The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work

The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work

by Simone Stolzoff

The Good Enough Job challenges the deep-rooted culture of "workism," where work is often seen as the primary source of meaning in life. It questions why our society idolizes professional success as a core identity, particularly among the affluent who paradoxically have the least necessity to work. Featuring stories from diverse professionals, it debunks common work myths and provides strategies for cultivating a healthier, more fulfilling life where work is but one facet of a richer identity. Ultimately, this guide helps you redefine what fulfillment means to you and encourages you to find joy beyond your job title and career achievements.

Summary Notes

Building Your Identity Beyond the Job Title

Your worth isn't just about what you do for work or the job title you hold. It's important to have a well-rounded identity that includes different parts of your life. In fact, research shows that people who think of themselves in many different ways tend to handle tough times better. This idea is called "self-complexity." It means that if you have varied interests and roles in your life, a problem in one area is less likely to knock you down completely.

Let's look at Divya Singh's story for a clear example. Divya was deeply involved in her culinary career, achieving great things like landing a top internship and starting a successful business. But when things went sour with her business partner, it hit her hard because so much of her identity was tied up in her work. This challenge pushed her to broaden her identity. Eventually, she started spending time on other interests like outdoor activities, cooking for fun, and being with friends. These new experiences helped her find balance and happiness beyond her career. Divya's story shows us that having a diverse sense of self not only makes us happier but also more resilient when challenges come our way.

Actions to take

The Rise of Workism as a Modern Faith

Today, many people increasingly turn to their workplaces to fulfill their needs for purpose, identity, and community. The concept of "workism" describes this modern tendency to treat one's job almost as if it were a form of worship, making it the primary source of meaning in life.

However, relying solely on work for identity and fulfillment can lead to disappointment and a sense of emptiness. That's why it's important to balance work with other aspects of life, such as family, hobbies, and community involvement, to create a more stable and fulfilling sense of identity. By diversifying sources of meaning, individuals can build a more resilient foundation for their lives.

Actions to take

The Dream Job Delusion

Do you have a dream job?

In today’s world, the quest for a “dream job” is often seen as the ultimate career goal. This concept was popularized by Richard Bolles in his influential book, "What Color Is Your Parachute?". He suggested that personal satisfaction should be central to professional success.

Richard Bolles, who was laid off as an Episcopal minister in the late 1960s, drew from his own experiences. He argued that work should be more than just a means to an end. Rather, it should be a platform for individuals to use their unique talents and fulfill their passions. Eventually, Bolles' thoughts ignited a cultural shift, where passion and purpose started to outweigh traditional job security and financial stability.

However, the pursuit of a dream job is not without its downsides. For one, the relentless pursuit of their dream job can lead to both spiritual and physical exhaustion. This idea that one must absolutely love one's job to excel sets unrealistic expectations and can make people overlook the drawbacks of their ideal careers.

Take Fobazi Ettarh's journey to becoming a librarian, for example. Inspired by the queer literature and supportive librarians of her youth, Ettarh pursued her passion despite the profession's lack of diversity and the disconnect between its lofty ideals and the day-to-day reality. She later identified the concept of "vocational awe." This describes the problematic notion that some jobs are so noble they are immune to criticism. It often leads to worker exploitation and neglect of systemic problems.

As the job market evolves, with stagnant wages for many and rising executive pay, the preference for passion over paycheck has grown more common. This shift has significant implications, reinforcing inequalities and often leaving those who follow their passions vulnerable to exploitation. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the dangers of vocational awe as frontline workers faced intense demands without adequate protections or fair compensation.

Ettarh's decision to leave her librarian role to advocate for academic reform highlights the importance of recognizing the economic realities of work and the need for systemic changes. So, while the myth of the dream job can be appealing, it's crucial to maintain a grounded view of work and its role in our lives.

Actions to take

The Productivity Paradox

In today’s fast-paced world, the idea of working less to live more might seem radical. Many of us equate busyness with productivity, success with long hours, and self-worth with economic output. But what if the key to a more fulfilling life is not more work, but less? Josh Epperson’s story offers a compelling argument for changing our work habits to improve our lives.

Josh Epperson was once a typical corporate climber. After over a decade at a global brand consultancy, his resume was impressive, his income high, and his hours long. Despite his professional success, Josh felt a growing sense of emptiness. The relentless pace of his career left little room for personal enjoyment or creative fulfillment. During this period of introspection, Josh decided to conduct what he called "The Experiment."

"The Experiment" was based on three fundamental principles: First, Josh would only accept work he found meaningful. Second, the work must pay well, specifically his rate of $130 an hour. Third, and most crucially, he would cap his workweek at twenty hours. By most professional standards, this approach seemed unconventional, if not outright risky. Yet, for Josh, the decision was rooted in a desire to reclaim his time and redefine what success meant to him personally.

This shift was not without challenges. Reducing his work hours meant being selective with projects and often saying no to opportunities that did not align with his criteria. It also meant facing skepticism from peers and navigating the anxiety that comes with breaking away from the norm. However, Josh found that with more free time, he was not only happier but also more effective when he did work. His projects benefited from his undivided attention and creativity, no longer stifled by exhaustion or a packed schedule.

Josh’s story is part of a growing movement that questions our relentless work culture. Similar experiments, like Iceland’s four-day workweek, have shown that people can be just as productive in fewer hours, leading to happier and more satisfied workers.

Josh’s approach encourages us to rethink our own work-life balance and redefine success. It suggests that true success might lie in a balanced life where work serves us, not the other way around. In an age where burnout is rampant, stories like Josh’s highlight the benefits of stepping back and prioritizing personal well-being alongside professional achievements.

Actions to take

The Illusion of Status

Many of us tend to measure our self-worth based on our jobs, the money we make, and the recognition we receive. But these external markers often leave us feeling unfulfilled.

Let's look at Khe Hy's life as an example. Khe is a first-generation Cambodian American who grew up in New York City. He faced challenges fitting in and thought that becoming wealthy would earn him the status and acceptance he desired. So, his plan was simple: excel in school, land a high-paying job, and climb the corporate ladder. Khe started hustling early on, selling comic books and baseball cards in middle school and teaching himself how to build websites in high school. His hard work paid off when he graduated at the top of his class and got into Yale.

At Yale, Khe continued to chase financial success by choosing a major with high earning potential and quickly securing a job in finance. He climbed the career ladder rapidly, becoming one of the youngest managing directors at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm. But despite his impressive title and seven-figure salary, Khe felt deeply dissatisfied.

He was overworked, and the financial success he had pursued didn't bring the fulfillment he expected. Instead, he found himself caught in a relentless quest for external validation.

Khe's story shows that relying solely on external success metrics can lead to ongoing dissatisfaction. Societal pressures often push us to chase status, overshadowing our true values and desires.

Psychologist Agnes Callard explains that we often seek status because we doubt our own definitions of what is good and let others define it for us. This "value capture" occurs when we adopt the values of the status game instead of defining our own.

To break free from the status game, we need to practice "value self-determination"—figuring out what truly matters to us and aligning our definition of success with our personal values. For Khe, the turning point came when he became a parent. He reflected on the example he wanted to set for his daughter and decided to leave his high-paying job to pursue a path that aligned with his values. This led to the creation of his newsletter, RadReads, and a more fulfilling life.

Actions to take

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