Asking Not Asking #19: I Don’t Hate My Job
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
Here’s the thing: I don’t hate my job. I don’t necessarily love it, either. I used to be a full-time freelancer doing brand strategy & marketing. For the past 3 years I’ve been working full-time as a brand marketing manager for a start-up in New York. I do like the work. It’s interesting and fast-paced and I like working with a team. I also like the consistent salary and the security that comes with it after having spent years doing my own thing and riding the wave of client work.
But sometimes I get the urge to quit and start over. I get antsy and want to leave. Then I think about it and wonder why. Will I regret not trying something else?
I used to spend a lot of time taking photos and at one point wanted to explore if photography could be a real pursuit for me, but I haven’t touched my camera in a year. Now it feels like that part of me no longer fits into this new life, even though I miss it.
It’s not that I want to quit my job. I just don’t want to find my sole satisfaction from my work, but I feel stuck. Where do I go from here?
Thanks for your help,
I Don’t Hate My Job
Dear I Don’t Hate My Job,
You don’t have to. Don’t be fooled into thinking in such a binary manner. You don’t have to demonize your work to have a life outside of it. Nor do you need to let go of the things you enjoy outside of your job and lean solely on your work for fulfillment. You can integrate all the parts of yourself, personal and professional, into a life that is truly yours.
Here’s the thing: most of us float between these two bookends in our work. Yes, there are things we like—even love—about our work and there are also things we detest and, yes, sometimes loathe. In some cases, a job can be toxic or be a poor fit altogether and I’d recommend leaving, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you. You find the work interesting, you like having a team to collaborate with, and the consistency has built a wonderful foundation for you. Use that foundation to explore. There is no pressure to spend your time in a way that garners likes or earns money, which means you are free to discover and play and invite all of your interests and curiosities to the party.
It’s also important to invite happiness to the party. You aren’t required to work a “miserable dayjob” and “find your passion” on the side. You aren’t required to “hustle.” In fact, you don’t have to do anything on the side. But if you choose to, I encourage you to start with what makes you happy. If you don’t know what that is, start with something you’re curious about or used to pursue, like photography as you mentioned.
Happiness can seem complicated, yet it can also be more simple than we think. Why do we find it so hard to accept the things that make us happy, whether it’s a consistent paycheck or snapping photos on a walk around the neighborhood without sharing them on Instagram? Happiness doesn’t always have to feel monumental. I want to share a beautiful poem from Naomi Shihab Nye, which embodies the difficulty we encounter when accepting the simple truths of goodness in our lives:
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
If you hold open your hands and look closely, what fills them? What is there right now in your life that brings you happiness, joy even? Gratitude isn’t meant to trick us into staying, but it can point us to the good that already exists in our work. Gratitude can teach us to find happiness in all circumstances. It can deter us from living from a grass-is-greener mentality when the truth is that we all have to deal with brown patches from time to time. Gratitude reminds us why we’ve chosen what we have.
In the moments when you become “antsy” and want to leave and start over, are you overlooking gratitude? Or is it really time to move on? Only you can answer that—maybe you already know. Perhaps you only need to make time to sit still and listen to what the still, small voice inside of you is already saying.
I spent last summer in London and had phone check-ins with my mentors. One of them, Michael, asked me about my first serious romantic relationship since I’d been divorced. I told him the relationship was truly great, and I genuinely meant it. I was enthralled. Yet Michael must’ve heard the hesitancy in my voice. He was intuitively right—there was a nagging sense that maybe it was too good to be true. Could I be gifted this kind of happiness? Will I regret it if I stay? Would I regret it if I go? Michael told me, “You’ll know when you know.” I didn’t have to make a decision about the rest of my life that day. Neither do you.
You say you enjoy your job, but I hear the hesitancy in your voice. You’ll know when you know. In the meantime, use what you hold in your hands to build a foundation of gratitude that catapults you into the next season. Your task is simple: wake up every day and make a choice to stay. If or when you decide it’s time to move on into something new, you can plan for the transition. Know that whether you stay or go, there will be challenges to navigate. No decision comes without challenges, but we can find joy in navigating them to our best ability.
I am spending the summer in London again with the man I love—yes, we are still together. Last week I spoke to my mentor Michael again and told him, “Now I know.” It wasn’t that I didn’t know before, but I didn’t want to pressure it. I wanted time to confirm what I already knew to be true. We can’t rush the decisions that shape our lives. Sometimes we’ll make mistakes and sometimes we’ll hit a bullseye and be elated. It’s human to feel stuck and question ourselves. It’s human to need time to decide. Please don’t stop asking these important questions. Please give yourself whatever time you need. That’s how you’ll grow. That’s how you’ll know.
Now, photography. You mentioned it, so there’s something in you being drawn back to it. Give yourself permission to explore it. What’s one small thing you could do next week related to photography? Pick up your camera and place it in a spot where you’ll see it often when you’re home? Take it out and clean it? Bring it with you on a walk and take a few photos around your neighborhood? How could you make it part of your life in a meaningful way? Don’t make the big leap to think about what comes after that—save that for later.
Your job is not to decide what the rest of your life looks like right now. Your job is to wake up, be grateful for what exists in your life that brings you happiness today, and lean into those things. When you feel stuck, recall what you are grateful for. Make a list. Tell a friend. You can still want more than what you have. Gratitude doesn’t negate wanting. But it reminds us why we’ve chosen what we’ve chosen—our job, our partner, our city, our life.
You don’t have to hate your job. You don’t have to love it, either. You can do both and everything in between. Life is not binary and neither is our work. We show up to it as whole people with an array of feelings and experiences. If we can show up to our work with our hands open, the things that fill them up will come and go, bringing us joy and breaking our hearts, but there will always be more happiness waiting ahead, even if it takes time. But you don’t have to think about that today.
With open hands,
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