How realistic an expectation is it not to be miserable one’s entire life?
It sounds pretentious to put it that way, perhaps. Or perhaps entitled; I do find myself wondering whether the main problem I suffer from is unrealistic and/or greedy expectations.
This all sounds rather vague, I’m sure; context will follow.
There is a response I often get, especially from my parents, when I complain about anything job-related or job-search-related, which essentially boils down to “everybody hates their jobs, so suck it up and deal with it”. Or to put it slightly more charitably, “nobody enjoys their job all of the time, and most people don’t enjoy their jobs most of the time, so suck it up and deal with it”. And while I am certain there is some truth to this, I still find myself unwilling to accept the consequences (and I do suspect there’s a level of “misery loves company” to my parents’ promotion of this view, because neither of them are particularly happy in their situations). And there are also practical considerations, in that the longer I languish unemployed the more inescapable that position becomes.
Nevertheless, I find myself pretty thoroughly miserable in the current job (and this is before being paid much of anything and/or getting an actual job placement out of it), watching my depressive symptoms intensify and despairing for the future. So you get to have an angsty rant from me! Aren’t you lucky? (I suppose I could only be more of a cliche if I were publishing this on LiveJournal, but I haven’t got an account there and have no intention of making one.)
Firstly, I’m being reminded all over again of how little I like programming and working with code in general (one of many reasons I didn’t pursue a CS degree: I’ve found recently that to get myself to work on code I often have to take anti-anxiety pills first), and how little I like programmer/tech culture. And while there may be something to be said for trying to do activism from within to change that culture, I doubt I have the emotional fortitude for it. (I keep thinking back to the Adria Richards incident, for example; I’ve been witness to quite a lot of similarly inappropriate ‘humour’ in the past few days. Lots of juvenile ‘humour’, lots of sexist/misogynist ‘humour’, etc, from the instructors as well as the students. I’m never sure whether it’s worth my while to speak out against this sort of thing – especially when it’s in a classroom environment and would be disruptive – but not doing so often reads as condonation and probably contributes to the problem in the long run. I do sometimes wonder whether I should consider myself to have a moral obligation to stay and try to effect change from within, much as I’d hate to actually have to do that.) And the endgame of this program is something like earning the privilege to be immersed in this environment for an extended period of time; just what I wanted, clearly. And furthermore I suspect I’ll find myself further entrenched in the tech world after that period has ended, with even less hope of escape than I have now.
But what right do I have, really, to a career I won’t hate? Maybe it’s my fault for being too picky or too depressive; I genuinely don’t know whether such a thing is even possible (and also there have been studies in psychology which suggest that paying people for doing a thing decreases their enjoyment thereof, which has further unpleasant implications: it may well mean that finding a career doing something I love, if there is such a thing, would just suck all the joy out of it and render me equally if not more miserable in the long term).
I almost want to make a slightly goofy analogy here and compare job-hunting to looking for a marriage as a woman in a Regency romance or the like: if it weren’t necessary for survival/livelihood a lot fewer people would be doing it, the odds of ending up in a satisfactory situation are rather low and there are far more people vying for the good opportunities than can realistically attain them, and, of course, one just has to hope against all odds to end up with someone who isn’t going to be abusive and exploitative, let alone merely not insufferably dull. The vast majority of job prospects are not going to be Fitzwilliam Darcy. But, merely to remain with Pride and Prejudice here, does that necessarily mean that one should resign oneself to the likelihood of having no better than a Collins? (Hmm, what would a Wickham be in this context? Something like my current situation, perhaps? – mandatory relocation, tempting offers of money and opportunity that mysteriously fail to appear in the promised quantities? God, that’s depressing.)
When I think about it rationally I think the best I can realistically hope for is to find some kind of 9-to-5, 40 hour per week job that I don’t absolutely hate, and then try to build the life I actually want in the fragments of time that that leaves me. But there’s another part of me that rebels against this, arguing that that’s actually quite a big time commitment as it is, and that if the work is even moderately taxing it will likely leave me unable to accomplish much of anything in mornings or evenings during the week, and essentially giving me at most two days out of the week to actually live. I know a lot of people are capable of living that way, but I have a hard time convincing myself it’s a pleasant lifestyle unless the job itself is better than tolerable. Plus there’s the annoying fact that – especially in technology-related fields, where I’ve mostly been pigeonholed whether I like it or not – many if not most companies have an expectation of being the worker’s number one priority and that a certain amount of work is going to be taken home with them (to the point where I almost find it refreshing when one is honest enough to just demand people work overtime). Shouldn’t the bloody 40 hours of servitude be enough? (No, of course not; THIS. IS. CAPITALISM!)
And then I’m reminded that it’s not even as simple as that, because people who enjoy their jobs also do better work and are therefore more likely to get the bloody jobs in the first place. I’ve been observing this recently as well – most of the others in this training programme actually seem to enjoy programming and working with code, don’t (much) resent being expected to do so at all hours of the day without regard for spare time, and are excited about continuing to do so at actual work placements. Whereas I, obviously, do not. As such, while passing no judgment on the relative intelligence levels of persons involved, I can safely say these people end up being better (and vastly more employable) programmers than me by virtue of enthusiasm alone even disregarding any other factors.
And then on occasion I listen to something like, for example, Mark Rosewater’s podcast, and am reminded that there do actually exist people who find careers they love and seem to have a marvellous time at it. Dare I actually hope for such a thing? (This comes full circle to the question I asked at the beginning of this piece – statistically, what are the odds, and is it greedy and unrealistic to use that as a standard?)
Sometimes I think I should just change my name to Marvin and give up on any hope of enjoying life.
This has been a rather amorphous rant and I’m honestly not sure how much sense it even makes, so I’m not sure whether publishing it was the best idea… oh well, it’s too late now.