It may seem rather obvious that not all of us are completely in love with the working world. We refer to it, after all, as the “rat race”. And even despite this awareness that for most people work is just that – work – I still find myself caught off guard by the unrequited nature of this relationship. I was chatting with my sister the other day, having a cathartic venting session over the latest on-the-job gossip about our respective work places. I talked about how tired I feel at work lately, how I can’t get excited or motivated by it anymore, and she laughed.
“You’re not supposed to like it. That’s why it’s called work,” she said.
Okay, fair point. But I still feel duped. Work may be “work”, but it’s also got a great PR campaign behind it that cleverly makes us think of work as a way to define ourselves, and motivates us into going to an office for eight hours a day, five days a week (if we’re lucky). What motivates people to get out of bed, suffer through a sometimes lengthy commute, eat leftovers out of plastic containers, and persevere through office politics for four decades of our lives?
Back when I was working on my Master’s degree, I thought life was pretty dire. It was my sixth year of university, which meant my sixth year of student loan debt, and I was running out of things to say on my thesis topic. The motivation to pack my bags and head to a foreign country for work was mainly the product of desperation at that stage in my life. I had no money (thank-you, student loans!) and little to no hope of getting a job that had anything to do with English Literature. Why I didn’t go in for carpentry during my post-secondary years is still beyond me. For some reason, a degree in the Arts seemed like a sensible idea at the time.
When it was all said and done, I wasn’t terribly employable, I was drowning in debt, and I felt like I was slowly suffocating under the pressure. So running off to work as a teacher in some countryside town I couldn’t locate on a map sounded like a fabulous idea. I didn’t particularly love that job, but that didn’t factor in. I also hated the apartment I lived in with a vigor that I haven’t since felt for other living spaces. This was primarily due to the fact that there was no sink in the bathroom and the windows didn’t fully close, which meant mosquitoes in the summer and frozen walls in the winter. But that really didn’t matter because I so desperately wanted and needed a paycheck. That’s mainly what made me get up every morning and run in that rat race.
After I had been working for a few years and had managed to make a dent in my debt, money fell down a few notches on the priority list. Obviously I continued to need a paycheck, but I had achieved the luxury of saying “no” to jobs that were completely horrendous. At that point, adventure and excitement became the new number one priorities on the list, and I wanted more than anything to dash off to live in Western Europe. I gathered up my suitcases and savings, and went off to live the siesta dream.
That stage of my career resulted in me spending a lot of money to get further qualified to teach, and then to work a job that did not pay nearly enough to make back the losses I had incurred. But that was just fine at the time. I had the energy and the inclination to enjoy my weekends and mini-holidays to the fullest, even if it meant sleeping on friends’ couches and replacing dinner with drinks. As far as work went, I’d just come off a training course and was super excited about putting the things I had learned into practice with my classes. Even though I had trouble at work with sketchy paychecks and alcoholic management, I didn’t mind as much as I probably should have. I was running as fast as I could, dragging life along with me and having an absolute ball.
Now, at this point in my career, I feel ready to turn another corner. Money and adventure remain important, but neither are on top of the list any longer. Perhaps this is why I run out of steam these days with my work. There is nothing inherently wrong with my job – it’s a fine job, in fact. But I need more at this point to convince myself it’s worth the backlog of energy I devote to it. It isn’t worth the anxiety I feel over meeting the expectations of students or management. And while I rely on the paycheck, it isn’t enough to keep me where I am. While the job itself is fine, there are so many other things missing from my life that I need to keep me sane and moving forward. If the old labour slogan still holds, we should have “eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will.” In order to fill those eight hours with something enjoyable—be it your penchant for bicycling along the riverfront, your love for videogames, or an amateur photography seed taking root inside of you—you’re going to need money to fund those things.
For many people, the thing that pushes them to struggle through another work day is having kids to take care of and bills to pay. For those of us who don’t have children or a house, the motivations for work can be slightly less obvious. While money is not personally much of a motivator for me, I work because I need to pay for things. But beyond the basic needs of having a roof overhead and hot meals on the table, I’m not sure why I go to work some days. If you can just barely talk yourself into going to the office each day, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your priorities.
Or maybe I should just look up a carpentry course at the nearest learning annex.
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