Monday, February 27, 2012

Incomplete thoughts on why we hate our jobs - From the Permission to Fail archives, July 2011

I usually hate my job. Whether I'm serving tables at a hip local bar or working in public relations, it's safe to say that I rarely enjoy the work I do. After spending a couple hours this afternoon reading Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable than Ever Before (which I was doing because I needed a break from my freelance journalism assignment du jour) my knowledge intake combined with my perpetual workplace dissatisfaction led to an interesting thought: I think the trick is to stop trying to find personal and wide-scale fulfillment in our work. 

Balance is key 
There are, of course, certain traits that can be developed and rewarded through the work we do, but to seek fulfillment through our job is – forgive me for the cliché – putting the cart before the horse. Certainly, we should work hard in what we do, but maintain a balance between work, relationships, volunteering, and the activities that reflect our values and interests. Yoga teaches us to explore ourselves, understand ourselves apart from the world, and to seek to fulfillment not through attachment to worldly things. How, then, are we to exist? Religious teachers probably explained it best, so I might do well to read the Yoga Sutras with more attention to detail; dive in to the  Buddha’s teachings; and read about what Christ said more earnestly. But I'm freewriting right now, and I can't be interrupted. So on I go. The truth is, I’ve never felt fulfilled by a job. I’ve never experienced what we call, “job satistfaction.” What does satisfaction mean, anyway? The definition of the word, “Satisfaction,” according to my Mac dictionary is, “Fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this.”

More than a feeling
The question, then, becomes: What are my wishes, expectations, needs, and how is my pleasure (noun: A feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment)derived from this? Immediately, I can’t help but realize that I am seeking pleasure in the work I do. I am seeking a feeling in the work I do. And what is the feeling my generation was raised to seek? A Will Smith movie, which enshrined our modus operandi quite succinctly, sums it up in its title: The Pursuit of Happyness. I have been pursuing happiness – a feeling – via my education and career (and likely in my relationships, creativity, yoga, and arguably everything I do). Happiness, and the pursuit thereof, has become my greatest motivator. And what’s the problem with that? Simply put, it is a fallacy that the surest way to be happy is to pursue it. Just as working to make money (or marrying for money) is the surest path to disillusioned misery, so is pursuing happiness. The inevitable result of either journey is a person confused and depressed, wallowing in the thing that promised that elusive emotion, because he or she is pursuing something that can only be an outcome; as an objective, the pursuit of both happiness and money will not return that which we truly seek: santosha (the Sanskrit word for “contentment”).

Seeking Santosha
As the Yoga Sutras teach, “From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained” (2:42). Not from seeking happiness through my job is satisfaction obtained, but from an attitude of contentment, which can only be found through letting go, seeking truth (satya), and being fearless enough to do that for which we were created. Easier said than done, I know, but the mere acknowledgement of our misguided pursuits and ambitions brings us – okay, brings me – closer to divine truth. And divine truth is so much sweeter than the individual, and the pursuit of personal happiness.

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