“You’ve got the job”
The words ring in your ear like a hallelujah chorus. You wake up the next morning energized and excited. Waltzing into work, you find yourself surrounded by people you can already tell will be a joy to work with. Your boss is no exception. As the day goes on, you find your work captivating; you are doing things that matter and fit your skill set, but that are simultaneously challenging. On the way home from work, your song comes on the radio and you feel it--total satisfaction. Each day thereafter is equally invigorating, each night you are home by a reasonable time, and each week, you are rewarded with a healthy salary.
You have finally done it.
It’s a pretty picture isn’t it? It’s your dream job--the moment when all of your work pays off and when all your worrying about your future dissipates. The thing is, I think all it stacks up to be is an enticing myth. Personally, it’s one I have bought into. However, I’m realizing it’s all a big lie.
I’m not saying there isn’t a job out there that will fit your strengths or have a wonderful work environment. In fact, I think there are plenty of jobs out there like that. There will be tasks at your future job that you will probably love. The lie sneaks in when we begin to worship our future job, thinking it will complete us. We tell ourselves that until we find the job, our lives have a gaping hole. We think that once we find the job, our lives can actually begin. We think that the job will make all those projects and papers worth it, because we will finally be doing the thing that makes us happy.
There are two problems with this. First, humans are terrible at predicting what will make us happy (or unhappy). The psychology term for this is “affective forecasting” and Harvard professor and researcher Dr. Daniel Gilbert has found we constantly fail at it. He says, “The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either. So the good news is that going blind is not going to make you as unhappy as you think it will. The bad news is that winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect.” This suggests the euphoric feeling we predict from our future job is no more than a figment of our imagination. Further, Gilbert’s research revealed that the things we rely on to make us happy often have little to no correlation with our level of happiness. He studied everything from promotions to romantic partners and found within 3 months, our level of happiness returned to its previous baseline. The truth is, happiness is affected much less by our external circumstances than we think.
Aside from being largely unrealistic, there’s also a second problem with The Job Myth. For the sake of a metaphor, let’s say your college experience is represented by a beautiful sailboat, taking you from the shores of adolescence to adulthood. Sure, there might be storms along the way and there are certainly chores you have to do on the boat, but the overall journey is breathtaking. You travel through crystal blue water, you watch dolphins swim in the wake, and each night the sky is painted in brilliant sunset. What if, however, instead of noticing all this, you spent the whole journey staring at a postcard of the destination? Sure, it’s a neat postcard, but I think you’d agree that it is not worth everything around that you’re missing.
How often do we do the same thing in college? How often do we stare at the postcard of our future job instead of taking in life around us? How many times do you hear the words “hang in there” or “just get through it” echoing throughout campus?
I am all for big dreams and exciting destinations. I 100% believe in the power of pursuing our passions. Here’s the kicker, however--I think we have to do so with our feet firmly planted in the present. Otherwise we miss out on today. There will always be a promotion or a raise, but there will not always be this moment. Besides, studies continue to show that not only are we atrocious at predicting our happiness, but we’re also painstakingly bad at predicting our future.
Truthfully, I don’t believe there is a job in the future that will finally and fully satisfy you. I don’t think jobs have the power to do that. It’s okay if you are uneasy about that idea, but I think you can probably recognize that when we put all our hope in the destination, we risk being profoundly distracted from the present. So maybe take today to look around your sailboat. Maybe ask yourself what you’re trusting to bring you that coveted sense of complete happiness. And maybe dare to wonder, “is it a myth?”