careers. It’s not always easy and often hard work (hence the word work). But unlike most relationships – which frankly, I don’t know an awful lot about, aside from having been part of a reasonable few over the years – there’s a thing that governs and informs most of our relationship with work. That thing is capitalism.
There, I said it. The big C-word. Heard of it? No? Run away while you still can.
All jokes aside, it is a fact that most of us alive on this planet in this day and age are, to varying degrees, affected by capitalism, especially when it comes to labour. This shouldn’t be big news to you. But the tricky thing about this, to me at least, is how many of our current-day dogmas appear to be innocent and empowering, but are in fact just another way to make us part of a system that runs on exploitation. Take mindfulness, for example. As much as I identify myself with the yogic lifestyle, I’ll be one of the first to admit that most of the Western ideas about mindfulness ultimately only serve the goals to a) consume more “mindful” products, such as expensive meditation courses, exotic retreats that no one earning a minimum wage could afford, or an all-inclusive juice detox package that promises to cleanse out all of your toxins; and b) promote the consumption of such products to make all of us more “productive” members of society.
This same logic applies to the idea that we all should turn our passions into our work. There are entire YouTube channels and online courses dedicated to this very idea – and of course, you can now learn how to make a living of something you love for the simple price of $500!!
It’s problematic to promote the idea that we should all be capitalising on something we love. And not just because selling that idea is a profitable industry in itself. I am more concerned with the fact that it perpetuates and intensifies the false notion that when you don’t have a passion for your job, you’re doing something wrong. That is simply not true.
Sorry to get all Marxist up in here, but in the end, whatever you do to pay the bills, you’re ultimately selling your labour. And as much as I love analysing things, reading exciting social and cultural theory, and writing about whatever the hell fascinates me, doing that for a living (or, not even, given that I was one of those crazy overeager people who thought doing an unpaid PhD was worth the hassle) nearly killed me. And it’s not just because in the end, I decided that dedicating myself to the ‘life of the mind’ wasn’t for me. It’s also because having to turn anything you love into sold labour is quite tough and alienating. Especially if it’s something that really matters to you.
If you’re earning your living wage with something that you’re absolutely passionate about ánd you live a happy, healthy and self-fulfilling life – good for you! It’s definitely not impossible to spend your life making a profession out of something you love, and if this is what you really want then I have absolutely no objections. I’m just saying that this idea that everyone’s talking about, that you should love what you do, well… you really don’t have to.
There’s a merit to having an okay job. Of course, if your job is destroying your soul and you feel exhausted and miserable all the time, please, get out, if possible. But if your job is even the slightest bit enjoyable, yet also really nothing more than that, then it’s totally okay to settle for that. In a way, it is quite a privilege to be able to stick to your designated work hours – whether it’s 9 to 5 all week long, or flexible hours throughout the month – and to go home and enjoy the rest of your life – if that’s in the cards for you, of course.
Work is not your life. Destroy the idea that it should be. If you have the luxury of not having to work three jobs just to get by and you’re in a position where you get paid for something that is just okay, you have every reason to feel grateful. If you have enough time and energy outside of your work hours, you can spend that time on your passion: whether it’s reading all the classic novels, attending to your balcony garden, or becoming an expert in identifying birds. Whatever it is that nurtures your soul, feel free to keep this passion for yourself, without depending on any financial compensation in return. Doing things just for you is liberating. It can be a radical act.
I know that settling for an okay job is a privileged thing. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to do even just that. But my point is that if you have a choice, you don’t have to listen to anyone that says you’re a failure if you don’t live up to your full potential, or any bullshit like that. There’s already enough shaming on social media as is.
And yes, I know that even with a mediocre job, you’re still selling your labour. I quit my PhD, what do you expect? I don’t have the answers, Sway.
But still. It’s okay to have a mediocre job. Let’s celebrate this. And keep whatever truly makes us happy for ourselves.