I went to grad-school partly because I wanted to do something I loved. I wanted to have a career, a vocation even, not just a job. I wanted to be fulfilled by the work I do not just exhausted and abused by it. Growing up in a working class family, I had tons of examples of people working jobs that they didn’t love and exhausting themselves by working those jobs. My dad once had a serious conversation with me on a long car drive, while I was in undergrad, the crux of which he very carefully and clearly articulated to me: “do what you love.” So, motivated by negative examples and by people who I love’s advice, I set out to do work that I love, hoping that goal would deliver me from the fraught relationship with work that my parents and so many other adults I knew had.
But in the world of higher education and of intellectual labor I’ve encountered some other fraught relationships with work. I want to be fulfilled by the work I’ve chosen to do, but I’ve found that that fulfillment is not easily divorced from exhaustion or even from abuse. Whereas everyone at home was working for the weekend, everyone here is just working.
There might be an occasional nod toward work-life balance, but for the most part those nods are made in passing and they really just mean: do one thing everyday that isn’t work. Ugh…I’m sorry, what? At the bare minimum, I have: a dog, a body that needs real food and exercise, friends in town, friends in far off places, family in far off places, an apartment that needs keeping, and an interest in occasionally regaining my sanity with live music and cocktails. Even when these separate outside-of-work entities intersect in productive ways there’s still more than one thing a day I need/want to do other than work. So, I guess that means I have to let my work suffer? Maybe. For now, I feel like I’m constantly calculating what the thing will be that will fall through the cracks today or this week or this month or this semester and how I can minimize the loss or somehow eventually make up for it.
3 thoughts on “Some First-Gen Thoughts about Work”
When I got a job–not a vocation, a job–after grad school, people said, “All work is work, and you’ll hate it.” I whole-heartedly disagreed then and I disagree now. I think we waste away entire lives yearning for weekends and retirements when every day should matter and build toward something other than a bank account and years toward retirement.
If something exhausts you, but it’s a productive exhaustion–like building things, or trying to lift faster and heavier–then you’re not wasting yourself.
Most (non-family) people I know hate what they do but make good money, so they think it’s the way. If all that you produce is money, that’s what you care most about. If you mostly produce thought bubbles and questions and self-reflection, that’s what you care about. 🙂
Nik, I’ve been diving into first-gen and working class concerns a lot more purposefully lately. Will definitely report back as the saga continues.
I feel lucky to do the work I’m doing and to love the work I’m doing, but there’s this part of me that’s conditioned to sequester work from happiness; basically, I have a fraught and in-flux relationship to work. I’m also acutely aware that the negative relationships to work that I grew up witnessing in the generation ahead of me directly influenced my ability to choose to do what I love. So, I think you’re right about the products of work and their connection to your investment in that work, but I wonder what other circumstances influence people’s selection (or something else) of a job, a career, or a vocation.
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