“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“You can be anything you want to be.”
We’ve all heard those phrases, or some variation of them. Teachers, career coaches and parents say these things with the best of intentions.
On the face of it, it’s a noble thing to aim for – a life where you follow your dreams and get paid to do what you love. Who wouldn’t want that?
When I graduated five years ago I was determined to make a living from writing. That’s what I loved doing and if I didn’t get there I would’ve been devastated.
I worked my way from trainee reporter on a local weekly paper to senior on a city evening title, before moving to a bigger regional daily.
The longest time I’ve stayed anywhere is two years – in my current job. I’m already sniffing around for the next thing.
It’s not that I’m flighty or uncommitted, or not doing well at these jobs. It’s just that I have this constant anxiety over what I could be missing out on. Maybe there’s another job out there that I’d enjoy more. Or one in another city that would be more fun to live in. Or maybe I could swap the 9-5 for location-independent work and move to some far-flung place.
This is made worse by constant comparisons with my peers. So-and-so is writing for a national, or living in London, or giving up their day job to make a business out of (insert adventurous hobby). Seeing their updates on social media makes me feel like everyone else is doing better than me at this following-your-dreams business.
The thing is, I don’t even know what my “dream” is anymore. I just wanted to write, and now I’m doing that. Sometimes it’s great, other times it’s a drag.
What I’ve come to realise is that my generation has idealised careers, especially those in the creative industries.
Jobs are no longer just something you do to put food on the table – they define who we are as people. If you don’t have your “dream career” then you’re not doing it right. Internet forums are full of people in their 20s despairing over their less-than-fulfilling (but perfectly decent) jobs and feeling like failures.
This is, of course, ridiculous. Very few people are lucky enough to truly love what they do – and even their jobs aren’t always perfect. The reality is that most work is hard, stressful and at times frustrating or boring. But someone needs to do it, and there’s satisfaction to be had from doing it well.
It’s also important to remember that we are not our jobs. Our families, friends and hobbies are just as vital to our identity as the work we do.
Perhaps rather than “do what you love”, a better piece of career advice would be “pick a job you can tolerate that pays decently and has reasonable working hours”. That way you can have the time and money to do what you truly love in your spare time. Then again, that isn’t quite so catchy and won’t sell aspirational self-help books.
The good news is that we have more choices than any generation before us. Technology and globalisation have made it easier than ever to branch out beyond our home countries and pursue unconventional careers. If you want to move to Bali and launch an online start-up, you can do that – and fair play to you. But staying in your home town to be a retail supervisor is just as valid.
I can’t promise I’ll ever stop job-hopping. In a world of uncertainty, where the job-for-life is no longer a thing, it’s necessary. But I’m going to try to enjoy the present more, rather than always thinking “I’ll be happy when….”.