I’ve been thinking a lot about careers lately. This is partly because, since my contract runs out in October, I’ve been searching the internet for jobs I would like to do and adding them to the ever-growing pile of things I have yet to apply for. It is also partly because over the summer holidays there has been less and less work that needs doing at my current position and it has made me realise that however nice the people are and however much I might be being paid, I need a job that is going to keep me busy and make me feel fulfilled. The time you spend at work is too much of your life to be spent feeling bored and useless. That’s pretty soul-destroying, especially if it goes on for years and years.
I suppose what I am worried about is doing a job for the money, to enable me to move out of my parents house or to travel, and then getting stuck. When he left university, my dad got into computer programming to make enough money to backpack around Australia. Thirty years later he is still doing it; moaning about hating his job but unable think of what he actually want to do, even if he could. On the other hand my mum absolutely loves her job, gets really excited talking about it, and goes above and beyond what is required of her to earn her pay packet. But because it is so badly paid, she wouldn’t have been able to do it if my dad didn’t earn enough for both of them. Because of this, I have grown up with the understanding that you can either do something for the money that you don’t enjoy, or have a fun fulfilling career that will barely cover the rent.
Although its only been a year since I graduated, what I have discovered so far hasn’t done anything to disprove this theory. A paid job in the charity sector is a hard thing to come by unless you are prepared to put in a year of so of unpaid interning to start with. As most of the organisations I would want to work for are based in London, this just isn’t possible for me.
So am I being unrealistic? Should I stop being so dismissive of working for anybody who isn’t in my narrow definition of a “worthwhile cause”? In fact, a lot of people high up in charities come from a business background, so perhaps I should be looking for marketing/lobbying/public affairs jobs in the private sector with the later goal of using the skills gained to “make a difference”. Would I really be selling my soul if I applied to a few non-charity or third sector positions? (which, incidentally pay a hell of a lot more for a similar role).
I am also getting a worrying feeling that job fulfilment isn’t entirely down to the cause that you are contributing to. Working for a fantastic social development organisation isn’t going to be much fun if you don’t feel like you are contributing, or are doing something mind-numbingly boring like stapling together sheets of paper. The most fulfilling jobs I have had have been in coffee shops where I was kept busy and able to talk to all sorts of interesting people. And while I was based at an amazing organisation in India, I could not wait for my placement to end because I knew that I was doing no good there at all.
And then how much does your job actually define you? Could you work at a supermarket to pay the rent but volunteer or take part in campaigning in your spare time? Is a job just a way of making money to enable you to live your life or is it actually your life?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. But then again, maybe nobody really does. Most older people I have spoken to about this (and believe me, over the past year I have cross-examined a lot) seem to have drifted into their career, still undecided about “what they really want to do”. Still, I suppose that is quite exciting, or that’s what I’m telling myself. There’s no need to panic, there is still plenty of time…