Today my best friend was laid off from his tech writing job at a large company in Silicon Valley.
It's actually not as bad as it sounds. He was working under contract and had already been there a few months over his term, so he saw it coming. Plus his boss likes him and secretly warned him a month in advance that it would be happening.
I've recently spent some time with him on the phone, talking him through his current anxiety. Not about losing his job -- he's actually happy about that as it seems his work was the model for "Office Space" -- but that he really doesn't want to work for someone else anymore. He's single and in his 30s, so he's been in the workforce a while and has very little debts, but he's beginning to feel like there's got to be more to life then giving 40 hours of it every week to a job that really doesn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things, other than pay his rent.
Well he texted me yesterday with "I'm going to spend my unemployment checking out Mad Men!" Naturally I was excited, as I want him to become a devout follower, but something about the text made me pause...
Why did he refer to it as "spending his unemployment" doing something he's been looking forward to and has had time to do previously while employed? Then it dawned on me. Why do we measure our time in one of two ways: whether we're "employed" or "unemployed"? I love working hard just like the next person, but I like to think that there's more to my life than simply defining it by one of these two black and white statuses. Just because I was on salary not too long ago, for example, didn't mean I was any more content or fulfilled with anything. It just meant I whored myself out for The Man because it was socially expected.
Isn't there more to life than just one's career? Is this an American thing? Why don't other life categories, such as "happy", "depressed" or "healthy" hold as much clout as whether you're employed or unemployed?
When my friends and I talk about Europe, one of the things we love about many of the Western countries is that the people seem more at ease with their lives. They take the time to literally stop and smell the flowers, and aren't really measured by their jobs or careers. It's understood that there's more to them as human beings than what kind of car they drive, how big their house is or how much they earn every year.
I find this refreshing, and often wonder why can't it be more like that here? When I brought this up, my brother-in-law had a good explanation of why it can't: Maybe, he said, it's because most of Western Europe (like Italy) has already reached the heights of their societies ages ago, back when there were empires and renaissances. By comparison, the United States is relatively new and it's no secret that we're currently a force to be reckoned with on the world's stage. Our identities -- just like they were in the 1950s with white picket fences and finned Cadillacs parked in the driveway -- are more intertwined with our occupations and social standings.
Ok. I get it. Move over Roman Empire, the U.S. has stepped up to plate. It's our turn in history to shine. But in realizing that, we can still evaluate ourselves as individuals, and not just as Americans. So ...
Is your work just something you do, or is it who you are? Have you guys ever asked yourself this question? I suppose if you love what you do than of course your job is what you are, but many like my bff don't love what they do. Sure it's excellent money and blah blah blah, but we've all discussed to death the fact that money doesn't buy happiness. In his case, all he wants is time that belongs to him.
And maybe that's my bff's problem -- that even though he yearns to break free of the chains of 9-5, he's still subconsciously thinking about his life in terms of being "employed" or "unemployed", evidenced by his text yesterday. He's an awesome guy, and is defined by more than that to me. It's stunting his ability to truly figure out how to make "his kind" of employment work for him or take the time to find out what he loves to do, and not just go to work (again) for some giant global conglomerate, where he'll serve (again) as nothing but a cog in what Pink Floyd dubbed "the machine".
Which always brings me back to one of my key points: Figure out what you love to do, what you're passionate about, and don't settle. You won't be happy if you take that high-paying job just because the money is too good to pass up. There is more to your short life than being employed just for the sake of being employed.
This week in books 4/21/17
2 days ago