Lately I’ve sort of been kicking myself for not enjoying life more, or for working too hard, except that I actually like to work. Even during the years when I hated my toxic work environment enough to fax my résumé to the State Department in the vain hope I would be sent to help investigate the Rwandan genocide, I still enjoyed my work. I can lose myself and endless hours in the job.
I reached adulthood during a deep economic recession in the U.S., which might have been my good fortune, because I failed to notice that times were hard. I had no past affluence to compare to the present. My furniture made of crates, which were wooden back then, seemed cool, or at least perfectly acceptable. As the economy improved, so did my employment options and my home furnishings. Probably I assumed that upward mobility was a natural progression. I don’t recall worrying about it much, but maybe I was focused entirely on living day to day.
Today, many intelligent and talented young people seem frantic about their job prospects, particularly if their vocations can’t support them. On one hand, I empathize, because I remember how it feels to be stuck. On the other hand, I’m old-school enough to think work isn’t supposed to be easy or even fun. Everyone endeavors to find the ideal ratio of torture to wages. Sarah Kessler’s article “Pixel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in the Gig Economy” is a frank case in point of the current competitive job market for freelancers.
There’s no magical way to eliminate work/life tension. The best we can do is compromise—and carry on.