When I lived in DC and worked from home now and again, I’d get stir crazy and miss human interaction – then after a few days in the office I found I couldn’t handle the Dilbertesqueness and day-to-day horrors of office politics. I left the larger corporate world – sure, the money was wonderful, but there was no joy in it.
When I was finally making over six-figures, I believed I had truly arrived in life. That the salary was the culmation of all of my dreams, hard work and, yes, graduate shcool debt. But none of that turned out to be true. I realized that my happiest days were when I was living off of $20,000 a year, traveling the world and immersing myself in other cultures. Learning to understand who Angela was in a global context. Moving from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism.
Lately, I’ve been reading one Princeton professor’s work as to what makes for work-related /career happiness and ultimately general happiness. Before I started reading up on living a life of effective altruism and normative ethics, I already understood I am obligated to give of my time and money to make a difference in the world. If I am in a position to do that, then ethically I am obligated to do so. Once you figure that out, the rest falls into place.
There are lots of sociological & exhaustive psychological studies offering stats on what makes for a satisfying career. In my career and in my voluteer/side pursuits I’ve learned to follow these tenets (and push myself even more on the volunteer side to live these) and it’s what drives me now. For number 6, I had to do some altering of that personal life – for me, it was to quit drinking, smoking and surrounding myself with negative, needy, dark and draining people and people engaged in their own forms of self-destruction (ah, is that altruistic behavior? Yes, if those kinds of people are keeping you from achieving and being all that you can.) Once I did that, my God, it was shocking how much clearer the path became. I also used to believe that my cynicism and dark side were the things that kept me honest – the fact is, acknowledging that I have both of those and looking them square in the face and not being enslaved to them is the most honest pursuit I’ve ever embarked upon. [Editor’s note: about 3 and a half years later, I discovered that I could drink again and do so in moderation and not let it lead me down the dark path – though, when I get tipsy, the desire to light up a cigarette is STRONG in me. But I have scuba diving goals and smoking fucks that up. So, note to Angela – NO SMOKING DAMMIT.]
So without some meme saying trite things like “Follow your passion” (I have a passion for Chinese opera but I won’t find happiness by trying to make a career out of it because I would suck at it on numerous levels – but I CAN support Chinese opera and feel just as fine about that), here is the prof’s simple premise – remember though, these are edicts for people in a position to make choices and who have options – part of fulfilling obligations to helping those in the world who need it or devoting yourself to particular causes:
“Here are the six key ingredients of a dream job:
- Work you’re good at
- Work that helps others
- Engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow (freedom, variety, clear tasks, feedback)
- Supportive colleagues
- A job that meets your basic needs, like fair pay, short commute and reasonable hours
- A job that fits your personal life
- Most importantly, focus on getting good at something that helps others.”
I swear to God, people, it works.