The Pursuit of Happiness
When John Lennon was a child, a teacher asked his class to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up. John handed in his assignment with one word – happy. He wanted to be happy when he grew up. The teacher said, “John, you don’t understand the question,” to which John replied, “You don’t understand life.”
Yes, this story is a tad clichéd, not to mention unverified, but the message cuts deep with many of us. Too often we confuse happiness with financial success, career progression with job satisfaction. These terms may not be mutually exclusive, but they’re not identical either. And our failure to recognize this leads to a dissonance between what we want from our careers, and what would actually make us happy.
From the moment we step into our first classroom, society throws the collective weight of its expectations on us; parents wanting us to be what they couldn’t, teachers filling our heads with fantasies of all we can accomplish if we just studied hard. We’re busy figuring out how long boogers take to harden, and they want us to figure out the rest of our lives.
Parts in a Machine
See, society is essentially a machine, and we the people, its parts. Old parts get replaced, and each part keeps doing its assigned job, until eventually it wears out and gets replaced too. The machine has no time or patience for its parts to be indecisive, to swap places with each other and try to figure out where they belong. Parts get assigned, moulded for their specific function, and put to work.
This is why society puts so much pressure on students, graduates, and young workers to find a job quickly and stick with it. “Fresh graduates” are valued over graduates who took a year or two off to travel or try different jobs. People who jump between jobs are losers with no direction in life. There is no time for training or gaining experience. You’re a part in a machine. You do what you were built for, and you’d bloody well better stay there.
The cruel irony of the matter is that we do this to ourselves. We create the society that pigeonholes us into jobs we hate, and forces us to settle and accept our errant career paths just to keep food on the proverbial table. We can’t have every unhappy worker quitting their jobs; society would crumble. Stubborn hard work and misplaced dedication benefit everyone except the worker himself.
So, no, we can’t all just quit our jobs willy nilly; the machine must keep running. But that doesn’t mean we can’t shuffle the parts a little.
Excuses, excuses, excuses
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone say, “I can’t quit my job, the job market is so bad right now.” Okay, you can put your hands down now.
It seems the job market is always bad for people unwilling to leave their professional comfort zone, so let’s call it what it is: an excuse. Switching jobs may not always be a walk in the park, but failing to at least try puts the blame for your miserable professional life squarely on your shoulders. Don’t blame the job market if you’re too chicken to even try it out.
There are some folks lucky enough to have landed in a job they love and would never want to quit. If that’s who you are, I’m sorry you wasted your time reading this. This is for those poor souls stuck in the perpetual limbo of job dissatisfaction, constantly weighing their desire for happiness against the need for that all-important Dollar.
Just Do It. Let It Go. Hakuna Matata. Insert Inspirational Catchphrase
If you want to quit your job, make like Nike and take steps to Just Do It. Search for options first. Sign up on a career site. Take your time, but make sure you’re doing all you can.
When you eventually find a job you think might be better, don’t hesitate to go for it. Stop comparing salaries with your peers; they’re too busy feeling insecure about their own salaries to care. Don’t worry about the pay cut; invest in your happiness, and your returns will be priceless.