Money is a motivator. For many people, it is a large part of why we do what we do. If you’re making money doing what you are truly passionate about, remember you are the exception. And even then, sometimes a job just feels like well, a job. The thing is money is not the sole motivator, and it certainly isn’t the answer to living a fulfilling life. But after listening to this week’s episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain on “BS Jobs,” I can’t help but think, is money the real reason so many people are not doing what they wish they could with their lives?
The episode explores the central theme of Anthropologist David Graeber’s book Bullsh*t Jobs. Graeber’s argues that over half of the work in society is pointless, which can have devastating psychological effects for those of us who tie our identity and self-worth with our work. This got me thinking, if so many people dislike their work or don’t believe they are providing any real meaning, wouldn’t it make more sense to pay people to do more meaningful work? After all, at its core the reason that many people are staying in these BS jobs is because they need to generate enough income to survive.
Can you learn to love your job?
The problem with following your passions is that your passions may not pay the bills. One episode of Adam Grant’s podcast Work Life discusses the idea that instead of following our passions we should be developing our passions. The episode, “The perils of following your career passion” asserts that the advice many motivational speakers give to follow your dreams could be setting us up for failure. The episode draws on a paper in Psychological Science written by three Standford researchers. The paper concludes that this advice to “follow your passions” unrealistically sets people’s expectations that their path should feel easy and right. Then, when it is inevitably challenging people may give up, perhaps thinking it wasn’t their passion anymore.
So, the short answer is yes, you can learn to the love your job, but I don’t believe this applies to every job. If you truly work in a BS job, where there are very short windows of you actually providing any value, then I don’t believe you can learn to love your job. Sometimes you are just trading your time for money. Let’s set one thing straight: I am talking about people who have a strong work ethic, but whose jobs simply do not provide enough flexibility or autonomy to provide adequate meaning. I am also not advocating for doing “busy work” to effectively fill people’s time because they are on the clock. The concept of developing a passion applies to those who are consistently providing value in their jobs. These are the people who can learn to love their jobs, because their good feelings about the job are being reinforced every time they are able to see their contributions. The recipe to learning to love your job might just be finding something you’re good at in a place where you feel needed.
When is a job toxic enough to leave?
Toxic workplaces are far too common. As a society, we are not setting high enough standards for our employee’s quality of life. We live in world with access to revolutionary research on the importance of a positive work culture literally at our fingertips. If you aren’t convinced enough that an employee’s overall wellbeing is at stake, maybe you can consider the fact that researchers have concluded toxic work environments significantly impact productivity and burnout. We have tons of evidence demonstrating how toxic workplaces are negatively impacting our society. Yet, we are still largely failing to solve this complex issue.
At a minimum, a full-time worker is spending 40 hours each week at their job. We have come to a point where we are taking for granted those 40 hours of our lives because they are the standard. But for those in a toxic environment, that is 40+ hours of damaging their psyche every week. Instead of making people feel weak for not enduring a job and “toughing it out,” we should be offering systems of support and showing them that we value their right to a safe workplace.
The question of when to leave a toxic workplace is complicated, because at the end of the day your livelihood is likely at stake. For companies, ineffectively dealing with toxic workers or environments comes with a huge cost. By allowing toxic behavior to continue, intentionally or not, they will likely lose the productive workers who actually added value to the business. People don’t leave bad jobs. People leave bad work environments. We need to stop telling people to ignore behaviors or “not let it get to them.” In reality, we should be dealing with the root of the problem so that those behaviors are thwarted.
For me, I left a toxic work environment, because I valued my mental health and overall wellbeing more than a career track. But I was fortunate enough to do so because I had money saved up and another job opportunity that took a chance on me. Not everyone in a toxic work environment has those affordances, and that is why it is so crucial to create welcoming work environments. I have a zero tolerance policy for bullies and oppressors. Why doesn’t the workforce?
How will this look on my resume?
Millennials often face criticism from older generations about “job jumping.” The workforce used to be comprised of people who stayed in their career paths for decades. It used to be that you’d find a job, work your way up the ladder, and retire with a pension and maybe a plaque for your many years of service. Now, that wasn’t everybody. My grandma, for instance, was a school teacher for many years before deciding to go to law school in her late thirties. She might not have known it at the time, but my grandma was ahead of her time. Now, it’s much more common for people to switch jobs more frequently or even switch fields completely. But many people are still stuck in this outdated mentality.
When I decided to leave my first job out of school, many people tried to convince me otherwise. They warned me of how it would look on my resume and didn’t want me to be looked at poorly by future employers for “job jumping.” I get the sentiment. You want to show a company that you are loyal and aren’t going to get through training just to take what you learned somewhere else. Employee retention is a big consideration for businesses, because on-boarding and training a worker can take a lot of time and money. With that in mind, I politely told everyone who tried to convince me to stay for those reasons to keep their opinions to themselves. I’m not saying you should switch jobs every six months. But if you find yourself in a role with no room for growth, a toxic workplace damaging your mental health, or not giving or receiving any sort of value, it is probably time to dust off your resume.
Here’s the thing: you write your own resume. I am not telling you to in anyway lie, deceive, or exaggerate your role or responsibilities. That is not only wrong, but will get you in a lot of trouble when the place you land a job at realizes that you are not actually qualified. I am telling you, though, to make sure you are including everything you do outside of your original job description. One of my best friends has been on the job hunt, and one thing I encouraged her to do was to detail how many responsibilities she had taken on that were completely outside of her role. Those things are important to note to future employers. They not only show that you know how to do these things outside of your role, but they also communicate that you are willing to go above and beyond what you were originally expected to do. My boss has told me that I took my role and supercharged it, taking on things no one asked me to do. That kind of initiative is important to highlight.
So, are you in the right job?
If you need to leave a job in a shorter timeline than you think society advises, do what is best for you. No one else has to deal with the consequences but you, and while you need to make a living, sometimes those consequences are worth the risk. Money is essential to survival, but it is not what’s going to make you feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Think about your worst case scenario. I know, I know. That’s usually a bad way to think, but hear me out. Think about what if your worst case scenario came true; is it really that bad? If you couldn’t find a job for a while. If you had to move back in with Mom and Dad. If you had to find a job outside of your career path. Would it be the end of the world? That’s for you to decide. Best case: you find a job that truly brings you joy, that you’re good at, and where you feel like you’re adding something meaningful.