• Over the summer, I lost about 80 per cent of my work. (E+)Source: E+
We are set up to fail before we even begun: the modern job market gives us no choice but to specialise, and in doing so robs us of the full range of experiences life has to offer.
By
Caroline Zielinski

23 Mar 2021 - 8:41 AM  UPDATED 23 Mar 2021 - 8:41 AM

Over the summer, I lost about 80 per cent of my work. While it was more than usual (thanks, Covid) the event itself isn’t that unexpected: December to February are usually dead zones for media freelancers as companies in Australia shut down for a well-deserved break. 

What was unusual, however, was my reaction to this sudden and significant loss of work  and income. Instead of hustling day and night as I would do in the past, I decided to simply rest. 

For the first time since I was in high school, I fought hard to switch my brain off, to give myself permission to paint, read books purely for enjoyment as opposed to ‘for story ideas’, and attempted to follow my body’s natural rhythms instead of compelling it to abide by a regimented set of rules and tasks that, more often than not, lead to burnout. 

Now that I am slowly emerging from this period of slow living, I am considering whether it is worth returning to the frenetic pace of my regular existence, or to continue on this uncertain path and see what comes out the other side.

Now that I am slowly emerging from this period of slow living, I am considering whether it is worth returning to the frenetic pace of my regular existence, or to continue on this uncertain path and see what comes out the other side. 

In many ways, my slashie (another term for a gig worker) lifestyle suits me better than doing a single job at a single organisation. As someone who has always struggled to keep still and who has many interests, the idea of being tied to one job for the next 30 years scares the life out of me.

So instead, I have chosen to eke out an existence as a journalist-slash-artist-slash-media consultant-slash-speech writer-slash-whatever else comes my way, and it allows me to not only be flexible and open, but to lead a deeply enriching (if stressful) existence.

This doesn’t mean I’m not plagued by all the usual career problems (often incorrectly) attributed solely to the millennial generation, such as the idea that your job should be synonymous with a higher ‘calling’. As BuzzFeed journalist Anne Helen Peterson writes in her meticulously researched new book Can’t Even, “Millennials have internalised the need to find employment that reflects well on their parents … that is impressive to their peers… and which fulfills what they’ve been told has been the end goal of all that childhood optimisation - doing work you're passionate about, which will naturally lead to ‘better life outcomes’.” 

A Job to Love - published by the School of Life - traces the idea of work as a calling back to art, which, until the Renaissance period, was considered simply a useful trade-skill some people had. But then, artists began to borrow from religious stories and “began to think of themselves as ‘called’ by fate to a particular line of work”.

The notion of a ‘calling’ was furthered (or, according to some researchers, introduced) by the Protestant reformers in the 16th century, who, emboldened by Martin Luther’s then-controversial declaration that secular work - not just the work of the ministry - constitutes a calling in life, began to see work as closely tied to worship of God. 

In the centuries since the Reformation, the idea of work as a calling has become secularised and diffused throughout society as a way to think about and connect to one’s work.

In the centuries since the Reformation, the idea of work as a calling has become secularised and diffused throughout society as a way to think about and connect to one’s work. As J. Stuart Bunderson and Jeffery A. Thompson write: “If one feels hardwired for particular work and that destiny has led one to it, then rejecting that calling would be more than just an occupational choice; it would be a moral failure, a negligent abandonment of those who have need of one’s gifts, talents and efforts”. 

And therefore increasingly, the generations that followed - but none more so than millennials - have been raised according to two contradictory ideals: that we must pursue work that gives us great purpose, but also that we must choose specialised jobs that are directly in line with market predictions. In this way, we are set up to fail before we even begun: the modern job market gives us no choice but to specialise, and in doing so robs us of the full range of experiences life has to offer.

In this way, we are set up to fail before we even begun: the modern job market gives us no choice but to specialise, and in doing so robs us of the full range of experiences life has to offer.

In the process of dedicating our lives wholly to finding ‘worthy’ work, we stand to lose so much: paying attention to the minutiae, to quiet kinds of meaning ( the smell of flowers after a summer rain, the furry undersides of leaves and the soft breathing of a warm cat curled up against our chest). These are things that serve to illuminate what, in our rush, we so often miss: contentment, and love simply for love’s sake. 

As Alain de Botton so eloquently puts it, “Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first - the story of our quest for sexual love - is well known and well charted.... The second - the story of our quest for love from the world - is a more secret and shameful tale.”

Perhaps it’s the pandemic, perhaps it’s that I’m getting older, but I’m tired of being ashamed of my work choices not fitting into the broader narrative of success. I am tired of trying to climb ladders with broken and rotten rungs, and of punishing myself when, inevitably, I fall. 

The love I seek from the world is to simply be loved, to love in return and perhaps mostly, to be allowed to be, just as I am.

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