Yesterday Paula Pant posted a quote on Instagram:
Okay, let’s analyze this one for a minute.
I know that this could have easily been a throwaway quote designed to inspire people to find their dream jobs.
But this quote bothered me in a real and visceral way.
Let’s say you’re currently in a job you hate. According to this little pearl of wisdom, your life right now has no value. You are doing absolutely nothing of worth. There is nothing that you can glean from this job to help you with the rest of your life.
I call bull on that.
My Last Year in Santiago
When I lived in Chile, I worked for the Business School at a prominent university. My job was to write a proposal to get a European accreditation and help with MBA study tours.
I didn’t have enough work and I was bored out of my mind. Plus, I was ready to move back to the US and the months were dragging out in front of me (we had to stay until Mr. ThreeYear got his US visa and we didn’t know how long it would take).
Every day I would go in to my office (I had an office and a shared secretary, thank-you-very-much-I-was-very-fancy-back-then) and stare at the brick wall in front of my computer. I couldn’t muster the energy to stretch my 1-2 hours of work into the eight hours I had to fill each day. So I navel gazed a lot.
I picked out the color of my bridesmaid dresses. I networked with friends back in the US. Most importantly, I stared at the five subject areas an MBA covered, and thought about which area I wanted to work in: marketing.
Even though I was bored out of my skull for almost an entire year, and I was most decidedly NOT doing what I loved, I do not consider that year wasted time.
That year was a very important part of my formation as an adult. I practiced being bored, a skill that became invaluable a few years later (see below: Stay-at-Home-Momhood). I had tons of time to think, and make decisions about my future and what I wanted it to look like. I had time to make social connections. I learned that working alone really wasn’t my jam, that I needed the stimulation of other people to really be happy in a job.
Those were lessons. Not wasted time.
Fast forward three years. I’m living in Atlanta with Mr. ThreeYear, and I’ve just had Junior ThreeYear and resigned from my job as an account executive at an advertising agency. I am officially a SAHM.
Sorry, but that’s the truth.
I wanted, with everything inside of me, to stay at home with my baby. I loved him and I wanted to be there for him. But staying at home with him was soul-sucking. Again, it felt very alone. There were few adults around to hang out with, and I didn’t feel like I was getting anything accomplished. Hear me on this one, moms?
But a waste of time? Uh, no. It was only the most important job of my life. I was teaching my child to talk, to walk, to regulate his emotions. I was teaching him words in English and Spanish, introducing him to supermarkets and restaurants, taking him to friends’ houses, arranging playdates with other kids in the neighborhood.
Those seven-and-a-half years that I was a SAHM were looooong. They were hard. They were the hardest years of my life. I have vast swaths of time that I don’t remember, so bogged down in night feedings, preschool drop-offs, laundry, toy pick up, and diaper changes was I.
But wasted time? Those years were the opposite of wasted time.
Mr. ThreeYear had a job for about eight months that was absolutely terrible. He was ill-equipped for the work he was supposed to be doing, he knew he wasn’t living up to his boss’s expectations, and he was being asked to do increasingly demeaning activities.
He came home every day completely demoralized. He didn’t complain; I could just tell.
“Quit,” I’d tell him, day after day. “Just quit! We’ll be fine.”
“I’m not quitting before I have another job,” he told me. “I have a family to provide for and we need the money. I don’t care if it sucks. I’m going to keep doing it.”
And he did, until he got laid off (a huge blessing in disguise).
I don’t know if he’s found any life lessons among the rubble of those memories, but he has a different perspective about working that job.
He did it because his family needed the money.
While we radically changed our finances after that experience so that he now could quit if in that same scenario, I doubt he would this time around, either.
Growing up in a third world country taught Mr. ThreeYear to be comfortable with discomfort. He learned that he had to do a lot of things just because, so he made the best of it.
Life’s Not Supposed to Be Unicorns Pooping Glitter
Here’s another reason that quote got to me.
Life is not always fun. Work is not always fun. Sometimes, we have to work to pay the bills. Sure, it would be awesome if we could all have our dream jobs. But sometimes, you’re in a place in your life where you don’t get to follow your dream. Sometimes, you’re at a place where you need cold, hard cash and you need to wait tables to get it.
Sometimes, life and work are about doing hard things and learning lessons from them.
So your job sucks right now. Well, you’re learning what you don’t want to do in the future. Your very negative feelings for your job are teaching you something about yourself, if you’ll take the time to figure out what that is.
I learned that I should find work that gives me plenty of exposure to other people, preferably adults (hmm, maybe I should teach at the college level?!).
I learned that I need more tasks than the average person because I get bored easily.
I learned that some seasons of life are hard, but that I can get through them.
I learned that I can be patient when I’m covered in spit up and poop from the baby and my toddler has just spilt a gallon of milk on the floor downstairs.
Those hard jobs led me to where I am today, with no job.
LOL, just kidding. I’m technically back to being a SAHM, although with much-easier older elementary/early middle school kids.
But when I do get a job, I’ll know more about the type of job I should get to help me feel fulfilled and pay the bills.
And if my jobs ends up being really crappy, I’ll bank my pay, try to make the best of things, and take the lessons that come.
Nothing in life is forever, and discomfort is temporary. But it also helps us grow.
By all means, follow your passion. But you may have to take some difficult detours to get there in the meantime.