Meaninglessness in Work
I return to A Culture Crisis, having always known it’s been there, having always felt its presence somewhere in the back of my mind since I’ve been away, because I find myself in a state of quasi-nostalgia with regard to the time in which I was still in school. It has been a little under a year since I graduated from my MA program in English. As I tend to tell people who ask, my MA was the most brutally exhausting and mentally taxing experience of my life. It was, quite possibly, the most difficult thing I have ever had to simultaneously endure and push through.
Now, I have a full time job as a business manager for a local business. I have a staff of roughly 10 people. I am in the process of developing new ideas and creating new projects almost everyday. I can choose my own hours and take vacations whenever I please. I am completely responsible for every decision taken in the workplace. I am in a position of leadership.
Sounds like a perfect fresh-out-of-school job. I should be very grateful that I have this job. Appreciative that I am not struggling in the way that some of my friends are who were not so fortunate as I to have a job lined up out of school. I should be, and yet I’m not.
I’m not satisfied with my work. Yes, there are many perks to this particular job. That’s all very lovely. But I’m not satisfied. I am severely underpaid for the job I do, and it’s not helpful that I perform the tasks of at least three people. Business manager, marketing manager, operations manager… I have no help, no assistance. Just me. Learning too many things everyday in order to keep this business successful in an age where so many small businesses are drowning. I have learned to photoshop, to optimize text/photos for the internet, social media management, marketing, budgeting, accounting, human resource necessities, and much more, and all entirely on my own.
I don’t know many people who are willing to do that. My staff certainly isn’t. God forbid they do a little research at home about the products they sell. But I continue to do so, to research and learn. Thinking, perhaps, that if I acquire all this knowledge, and put it all to good use, surely I can make something meaningful of this job. Surely I can derive some sense of purpose if I grow the business, take care of its people, guide everyone involved to success. Surely, I tell myself, if I can do all of this, I’ll be happy.
It’s not working.
Work aside, I’ve had to move back home from having lived on my own for over 5 years in order to save up some money. Public transit doesn’t pass by my area (I’d have to walk 45 minutes to an hour to reach the nearest bus stop). I don’t have a car, and so my mobility is completely contingent upon the schedules of my family members. There are now expectations regarding my behaviour (if my parents have guests over, I must come out of my room and say hello. I should have dinner with my family, not when it suits me, can’t come and go as I please…). My life has changed from having total independence to having virtually none. It sucks.
The thing is, even though my MA was often incredibly overwhelming and drove me half insane, I nonetheless felt that I was really doing something of value. I felt that my work had purpose, and that I had meaning about me. I slaved over my papers and often disregarded sleep and food (which is another problem altogether, but it calls for a separate entry), but in the end of the day, when it was time to turn in my papers, or present my seminars, I felt that what I had created was meaningful, and it gave meaning to both those who engaged in my work, and to myself, who created it. Sometimes I will reread my papers, and I nearly forget that I was capable of that level of thought, or that capacity for clear and engaging writing.
I miss that.
And I think that’s what is missing from work today for lots of people like me. Lots of overqualified, high functioning critical thinkers who are capable of very demanding, challenging, tiresome, and excruciatingly stressful tasks. But, in school, these were tasks that, at the end of it all, yielded a feeling of true purpose in the world. There was no confusion about what you were doing, no question of its value in wider culture. It was something you knew, and something you felt. And you weren’t even paid to do it.
Now, in the workforce, the work can still be demanding, challenging, tiresome, and stressful, and being that we are overqualified, high functioning critical thinkers, we can certainly do the work. But because there is no value in the work, because there is no meaning, any sense of purpose one could possibly feel in that labour is lost.
And when that sense of purpose is lost, it can too often feel as though all is lost. Something very dangerous happens. Hope, positivity, creativity, the very will to keep going, they all seem to disappear, like rings around a drop of water in a sea, moving farther and farther away until you forget what they looked or felt like in the first instance.
I have been very afraid for some months now that I would become so severely depressed that I would never come out of it. And the anxiety of it all has a way of making things much much worse. Sadly, too many people know this feeling. And I can’t say with certainty that all will be well – after all, I was compelled to write this piece due to these darker feelings. But I do try. I’ve taken up yoga rather seriously to bring back positivity in my life, to bring back focus on something other than work. To bring focus back to me, really. To who I am outside and beyond the superficial aspects of my existence. I hope that its influence will extend beyond the hour of practice. And I’m trying to write again. I’ve mentioned on this blog that I’ve been working on a novel of sorts. I’m trying to remember that, to come back to that side of me. The one who writes, and reads, and thinks.
Anyway, if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you. I was worried this would turn into some sort of Dear Diary post. I’m not quite sure that it hasn’t, but thank you all the same. And if you ever need to share something, I’m always here, somewhere across the internet.
All my best,