A few of my thoughts on the existential crisis you are having regarding your career

Every person I know is having a deep existential crisis about either: a) their career; or b) their romantic life. Now, no one ever comes to me to ask for my views on their romantic life (even though I’d be happy to provide them!) because I am not very qualified to comment on that. However, a large number of people do use me as a sounding board for their vocational woes, because, well, I don’t want to sound snotty, but I’ve kind of figured it out. I know what I’m going to do with my life (or at least as much of it as I can visualize, which is really only about the next 2-3 years), and I’ve been not unsuccessful at finding the money and free time that I need in order to write.

Most of the people I know are either: a) just entering the workforce, in which case, god help you, since you’re pretty much just going to have to take what you can get; or b) have been in the workforce for a few years (working whatever job they could get) and are now wondering whether to switch fields or go to graduate school or to drop out of whatever field they’ve already gone to graduate school for.

For most of the people in category b), the problem is a lack of enjoyment. They go to their job every day, and they don’t like the work, the people, and/or the mission of the organization. In many cases, they’re somewhat glued into their current life-paths, because it’s very high-status. I mean, most people don’t have a great idea of what they want to do in this life, so, all else equal, it makes sense to go for the money and the status. However, if you’ve gone for those things and are not enjoying it…then…I don’t know, it’s worth considering a change.

Because sometimes when people describe to me their dreams for the future, it’s obvious that they don’t really want to be working: e.g. the people who are waiting for their startup to be acquired so they can retire at thirty-five, or lawyers who are willing to go through years upon years of hell and plan to kick back after they make partner, or med students who’re going to have to work like dogs through the residencies but are planning on taking up lifestyle specialties (like anesthesiology) so they won’t have to work very hard later.

Well…maybe I’m just short-sighted, but to me it sounds like what you’re saying is that you don’t want to work. And…I kind of feel like if you don’t want to work, then it doesn’t make sense to spend the next ten years working really really hard. You should just find a way to not work so hard right now. Because who can accurately plan for ten years in the future anyway? Who knows whether you make partner? Or whether the lifestyle specialty actually turns out to be that easy? Whenever people tell me that they want to retire at age forty, I’m like….but that’s in thirteen years!

Whereas, on the other hand, I’m sure this is not possible for everyone, but I think that anyone who is capable of getting into a top med school or law school is also capable of working their current life in such a manner that they can earn enough money to live without doing a huge amount of work. Or…at least…maybe that’s something to consider aiming for?

However, there’s a kind of mental blockage there. Most people won’t even consider the life of leisure option. Sometimes when I mention to people that maybe they should consider aiming for a life of leisure, they’re like, “Oh, no, I need to work.” I think they believe they’d fall apart without work to hold them together

But is that really the case? I just…I don’t believe it. Most peoples’ experience with not working is unemployment, which sucks, because you’re trying to work but you can’t. However, if you’re choosing not to work (or to work less), then I think it’d be a lot better. Personally, I’ve been part-time for threeish years now, and it is a living dream. It is wonderful to be able to do manage my own time and do what I want every day. I don’t even have the words to justify it, because, to me, it’s just so self-evident that being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, is a recipe for an amazing time.

Oh well, I’ve already blogged about how crazy it is (to my ears) when people say something like that. [I can’t find this blog post…oh well…it will go unlinked…]

You know, even though writing is silly and doesn’t pay well or provide value to the world and is also a pretty low-status occupation (at least until you publish a book), I am glad that I found it. It really is nice to know what you’re supposed to be doing.

And that’s not just because I enjoy doing it, but also because having a vocation also provides a lot of direction to my life.

Until I’d committed to writing, there were a lot of things that I thought about being: a policy wonk; a professor; a jet-setting man of business. But now all that stuff is gone. I don’t have the bandwidth to devote to two careers. Instead, the only problem is to find enough money and leisure time to do what I need to. And that really is only a logistical problem. It doesn’t require any deep soul-searching…just some hustling.

I think that is the main benefit of an artistic career. It’s not the art. The art itself is usually bad and even if it’s good, it’s not like the world really needs more art, anyway. It’s that pursuing an artistic career gives you permission to divorce your sense of self-worth from the economic marketplace. Once you remove considerations of status and meaning from work, many of these career questions become much simpler.

4 thoughts on “A few of my thoughts on the existential crisis you are having regarding your career

  1. kartik pandit

    Concept is great. Is it practical? Especially in Indian environment where competition drives survival. If you decide not to be part of the mad competitive world, right from school, to college, to social network to work you are just trashed. A trashed can finds no takers where any way economic survival is so difficult. Swami Vivekanand said you need to give food to the hungry before you expect anything from him……But yes it would be great to be able to implement the concept. kartik Pandit- Vibha vasu ( rings a bell? )

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Wow, yeah, I have no idea what things are like in India and what it’s practical to expect. I hear that competition is _fierce_ over there. Perhaps not the right place to decide to take it easy =)

  2. esmz7b

    “You know, even though writing is silly and doesn’t pay well or provide value to the world and is also a pretty low-status occupation (at least until you publish a book), I am glad that I found it. It really is nice to know what you’re supposed to be doing.” Hey, that’s awesome! That’s exactly how I feel. I feel lucky to be a writer every day. If only everyone could be so lucky as to know what they wanted to do and love doing it!

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