Thursday, November 17, 2011

Being unemployed changed my attitude about work

It's been nearly a year since I applied for my first job, and at that time I had this panic about NEEDing to be BUSY for the sake of maintaining an unbroken line of productivity.  I've considered lots of different ways to deal with that anxiety, from terrible jobs to crazy ways to find jobs. Some of it has worked, some of it has made me realize I can't remember why I would go to such great lengths to secure a position that I would loathe so deeply.

It's hard to believe, but I've been looking for work full time for 2 1/2 months now. My attitude about it has changed a lot.  I don't feel panicked about finding a job, in part because I don't feel like I am wasting my time.  I have occasional contract work, I'm blogging, I've been volunteering and learning a lot. And all that made me realize (and this surprised me a lot), that I LIKE having work to do.  I read the Swiss Family Robinson recently, and one of the keys to their (fictional) happiness was that they were able to remain industrious, they didn't suffer from boredom and lack of purpose.  Volunteering provided me that; I can't tell you how often my supervisor would tell me, "You are a volunteer, you don't have to work so hard" "You can go home if you like." I know, but it's very liberating to be able to work exactly as much as I like- which ended up being closer to 20 hours a week, instead of the 8 I was scheduled for. 

I like to work for the sake of working, and I like to feel like I am making headway, progress or contributing to a greater good.  I knew that about myself before. But, I am in a better position, without a job, to get that satisfaction from other parts of my life.  Now I am much more willing to accept the money-in-exchange-for-effort type of jobs (ie, contract editing), simply because that doesn't detract anything from my personal life, and in fact, gives me a chance to find more fulfilling ways to seek out those things.

Now I have mixed feelings.  I think I am by nature someone who would like an all consuming and gratifying job that I could be passionate about.  (This was kind of a disappointment to realize). But I also might be able to accept a job that just provides money if it leaves me the time and energy to find something else to be passionate about.


  1. I think all of us unhappy scientists come to the same realizations. We didn't get to a PhD because we liked being lazy and unchallenged. It just turned out that this research science stuff is not everything we thought it would be AND it doesn't leave time for living a fulfilling non-work life. In any case, I know that you will be able to find one or the other and be happy in the end.

    PS. Keep up your blog. It is extremely informative and comforting.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, I keep blogging about the job hunt because it helps me rationalize this very weird step in my professional life. If you actually like reading it, I'm thrilled, and I have lots more on tap. Are you job hunting too?

  3. Ironically I would say years of being employed have changed my attitude about work too. I used to want to work tirelessly doing great and wonderful things that changed the world. I put in many years and hours beyond counting training, learning, developing skills, and becoming really good at what I do. Then I spent many years offering those services, practically begging and pleading to give them away for a very modest salary and sharing the glory of my accomplishments with someone who simply gave me a space to make them happen. Please let me use all my knowledge and skill to do great things in your name that you will take most of the credit for and give me my modest living in return. I would have been happy as a clam even if I was giving more than I was getting in return.

    And guess what? Nobody was interested. Couldn't find anyone who wanted to let me use the serious skills I brought to the table. And it had this effect on me.

    If I could I wouldn't work at all ever again. I continue my science career because I am not independently wealthy and it beats working in a factory. If I have to work for a living i might as well keep trying to make my dreams happen. But I've basically lost my shine on working and being productive. I'd happily spend all day reading and walking in the park and doing nice things for my wife if I had the choice. Why beg people to profit from my skills if they are too short sighted to recognize them?

    The point of my rant if there even is a point? Don't stress out about being underemployed, you still have so much to offer everyone around you. Working hard is overrated and not much appreciated by the people that employ you in any event.