Read Part 1 of this multipart series on the Myth of the Perfect Job.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.”
– Marilyn Monroe

So, I have established that I am burned out. I stated that a lot of other people feel the same. According to recent surveys, it appears my perception was correct. The Consumer Research Center of the Conference Board reported in 1987 that 61% of Americans were satisfied with their job. In 2009, that number dropped to 45%.  Last year, a report completed by Right Management showed that only 19% of Americans were satisfied with their job; 21% stated they were “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% stated they were “unsatisfied”. That means 65% of Americans are not happy with their job. I knew I was not alone, but it is encouraging to see some hard evidence to support it.

Of course, these are not very uplifting reports.

The question remains, why are so many people, myself included, unhappy with their job? I think there are multiple reasons for this. I know there are more reasons than I will discuss today, but here are a few explanations, in no particular order:

First – With the way that the government has been running, or not running, there are a lot of people that are losing faith in the system. Americans are realizing that debt is destroying not only individuals’ lives, but our country’s economy as well. They are starting to see, thank goodness, that this false dichotomy of the two party system is a ruse. It’s marketing. It is a means for politicians to keep their jobs, but it doesn’t change the course of our country’s financial mess. I talk to young people (late teens and early 20’s) on a frequent basis, and they tell me that they are planning on Social Security not being there for them when they are ready to retire. They don’t really see a way out of the system, but they don’t think the system will help them at all. Which leads to my next reason…

Second – People feel stuck. They have bought into the lie that having stuff will make you happy. They have bought into the lie of instant gratification. They have bought into the lie of debt. These same young people have the latest gadget, a car with lease payments more than their rent payments, and take trips each year that their grandparents used to save months to pay for, and they are funding this life with credit cards. On top of that, they still have to pay for food and utilities and gas and everything else. Older adults have all this and more. They are paying mortgages and property taxes, and maybe paying for their kids’ college tuition, and all the while working later in life than they ever expected to. Retirement is become less attainable every year. When people are just thankful they have a job to pay for all this stuff, they have no freedom to consider career options. This job, which they probably don’t like, allows them to fund a life which is suffocating them. This frustration is temporarily relieved by buying another new thing to distract them, which puts them deeper in debt, and this feeds the frustration when the distraction wears off or wears out, and then the cycle repeats itself growing bigger and bigger until something breaks. The break is often the decision to file bankruptcy. And, as it turns out, the average age of those filing bankruptcy has been steadily increasing over the last few decades, with those 55 years or older accounting for over 20% of cases now. This again, goes right back to my first reason above… when the younger generation sees the older generation filing bankruptcy, the younger generation loses even more faith in the system.

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Third – There is a growing realization that there are more important things in life than a job. This is actually a good thing. Of course, there has always been a segment of the population who knows there is more to life, but I don’t think it has been as widespread as it currently is now. I think the days of finding our identity in how we make money is slowly fading away. The problem is that people don’t know what to replace it with. We are missing something, but we don’t know what it is. It is hard to break out of a paradigm when we have no alternative. And so our eyes have been opened to see the world outside, but now we also see the chains that keep us in place.

Unfortunately, this “one of the most important things in our life is our job” mindset is deeply ingrained. We have been indoctrinated since childhood that our profession is what defines us as a person. How many times have we asked a child, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” As if that was the one most important thing that mattered in life… the choice of a job! On the surface, it seems like an innocent, fun question, but what kind of stress are we placing on our children? Our kids are not stupid. They see us leave for work and come home tired. They see that the job takes us away from them every day. They may not understand it, but they know that you have to work to earn money to pay for things in life. They are busy fighting dragons and sailing with pirates and racing cars or pretending to be a princess, and then we come along and ask them a question that WE can’t answer ourselves!  “When you grow up, when you have to stop playing and you need to pay for things, what do you want to spend the rest of your life doing that will make you happy?” I hated that question as a child. I always wanted to give the “right” answer, but I never knew what it was. I would say something, and watch for the response… a smile and affirmative nod? Good answer!  …a chuckle and slight shake of the head? Cute, but not realistic.

In addition, this mindset has almost no place for stay at home parents. What has been part of humanity since humans first set foot on Earth, that one or both parents would raise the children and be with them every day until they were adults, is now seen as… well, just not enough. For some, due in part to the reasons outlined above, both parents “have” to work. For others, the stay at home parent feels that they should be doing something more important with their lives, as if raising a child into adulthood was not the most sacred thing we could spend our time doing. If this offends some… well, I was going to say I am sorry, but I am not… so if this offends some, then maybe you need to reevaluate your life, but why in the world do you bring a child into this world if you have no desire to raise them? Are they just another gadget to you to relieve the frustration for a time? Are they another shiny thing to hang on your shelf or a bullet on your resume? We need to praise and honor those parents who are raising their children themselves instead of just paying someone else to do if for them. But, alas, I am getting a little off topic.

I don’t want to come across as claiming to have life all figured out, but I do know that my job is not what is going to define me. Of course, it is part of who I am. But I know, indeed, that there are more important things in life than a job, like my family and my health and my mental and spiritual well-being… and it is time I started acting like it.

“We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true. And if we offend gravely enough against what we know to be true, as by failing badly enough to deal affectionately and responsibly with our land and our neighbors, truth will retaliate with ugliness, poverty, and disease.”
– Wendell Berry


The Myth of the Perfect Job (Part 3).


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