I am in my mid-twenties, working part-time, and about to graduate college at last. I have been looking for work, thinking up projects, and writing... basically, trying a little bit of everything. I'm trying to "curate" my life (as sickeningly 2018 as that sounds), but my vision is blurry.
I want to live comfortably. In an expensive city like New York, that is a tall order. Comfortably to me means: being able to pay rent in a clean, safe, well-maintained apartment, not worry about where my next meal is coming from, and having enough money to buy a new pair of shoes or take a modest vacation every now and then.
However, I also hate 9-5, corporate life. I hate living for the weekends. I hate the idea of working to build someone else's dream, a dream I don't believe in. I don't want to have children, and see them only from 6-bedtime every day.
On the other hand, some of the people I know who do the traditional "9-5, go to work, go home, have a beer on Saturdays, repeat!" lives are truly happy. Some love their careers, and office life fulfills them. Some may not be happy because of their boring or stressful careers, but they are happy despite them.
We all want to be "happy"—whatever that means—but I think many of us (like myself) really just want to feel challenged, inspired, excited, and confident that what we are doing "matters." Are we helping people? Are we building something? Are we changing the world for the better? Are we innovating? Are we doing something old, something necessary, but doing it well? Are we building our wealth, of money or life experiences? We all want to say "yes" to these types of questions.
There is no one route to career and life satisfaction. But, especially in competitive and unforgiving environments like NYC, we end up spending a lot of time at work, and work defines how we live. Sadly, it defines how people treat us—often for the worse. Happily, it can provide us a community of peers and friends outside of our family or old friends, a group of like-minded people on a mission to achieve... something!
I, and many others, don't know what our "something" is exactly, or do not know how to reach our goals. As I continue my unfocused job search, when I go in for interviews or training sessions, I ask myself the following very general questions to see if I am wasting my time or not:
1) Can I see myself spending a good chunk of my time here for the forseable future? Am I immediately uneasy or uncomfortable here, beyond normal newbie jitters?
2) Does the work I would be doing, or that this company does in general, matter to me? Do I believe in what they stand for or the products they put into the world?
3) If I am not being paid "enough" initially, is there reason to believe that there is room for growth in the company? Or is the unsatisfactory pay worth it, to build connections, experience, et cetera?
4) If the pay is "good," is there any trade-off? Long hours, unpaid overtime, having to work holidays, a terrible commute?
These are good questions to start with, but you really don't know how a job will turn out until you're there. Thoughtfulness is good, but fear can also be detrimental. If something interests you, if you really need cash to live off of, go for that job that you're unsure about—life is about trial and error. Like dating, it takes face-to-face time (not always a lot of time, but still some time) to know what is right for you in whatever stage of life you're in. I have worked in so many fields, so many internships, little jobs, gigs, interviewed at many places, and I still do not know what I want to do. But, I am getting to know what I want my life to look like—hopefully comfortable, definitely creative, and a work-based identity that suits my values and my family life.
Think about what matters, then close your eyes and jump into the deep end. The important stuff will keep us afloat.
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