A few months ago, I found myself blazing through a stop sign nearly in tears after I left the office. I was ranting to my husband about work, and my whiny monologue went a little like this, “If I love writing and I’m a writer, why does my job suck so much? I get to write for a living and I know people would love to be in my shoes, so why don’t I love it more than I do?” After patiently listening to me drone on, he dropped this knowledge. “Well babe, if it wasn’t work they wouldn’t pay you to do it.”
As one of those big-brown-truck-driving delivery men who drop at your doorstep all the strange things you’ve ordered off Amazon, he knows a little bit about hard work. He spends anywhere from eight to 14 hours a day hopping on and off his truck with packages, being nice to people who can be complete douchebags. The crazy thing is he can honestly say – and regularly does – that he likes his job. That’s because he understands what having a job really means.
The problem with millennials is not that we can’t or won’t work hard, it’s that we have a misconception about what having a job and a career is all about. From the time we were sipping juice in preschool right up until our college graduation people have continuously told us to follow our dreams and said if we try hard enough, we can accomplish anything. Those phrases definitely have a place on the “top five myths millennials need to stop believing,” but they aren’t the worst. They fall short of being the big, hairy, no-good lie, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Confucius is attributed with first saying this stupid little phrase that has been repeated, tweaked and proclaimed as truth for thousands of years. I don’t know much about ancient China, but I can only assume that the only way it was true back then without things like indoor plumbing and wifi was through the lens of copious opium consumption.
These days there is less opium, and the only economy we millennials have ever known is one that has been crippled by The Great Recession. Full time jobs with livable wages are hard to come by. When those of us who are lucky enough to land one in our field get one of those coveted positions, it’s automatically assumed that we shall love it. After all, we’re getting paid to do that thing we spent so long studying and being passionate about and working for. From here on out, because we think we love what we do, we expect every day to be rainbows, butterflies and an endless loop of “Walking on Sunshine.” This mental picture leaves no room for bullshit meetings, the harsh reality of a workweek that often lasts more than 40 hours and an economy that demands us to constantly produce more with less.
This job – this career – is supposed to feel different than the waiting tables and folding clothes that got us through college. It’s supposed to be more about principles and less about bureaucracy, paperwork and headaches. What nobody bothered to tell us is that while we may love the work we’re doing, that work only makes up a fraction of our job. The good bits are sandwiched between the endless stream of emails, incompetent coworkers and being the absolute lowest man on the totem pole. So not only are we struggling with this transition into a career, we’re feeling guilty because it feels like work. We’re questioning ourselves and whether or not we really love what we’re doing enough to hang in for however many decades it takes us to retire. It still feels like work even though we’re supposed to be living our dream.
The thing millennials need to understand is that you can eventually love your job, but that love isn’t the swift passion of a summer romance. It’s more like the love that evolves out of an arranged marriage. It’s uncomfortable and obligatory at first. There are those sparks every now and then, but this new relationship is a commitment, not a feeling. Over time you foster an appreciation that grows quietly and cautiously into affection and eventually love.
It takes a while to get there and that love is probably never going to be the white hot endorphin rush of falling swiftly and hopelessly in love. There may be moments, flashes of that, but it can’t be expected. For the most part, work – even at the job of your dreams – is going to feel a lot like work. And that’s okay. That’s the reason they pay you to be there and put money in your 401K. Instead of listening to Confucius and his lies, listen to a much better Eastern influence for our generation and consider the words of Mr. Miyagi “patience, young grasshopper.”