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Chasing the dream or chasing the dragon?

Submitted by TheRididill on May 25, 2010 – 11:32 pmComments

So I’ve been in my job about a year now. My first real job, with real prospects, with an actual annual salary instead of hourly pay. Grown up shit, hell yeah. I even have business cards. Who’d have thought THAT when I was bumming round South East Asia on a motorbike with no licence. Screw you world, I win!

I won’t lie, it was not an easy ride.

The hellish drag of unemployment after graduating in the biggest recession since before even my grandparents had to look for their first jobs, was, to say the least, a fall from grace. Talk about surfing the wave of the graduation party into the slicing propellors of a passing cruise ship. Ouch. A ‘real job’ was my ticket to paradise - no more writing job applications for a start, possibly the most soul destroying activity ever invented (maybe that’s what hell is like, just endless failed job applications to some mammoth bureaucracy run by irrepressibly smug and condescending demons). A ‘real job’ meant a steady income, it meant signing a lease on a house, it meant being able to plan for further ahead than the next week. Life was to resume some semblance of normality rather than just subsisting on the edges. I was ecstatic.

One year on, I’m getting kind of restless. Kind of irritated. Itchy feet. How quick it is to forget the relief of just having something, anything, that means life can move forward again. How easy it is to be once again dissatisfied.

The weird thing about jobs as opposed to education, as I’m discovering, is that you can leave at any time. There’s no set period you stay there, until you’ve achieved a goal, with tangible landmarks on the way. You can stay or you can leave. It’s up to you.

Are you satisfied? Is it meaningful to you? Are you happy or sad? Feel you’re developing? Getting paid enough? Do you get on with the people you work with?

All of these are questions I have asked myself when I wonder whether to stay or go. The existence of the possibility of leaving means these questions are always in the back of my mind, in a way that they weren’t when I knew it would be a foolish waste to abandon a degree half-finished. And the answers… I don’t fucking know! How am I supposed to know? How am I supposed to know what to expect?

One of the first things I learned from my period of unemployment is that unbridled idealism often comes from a position of privilege. When I started off, it was like, I’ll only work for Greenpeace. Then ok, it’s any charity or non-profit. Then, ok, it’s any company that’s not too evil. Then, ok, it’s whatever the fuck I can get because I am fucking sick of this. Made me realise how much my standards had been all warped; contingent on coming from a context of success.

So how the hell am I supposed to know whether this job is good enough, meaningful enough, well-paying enough, that my colleagues are interesting and fun enough, that I have enough responsibility, control and input in my work? I have no comparison. Your wage, your worth to them, there’s no absolute value - it just depends on how much you want the job and how much they want you, and whatever comes out of that bargaining process. There’s no ‘A’ grade. There’s only where you are and what you think of it.

The ultimate freedom, you might say. You and only you are the judge and arbiter of the value of your life, your experience. It’s not quite as good as it looks. They don’t teach you in school the kind of self-assurance to say, this is good, this is enough, this is what I want. And I’m still left wondering, still with itchy feet. I don’t know whether this is just a repeat of the ‘idealism from comfort and privilege’ thing, if I’m just bored and actually don’t know how lucky I am or how unlikely I am to find anything as good elsewhere at this time in my career.

The possibility of choice, of change, means those questions are always there, and I’m always wondering, whether it could be better somewhere else. What does that mean? Is it a noble restless pursuit of a perfected ideal throughout the course of life? Or is it an empty chasing of something that does not exist, cannot be fulfilled? That functions only as a continual escape from the difficulty of dealing with some of the most truly challenging problems of life… such as being able to get on with people you wouldn’t necessarily choose to hang out with, that you might disagree with on some big things, and still being able to enjoy the commonalities that you do share. Like trying to work with others to improve the environment that you’re in, instead of swapping it for a new one. Like being able to deal with the insecurities and insufficiencies in your life (which in all rational likelihood will never entirely disappear no matter how successful you are) without running away from them.

The problem is, how do you know when it’s your context that’s making you unhappy, or when it’s just in your head? How do you know when you’re really running forward, or just using it as a pretext to run away?

Still, it’s something to do, eh?

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  • Curry Lynne
    When I saw your article I was so excited to see whether you would choose your dreams or smoking opium (chasing the dragon). There was no speak of illegal substances however it was well written with a lot of great images!
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