On the enjoyment of work

I'm of the opinion that in society, the general attitude towards jobs is that you should "do something that you're passionate about". If medicine takes your fancy, then take up your stethoscope and get to it. Does the thought of court put you in a tizzy? Find a briefcase and start practicing law. Is graphic design your passion (yes)? Then grab your wacom tablet and get ready to draw.

This is an attitude that gets taught to kids and is especially pushed throughout high school as teenagers get closer to the end of the secondary education and begin thinking about their adult life. I remember being told to "picture what I want to be doing in thirty years" and to start taking steps towards doing that when I leave high school. For me, I this was not exactly great advice - I had no clue what I wanted to pick between music or computer science! Whilst I eventually decided on doing computer science, I definitely understand the reason why there's so many people doing music, arts or history degrees - its what they've been told to do! And if there was a high demand for professions in those areas, they would be able to spend their lives doing a job that they loved. Unfortunately, given the number of people taking the courses and the general lack of capital-creating potential, its unrealistic that all of them would be able to get gainful employment, especially as the expected age of retirement seems to increase. I don't think that this is necessarily a point against doing the arts as a degree (again, I almost picked music, and my brother is actually studying French Horn), but I think that the wish to be entirely fulfilled by your full-time employment is both dangerous and misinformed.

I've heard of engineering processes being like a four-sided piston several times - you need to have a balancing act between quality, cost, time and scope, and as each of them is moved, the others also need to be readjusted. I think life is much the same way, there's things that need balancing and we can't have them all going at full steam. I can't be all in on my work and spending massive amounts of overtime whilst also trying to manage a family, stay in touch with older friends and keep a hobby. It's entirely unrealistic.

Most workplaces recognise this (or are forced to in Australia by the government) and have a maximum set of hours that you are paid to work - everything else is overtime. So long as you aren't taking an enormous amount of time to commute to work and aren't continuing to work past your hours, that leaves roughly a third (or a quarter when factoring in eating) of the weekday - plus the weekend - to spend on things which aren't work - family, friends and hobbies. All of those are great things with which to be fulfilled.

My maternal Grandfather spent working years as a clinical biochemist. He has long since retired and his "hobby" is now his employment; gardening. He's become so proficient at caring for plants and identifying native flora that he's become an invaluable member of several parks in helping with botanical management. Whilst I know that he enjoyed his time as a clinical biochemist, it was not his "be all and end all" to the point where it was where he gained his fulfilment from, instead he got fulfilment from his family, friends and hobbies.

This is much of the same approach that I've taken to music. My gainful employment will be coming from software development, something that, yes, I enjoy, but that doesn't mean that I'll stop playing music. Over the course of my time at university, I've continued my involvement in music, and by my own estimation am a significantly better musician now than I was then. Whilst I am certain that the total improvement is likely not as great as if I had formally studied music, having music as a hobby that I enjoy and can gain fulfilment from without relying on it for my finances is both freeing and adds to my enjoyment of it.

I think that this is the right balance of things. Even in jobs in which you would be theoretically fulfilled, you can still have things go wrong. Sudden deadlines, a difficult workmate or an overbearing boss can all make jobs significantly less enjoyable. If your previously fulfilling work is no longer enjoyable, then what are you enjoying?

Thus my charge to you is this; don't put all your eggs in one basket. In the end, work is work and should be approached as such. It is a means to an end, to give you an opportunity to live the other parts of your life and shouldn't be what your entire life is about. So take up a hobby, spend more time with your family and friends, or start a job that you know you won't enjoy but can use to further one of them. I'd bet it'd make life more rewarding.

(disclaimer: author is an university student who hasn't ever had to apply this advice in practice and is writing at about 1AM. Take it with ten grains of salt)