Adulting is an Internet meme about the trials, tribulations and annoyances of adulthood. I mean, I get it; as an adult, the number of commitments attached to your name skyrocket. It starts with cooking your own meals, then figuring out how taxes work (and then paying them). And it often culminates with that big, open-ended commitment: kids.
And let’s not forget work. If you work 9 hours a day and sleep 7 hours a night, 38% of your waking adult life will be spent at work. So it’s not surprising that the young man below views the Adulting phase of life as “sucking.”
What would you tell this young man? Borrowing a phrase from Vicki Robin (the godmother of the FIRE movement), when it comes to work: “Are we making a living? Or making a dying?”
Workism = a formula for (un)happiness?
Tim Urban gave us the pithy formula about happiness:
Happiness = Reality minus expectations
And according to Derek Thompson’s viral Atlantic piece The Religion of Workism is Making Americans Unhappy the “college-educated elite” have very high expectations for their jobs. In reaping the benefits of the Industrial Revolution this group believed that work:
Would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community.
In Your Money or Your Life Robin piled on to the expectations we place upon our work. They are akin to those placed on a life partner – not a Prince Charming but a Job Charming. She adds:
Our jobs are called upon to provide the exhilaration of romance and the depths of love. It’s as though we believed that there is a Job Charming out there—like the Prince Charming in fairy tales—that will fill our needs and inspire us to greatness. We’ve come to believe that, through this job, we would somehow have it all: status, meaning, adventure, travel, luxury, respect, power, tough challenges, and fantastic rewards. All we need is to find Mr. or Ms. Right—Mr. or Ms. Right Job.
The pursuit of the perfect anything can be exhausting. Look no further than the hard-charging Tinder swipers in hot pursuit of their actual Prince(ss) Charming. Thompson adds that Millennials are “meaning junkies” and mandate that purpose and employment go hand-in-hand, a formula for burnout. He adds:
“The problem with this gospel—Your dream job is out there, so never stop hustling—is that it’s a blueprint for spiritual and physical exhaustion. Long hours don’t make anybody more productive or creative; they make people stressed, tired, and bitter.”
Rethinking the underlying assumptions
Like a life-partner, the qualifications for rich and meaningful employment will vary from person to person. Robin identifies eight roles that work might play in our life:
- Time Structuring
Surely we’d want a job that ticks all the boxes. I ran my own self-employment through Robin’s framework and here’s where I landed:
- Earn – I can comfortably live the life that our family desires, but it’s a fraction of my old career
- Security – Security will come through savings and transferable skills. My employment is “eat what you kill”
- Tradition – I come from a long tradition of bloggers in the Hy family 😉
- Service – I struggle here. I’m in service to the community, but want to do more (especially outside my socio-economic demographic)
- Learning – Every. Damn. Day
- Power – No idea. Don’t care
- Socializing – Requires extra energy and commitment. It’s lonely to pursue something you care about so much by yourself
- Time Structuring – Incumbent on me, but thankfully a superpower of mine
So here’s what I’d tell this young man. Identify what you think work could, should and can’t deliver. If you’re reading this post, you probably have more agency in your life than you think. And if you’re really creative, you can make work feel like play.