I was chatting with another old lady the other day and I was surprised to find out that work is “just a job” to her and that she works hard everyday not because she loves her work, but because she’s doing what she can to stay employed.
I think a lot of people end up in that state after racking up more than several years of working, probably even more so if they’ve stayed at the same company for all those years. (I may or may not be speaking from experience.)
When you’re young and just starting out, you’re excited about the prospect of things you could accomplish…you’re promised a lot, and people have faith in you because you’re young and fresh and excitable.
After a few years under your belt, you start learning that not everyone is young and fresh and excitable, and that many people actually just want to do whatever the business needs from them so they can get home and do what they really love. So instead of spending your time trying to convince people that something would be really cool to do and it will make a difference, you end up just doing whatever people ask, because it’s just less trouble.
You start to get really good at doing whatever people expect because it keeps things moving along, and at some point you wonder why you even bothered to try harder in the first place, because there are plenty of other cogs that slowly move together to keep the machine running. It’s not worth one cog to be bigger and more efficient, because the machine only works as hard as the least hardest working cog.
So by the time you’ve become a “seasoned” worker, you don’t have any reason to do things like push back against status quo or sit in long architectural debates with even more seasoned people, because you know you’ll lose anyway, and all of that stuff in the end doesn’t matter, since all you’re doing is collecting a paycheck from a place that doesn’t value your opinions or ideas, and is slowly starting to realize that you cost more money to them at your advanced age and salary level than two or three kids fresh out of college. Depressing.
So what can we as old ladies do about this, before our desks and laptops get soaked with drool?
Don’t forget where you came from. You were young and fresh once. You can get back there, just keep learning and keep your skills up-to-date. You have something that kids fresh out of college don’t have, and that’s experience. You know what’s worked, and you know some tips and tricks that can help others. Share your insights, even if you think people aren’t listening, because eventually people will. Don’t give up.
Find or start a network. There are people out there just like you. Some managed to get themselves past their midcareer slump, some are still struggling, some gave up. Listen to their stories and advice and you can learn what’s worked for people and what hasn’t. Maybe you can help others along their way also.
Love what you do, and if you don’t love it, don’t do it. I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi and it was such a beautiful documentary about sushi and one man’s passion for it. It’s rare that you end up in a job that you love, but if you do, don’t let it go. Life is too short to work at job that makes you unhappy. I know people might not have a choice to change jobs or careers, but it will probably be worth the struggle if it means longer and more potential happiness in the future. Somethings aren’t worth the pain, so if your cons outweigh your pros in the career you’re currently in, it’s never too late to change. There’s some good reading about this in this HBR article.
No, there’s nothing wrong with just feeling like your job is “just a job”, because that’s what it really is. But if you’re like me and have the bizarre expectation that you could be happier with your job, then don’t sit around and get unhappier, do something about it.