When Work Feels Like Prison: A Lesson From Shawshank

The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption

On a typically dismal Monday, I joked that my job was starting to feel less like an early career stopgap and more like a prison sentence.  As the week went on, I found that the parallels between the last two years of my employment– feeling unjustly confined to a place I didn’t belong, the bittersweet feeling of seeing peers leaving for a life outside these walls– made me think about the themes presented in The Shawkshank Redemption.  Each character got to prison differently and survived in various ways, but they all shared one thing in common- everyone wanted out.  The notion that working a 9-5 job is anything like imprisonment certainly seems hyperbolic, but in some ways it’s actually not.

Here’s a quick recap if you haven’t seen the film:

Banker Andy Drufresne is falsely convicted of murder and thus sentenced to an eternity–two life sentences– in Shawshank Penitentiary.  Through most of the film’s 142 minutes, we see Andy suffer through the hardships we’ve typically come to associate with prison life– assault, embarrassment, and– after a near legal escape is thwarted by a self-serving and ironically murderous warden–  reluctant acceptance of his ill fated circumstances.

After serving in Shawshank for over a decade, Andy seems to find peace in his prison existence.  His rewarding job in the library and cult status amongst  fellow inmates cons viewers into thinking that the moral of the film could simply be to just make the best out of a bad situation.  For an average film, and an average life, that would suffice.  However, what makes Shawshank stand out is its incredible finish.  It’s not just that Andy escapes, but how he does it, that we can all learn something from.

Andy Dufresne spent years literally chipping his way to escape.  Using a rock hammer that could probably barely chip a tooth, he gradually broke his way through the concrete wall that separated him from the outside world.  Andy didn’t dwell on what should have happened; he didn’t lament the life he deserved.  He chose to get active in busting his way out of prison.

What can the everyday person toiling away in a job that they hate take from this?  Jobs can feel like an indefinite prison sentence, and in many ways they’re exactly that.  You may not (and probably won’t) find your way out in a day.  It will likely take much longer.  But by gradually clawing away at the massive wall between your current job and freedom, you ensure that the day of your release will indeed arrive.

What does chipping away look like for us?  Maybe it’s posting that great cake recipe you love to make at office parties as a start to selling them by the slice in a new business.  How about recording your #hotsportstakes and uploading it as a podcast? Instead of waiting to make that gift basket for a friend’s birthday, try selling one to a coworker.  These are all simple steps that, if built upon through persistence, can lead to the breakthrough you’ve been waiting on.  Pray for God’s assistance along the way through discouragement and setbacks, then watch Him help you as you help yourself. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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