Recently, my friend Frankie sent me a link to this article, urging cubicle monkeys to quit their jobs and strike out on their own, which I read with great interest, because the topic of work is endlessly fascinating to me. At the end of last year, I completed a poetry chapbook entirely devoted to the theme of work—what it is and is not, the meaning we assign to it culturally and personally, how what we are taught about work when we're young affects how we approach it as adults, and so on. I love the subject of work, although I don’t always love working, as evidenced by the fact that I have had many, many jobs, from the professional kind to the paper-visor–wearing kind. Here is a partial list (not in chronological order, because I don’t think like that):
- Massage Therapist/Mind-Body Counselor
- Day Spa Manager
- Manager of Volunteers
- Mental Health Outreach Worker
- Accounting Assistant
- HR Associate
- Props Department Manager
- Freelance Writer
- Chicken deep-fryer at a gas station deli
- Sandwich maker at an "artisan" deli
- Pizza Server
- Retail Clerk at a wedding gown shop. (I was fired for being chronically confused about the proper names for different styles of sleeves. This was important, because the dresses were all arranged by sleeve type--a perfectly logical way to group wedding gowns.)
- Assistant manager at Claire's Boutique
- Assembly line drone at a "krab" seafood factory
- Photographer for a mall portrait studio
- Shoe saleslady. (For some reason, I was really good at selling shoes, and in fact, I kind of enjoyed it. Go figure.)
So, I’ve been around in my forty-three years, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about work its…its….sorry, I’ve got nothing. All that comes to mind right now is that line from Mary Oliver’s poem, Dogfish:
And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,
they can do it.
The problem is, I have always dreamed of finding fulfillment through work. I have always imagined some great, shining Career, glowing like a beacon on the horizon—the job that will allow me to self-actualize, that will be in perfect synchronicity with my skills and talents, and indeed, my deepest soul-self. The one the will pulse in vibratory harmony with my biorhythms, and that will enrich my being in every way. I’ve spent my life convinced it’s out there, despite ample evidence to contrary.
So, here I am, a jumbled path of false starts and off-trail adventures at my feet. And I’m making peace with it, because in spite of my constant ghost-chase for the perfect job, I’m beginning to realize that it just doesn’t matter what I do to make a living. No matter what I find myself doing for work, I will never be able to escape myself. Whether I’m serving up lattes or heading up a program for heart disease prevention, whether I am selling shoes or managing a team 175 volunteers, whether I am getting to paid to write fiction or paid to mop floors, always, always, there I am—still having to deal with being me, still having to deal with the suffering I inflict upon myself as a result of my me-ness. The lesson for me around work is not about obtaining any one job or “succeeding” on any singular path. The lesson is learning that there is no easier world to look for—the problems I have in one place are simply going to follow me to another until I learn to fix them from within.
Our jobs are not who we are. It’s perfectly honorable to be a cubicle monkey if it’s putting bread on the table and you have time and money to pursue your other interests on the side. The vast majority of us aren’t cut out to be entrepreneurs, and besides, someone has to stock the warehouses and pass the fast food bags over the counter. No matter what you do for money, your personal happiness has to come from a deeper source than a job, a vocation, or even a career. Jobs come and go. Careers paths change. Businesses fail. People start over. And through all of that, our essential selves remain, in spite of how much society identifies us with our methods of earning a paycheck. The fact is, our bliss is not hiding in some career we haven’t discovered yet. If we can't find it in the moment we're in, we won’t find it anywhere.
That having been said, I still keep my one final, end-of-the-line, throwing-in-the-towel-on-any-hopes-of-career-continuity, fuck-you-society job in my back pocket: Being a high-rise window washer. Fresh air and great views of the city all day long—now there’s a dream job.