Is Your Job Your Passion?

For a long time, I have been trying to navigate a balance with my career. Not work/life balance, although that’s very important, especially for women (and I still struggle with that as well). I’m referring to the balance between doing your job and feeling passionate about your job.  I don’t imagine this struggle, or my journey, is altogether unique. Looking back, about ten years into said career, I’ve realized what I want out of my profession has completely changed.

I got to college as a slightly sheltered budding liberal 18-year-old who, within a few semesters of my psych- and creative writing-heavy course load, decided that I didn’t just want a job when I graduated. I wanted a purpose.

This conviction was only strengthened by a few pointless (but resume-building!) internships that illustrated just how menial most office work was; I was definitely that girl who thought to herself “Why am I making copies? I got an A on a 20-page paper about Oscar Wilde, goddammit.” My perfectly nice bosses or supervisors would let me sit in on meetings, hoping I would learn about how their company or industry worked. While I listened in and nodded politely, internally I was figuring out everything I could do to not end up with a job like that. (It’s also worth mentioning that the movie Office Space was reaching cult hit status on DVD at about this time.)

So, when college ended, I signed on to work at the headquarters of a medium-sized nonprofit organization. Small casual office, lots of young passionate people, a mission I truly cared about; this job was everything I wanted. What did I care that it paid almost nothing? What did I care that I was still just making copies and answering phones? What did I care that despite the meager pay and bottom-rung benefits I was still expected to stay late and, as the technology progressed, respond to my boss off-hours? We were making a difference.

While it may not be true of all NPOs, at this particular one, our mission permeated everything we did. If you made a mistake or failed to follow up on something, there was always the unspoken (and sometimes spoken!) judgment that you had hurt the cause. Meetings that started out with a practical intention frequently gave way to soaring rhetoric about What We Are Doing Here and How We Will Solve This. When the recession hit, donations plummeted, and they increased our hours and froze our pay. We were just going to have to give a little more.

Quite simply, it was exhausting. But every time I started to feel burnt out or fed up with it, little passion particles would kick in, and I would remember how much I cared about what we were doing. It would be enough to keep me there, to keep me in an office environment that was increasingly failing to meet my needs. It was like drinking another cup of coffee when you’re tired: it’s invigorating, it keeps you going for a little while, but it doesn’t solve the problem. And sometimes, when the buzz wears off, you’re even more tired than you were before.

In a bit of a Deus Ex Machina, the increasingly clear decision to leave that office was made by my husband’s sudden work transfer to a new city and our subsequent move. Then, as any of you who pay attention to the bylines around here may recall, I was hit with several months of unemployment. This gave me plenty of time to take a hard look at what I wanted out of my job. And it was during this time that I realized that’s all I wanted: a job. Mr. McDoogs and I have bills, we have credit card debt not unrelated to my previous crappy income and, tragically, we have savings goals (like “going on a vacation” or “buying a house” or “upgrading our several-year-old TV with the discolored blotches on the screen”). Also, I’m not 21 anymore. I don’t want to come home from work totally worn out.

I recently started a part time job at an office that I hope will bring me on full time. It’s really just that: an office. It’s not a company that is in opposition to something I believe in, but neither is it the passion factory that my old office was. The people who work there are nice, responsible, they get their job done, and they go home. The old me would have run screaming away from this place, but I think for this time in my life it might be just what I need. I have enough passion to deploy the rest of my life (including this here blog!) that I don’t need it from my job anymore.


One reply on “Is Your Job Your Passion?”

That feeling is partly why I decided to go to law school in my 30s. I had worked a series of office jobs, but I felt the same way you did (I went to college so that I could make copies??), and I wanted a CAREER, something where I was in charge, important, doing something that mattered. I haven’t graduated yet (one more semester!), so it remains to be seen whether I’ll feel like I’m doing “something that matters” once I’m practicing law. I hope so, otherwise I made an expensive mistake.

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