“Why are you doing this?”

May 20, 2014

I’m grateful to have a job. Not everyone is so lucky. It pays well enough to allow me to live in California, eat well, entertain my friends, and pay off some credit card debt. I try to remind myself of this when impermanent circumstances make me consider quitting. It’s not that my boss is demanding, the work undesirable, or my coworkers impossible to deal with. What I have a hard time coming to terms with is “wasting” my potential.

I want to be clear: I don’t consider any job to be beneath me. But I have yet to work in a position that challenges me physically, mentally, and spiritually. Nor do I think I’m likely to find one anytime soon. Without boasting too much, I am smart. Smarter than I believe the job requires me to be. And this is obvious to anyone I’m working with:

“Why are you doing this?”

“When are you going to get a real job?”

The latter was thrown in my face by a female retiree in Los Angeles. I’m sure she had her reasons. Her husband somehow sensed there was something about me and asked me to recite as many digits of pi as I knew (22). Upon learning this, his wife thought I was lowering myself with menial labor and marketing.

A coworker couldn’t help but utter the former as I was introduced by my boss on a Sunday outing. He was a high school graduate who presumably didn’t have the means to go to university, and was understandably curious as to why an intelligent graduate would be working ostensibly the same position as he.

I’m confident in my decisions. I made a choice to come back and try to live in the US, knowing that would mean some sacrifices. However, though I can shake the perceptions of others when it comes to their fears and misconceptions of living abroad, I can’t do the same concerning my job.

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.
– Tyler Durden

I think this discrepancy comes from experience. I know there’s significant value in travel, far more than average American Joes can appreciate, and thus I don’t feel slighted when people call me out on spending so much time abroad; I know they’re 100% wrong. The same cannot be said for me, underemployed. Maybe there it’s necessary to survive, but I lack the experience to convince my naysayers and myself that there’s nothing wrong with my job.

Mr. Durden was right, and wrong; you are your job. It’s your appeal to the opposite sex (if you’re a man, anyway), your self worth, and where you’re spending the majority of your waking time. Getting no value out of it, whether it be a relationship with coworkers, knowledge, or life skills, would be foolish. It doesn’t have to satisfy every one of your desires you thought of when you wanted to work, but there must be something. We are capable of pursuing other interests outside of a simple job.

My problem is I haven’t learned this balance. My interests outside of the workplace are few and far between without a network of friends and knowledge of opportunities in the area. As a result, I tend to look to the one consistency in my life, the job, for meaning. And there is none. I believe I am subverting myself, and comments like the ones above sting quite a bit.

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