A friend and I were discussing the other day how we’re not particularly ambitious. We don’t want to be at the forefront of our careers. We don’t want to be in positions of great responsibility. We want to be worker bees, respected for executing tasks week and compensated accordingly. In my case, I like being second-in-command, consulted but not necessarily the person-in-charge. Occasionally I like been given a project to head/work on, but generally something that I can work on myself creatively, not something that requires coordination with 500 people.
There was a time when I wanted to be a career achiever, but now I just want to do things that interest me, and these may not be things that compensate well monetarily or be particularly prestigious. Moreover, I want to hang out with my kids and that doesn’t correlate well with long hours.
In terms of a job, I like stability, low stress and fixed working hours. That’s the reason my current job has suited me, despite not being particularly glamorous. I sometimes miss the prestige of my previous jobs but I don’t miss the stress, and while I have finessed the art of making the right corporate noises, I don’t think I’d cherish the extra hassle that comes with a management role. Unfortunately, in the corporate sector, the idea that someone might not want to be a leader is anathema and it’s better to keep this dirty secret to oneself. Treading water in the corporate sector is a fine art that needs to be practiced clandestinely lest one is outed as less than leaning in.
After the conversation with my friend, I realised I’m surrounded by such people. She joked that there must have been something in the water at our school because of how we turned out. But there are plenty of people in our school who are aggressive in their careers (I think, going by Facebook). Just that I’m not particularly close to any of them. Even in college, I could never get close to the Type-A people and the go-getters despite being peripherally associated with them in a number of ways. Normally these people take themselves and everything they do quite seriously while I have a hard time keeping a straight face around busyness and self-importance.
A job like my current one is hard to come by (which makes it kind of idiotic for me to be throwing if away for postgraduate studies but let’s not dwell on that). I’ve had stressful periods in my past jobs – these are always made worse if you have a toxic manager – and I’ve kept at them while I’ve needed to, but I was never able to stick it out long-term. If I job looked like it was going to be high-stress or the kind that cuts into my downtime indefinitely, I would look to make a switch. I think the husband is the same.
However, I look around me and see people working long hours in unhappy environments (it’s possible to work long hours and love it because you’re passionate about what you’re working on), constantly fatigued by the demands of their jobs and I wonder why and how they do it. I know there are only a fortunate few who can afford to change but I think many people with our social and educational background can do it if they allowed themselves to consider stepping out of the career path they committed to. Sometimes this involves taking a pay-cut or a pay break, but the pay-off in terms of peace of mind and time to breathe can be worth the lifestyle cuts. Normally, these people say “it’s not that bad” and “it could be worse” which I understand is a very real concern, but from where I’m standing it looks pretty bad. I also think that many people in our generation are imprisoned by the idea of being successful, of living up to their qualifications and of not being able to face that they may not have what it takes to excel at the chosen path without working themselves into the ground.
Jobs aren’t the only sources of stress. Right now, one of the biggest stressors of recent times in my life, my marriage, seems to be sorting itself out (touch wood). And the difference it makes to my quality of life is amazing.
I realise I’m very fortunate to have a fairly sorted life. I don’t have financial worries. I have great household help so things run smoothly at that end. My kids are fairly peaceful and I have help with them. My loved ones are mostly doing okay.
But when stressful situations arise, I can’t live with them for very long. This is probably a failing, but I seek to do something about it. Apparently, one has to work on oneself to manage the stress better, but I’ve found that that can only be a coping mechanism and changing or removing oneself from the stressful situation if possible has better results. You lose some but constantly tense shoulders and a churning stomach are just not worth it, no matter how much deep breathing you do in the meantime.
1) This post
2) This article by Zosia Mamet (though I disagree that feminism is to blame for pushing the money-and-power path).