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Last Updated on March 13, 2023 by Daniella
Did you grow up believing that if you played your cards right, one day you would have a job that paid well and were passionate about?
If your answer is yes, welcome to the club.
At school and home, we millennials were told that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. With hard work and dedication, nothing was impossible, and we were encouraged to dream big.
No wonder we transitioned into young adults who swore by hustle culture, chased dream jobs and glorified the importance of passion for work. The toxic combination of chronic busyness and not only enjoying your vocation but also being passionate about it defined our work culture for decades.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and life and work as we knew it underwent seismic changes. As the death toll increased, so did our epiphanies. Many of us burned out and quit because we had finally seen the light: there is more to life than work, and the dream job is dead.
I Don’t Hate Work
I think dream jobs never existed, but that is a topic for another day.
What I want to talk about instead is this: now that many of us do not dream of labor, will the obsession with passionate work become obsolete too? Just as we have come to terms with the death of the dream job, will we accept the unimportance of following our passion?
Before you peg me as someone who hates work, allow me to clear the air. I fought long and hard to choose my passion: writing.
I have lost count of the times people told me I was making a mistake, wasting my IT engineering degree, that I would come to regret this decision, and so on. Ten years ago, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. Long before graduation day, I knew this field was not right for me in any way. But the course had been expensive and time-consuming, and a job in IT would pay well. The practical thing to do would be to stay in the tech industry.
What Happened When I Followed My Passion
So, what did I do? I ignored all of the above and figured out what to do next. Because back then, I firmly believed that finding and pursuing my passion would bring me lasting happiness.
With trial and error, I realized it was writing and pursued it doggedly. Doing so deepened my depression and burned me out. Thankfully, I soon became proactive about improving my poor mental health. With time, effort, and therapy, I learned to focus on things outside the writing world.
After about seven years of work experience, I realized that chasing my passion had not brought me happiness. Yes, it fulfilled me professionally, but it did not make up for my lack of a love life. Plus, there were days I wanted to do anything else or nothing at all.
My experience disproved the quote that my generation and I had been inspired by for years: Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
The Capitalist Lie of Being Passionate About Work
Now I know some people may think the pandemic and having depression drove me to this conclusion. But I figured out that passion was overrated in 2019; I just couldn’t accept it. After all, I had built my life around it, and I could not afford to look foolish, could I?
But in 2021, when people began quitting their jobs and ushered in The Great Resignation, I lost my ego and accepted the truth. More importantly, I began to tell as many people as possible about the capitalist lie of being passionate about work.
It helped that numerous passion-driven peers and acquaintances began speaking up too. Stellar pieces like consider the good enough job and quiet quitting? Everything about this so-called trend is nonsense gave me the courage to speak my truth. And the careful optimist in me believes that the more we normalize conversations about rejecting burning passion, the more we will be able to live a well-rounded life.
Humans are not wired to do the same thing for hours every day. We need excitement, variety, and rest, which is impossible when we spend most of our waking hours working instead of being.
Why We Need to Change Our Relationship With Work
Let me illustrate why a change in our relationship with work is essential.
I have double depression, and on some days, it prevents me from working. I used to beat myself up for being ungrateful on bad mental health days. I was lucky to follow my passion, and I dared to feel disconnected from writing?!
When I accepted that work is not and must not be the most crucial thing in my life, I stopped being so hard on myself.
It’s cool to have career goals as long as they don’t define you as a person.
You Are Not Your Job
Remember: You are working to live, not the other way around. You are not your job – and there is more to life than work.
If you find your work meaningful, good for you. But this you-must-love-your-work philosophy is too much pressure, especially for those starting their careers. It’s okay to work for money instead of being driven by passion. Plus, not everyone can or wants to monetize their passion.
Work cannot be the same as play, and we need to stop selling this lie to future generations.
Let’s finally focus on the world beyond work without any apologies. Only when we give up this facade of being obsessed with work can we take stock of our life and figure out how to live it on our terms.
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Mahevash Shaikh is an author and freelancer from India who writes about culture, society, and mental health. You can find her at https://www.mahevashmuses.com/.