One of my professors loves to remind the students in my class that, more likely than not, we’re not going to find jobs that fulfill us. We’re not even going to enjoy our jobs, necessarily. As shocking as his statements are, I can’t help but agree with him. We’ve learned to romanticize our prospects, endowing future careers with employee benefits that include spiritual fulfillment or happiness. We’re going to be disappointed if we expect the whole package to fall on our laps, particularly in our first jobs.
Jobs are the unattractive partner we would’ve married for money and status in the 1800s. Our ancestors, in some cases as recently as our parents, engaged in partnerships with work for the sake of what work could produce, not because of the intrinsic value of work or because they loved the work itself. These material relationships were expected to bear fruit in the form of wealth, security, and literal sustenance. Some found that they fell in love with the work, and others found that they could barely tolerate it. Regardless of the emotional or spiritual outcome, the focus of the workforce was on the value derived from the work, not the value inherent within it.
I’m sure some of us are still expected to marry into money (literally and metaphorically speaking); however, for the majority of us, the modern era allots a certain romanticism of the work force. For Boston College students in particular, some of which have the luxury of time and the security of money, there’s plenty of room to decide one’s “vocation.” Most of us expect a four-year minimum discernment process—and find ourselves distraught at how limited our prospects for “fulfillment” appear.
We expect too much from the material world, and as a result find ourselves suffering greater anxiety and disappointment than our precursors felt. They simply wanted jobs; we desire meaning, arguably to the extent of religion. Their consuming expectations were to feed their families. We want jobs that make us happy, and these expectations consume us endlessly. By romanticizing what should be a simple, efficient relationship with work, we limit the realistic, material benefits it has to offer. Perhaps there is love to be found there, but in fixating endlessly upon the prospect, we detach ourselves from the possibility of realizing it. We can’t jump straight into the honeymoon stage, and by comparison the necessity of commitment and sacrifice within the relationship will naturally appear faded or dull.
It’s ironic that we joke about the soullessness of CSOM professions. There are many suppositions behind the characterization of “heartless” careers, but, ultimately, it's derived from this fresh-grown distaste for the material aspect of jobs. But jobs should bring us money. We work for the sake of money. When I hear jokes about “selling one’s soul” to the world of investment banking, I wonder whether we’d prefer not to make money at all. Is that the ideal career? And at what point does that “ideal job” cease to be a job?
Perhaps at the heart of this unwillingness to succumb to “heartlessness” is a desire to avoid work altogether and focus instead on one’s thoughts and feelings. Maybe we’ve detached ourselves enough from the concept of work that it has become inherently distasteful. We’ve managed to evolve into creatures that can, but desire not to, sustain themselves. And as a result, we run the risk of endangering ourselves.
There is value to work, however menial or redundant the practice may appear. Sometimes that value is simply material: food on the table, money to pay rent. But if we focus endlessly on the prospect of achieving happiness and fulfillment through work, we’ll detach ourselves from the realistic benefits of work. We’ll undermine the very practice that gives substance to our lives—and by association, our happiness—and falter under thin, elusive illusions.