Work and life; or, you can’t have it all

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.

treated and releasedI 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.

5 Replies to “Work and life; or, you can’t have it all”

  1. Thanks for sharing the article. Kessler shows how time-consuming it is to be a so-called free agent, having to juggle a number of low-paid tasks. I can’t imagine anyone getting much job satisfaction out of that. And as she points out, the possible legal issues have yet to be explored. I was lucky that most of my career was spent in two large, multi-location educational institutions. I had so many opportunities, lots of job variety–all without having to change employers.

  2. I think it’s fair to say that you and I spent our careers in an economic bubble. In that sense we were exceptionally lucky. However, we weren’t trying to sustain careers as artists on the side. I don’t regret it, but I can’t deny that I missed my opportunity to develop as a creative writer—something that takes many years of practice.

    What the next twenty-five or thirty years will bring is anyone’s guess, but I’m willing to predict that labor unions will regain influence in the 2020s.

  3. My ‘bubble’ of job security didn’t come until after I experienced a national-wide dearth of academic jobs during a major economic downturn in the USA. I opted to retrain as a high school teacher, which suited me at the time, because I thought I had the chance to make a positive difference there. But as you point out, every choice means other choices are not taken up. Often it is only years later that we realise what our choice really meant in terms of opportunities and limitations.

  4. The situation repeats itself in academia in the U.S. now, and there might be more reliance on underpaid adjuncts. I’m not sure how much emigration factors in these days. It’s difficult to see the big picture now. It was nearly impossible when we were young. Don’t you think it’s interesting that you and I now spend time helping writers to be writers?

  5. I’ve been reading about the growth of ‘academic migrants’, who have zero chance of getting tenure. It’s a heartbreaker, not being able to work in a desired profession. I wonder how many turn to another profession, with better prospects, rather than hanging around the edges of a sector where they have little chance of work and advancement.
    Yes, writing has been the main thread running through my career, with a focus on providing writing opportunities and helping people become more knowledgeable and skilled communicators.

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