In response to my last post, a good friend sent me a long and very thoughtful email. In said email was shared personal experience and notes of commiseration, as well as a personal anecdote regarding thoughts and problems with the idea of work and ennui.
I have been mulling this over for a few days now and thought that it would be best to address this here as it would act not only as a response to this great email, but also a follow up to some of the thoughts in my previous post.
Now, where to begin…
Ah yes, concerning depression.
One of the first things addressed in said email was the seeming cyclical nature of my attitude/feelings towards my work. With this it was noted that, “With our current timing one could attribute this recent cycle of ours to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but that answer is far too simplistic.” I whole-heartedly agree with this assessment, for while I do, most definitely, have some reaction to seasonal variation, the “cycles” that I go through are far too sporadic and random for this to be a singular factor; plus my problems transcend the seasons… they happen year round, albeit inconsistently.
That said, the nature of my work was, once, more seasonal; but I will have to unpack that a bit as we move through this. In the most current iteration, seasonality has little-to-no effect on my job. Were I doing more actual archaeology, the case would be different, as in these far northern reaches of North America, said pursuits are, by environmental nature, seasonal. This is one of the reasons I got into the museum field (or at least stuck with it) in the first place… something to keep me employed during the winter. However, I do not get much opportunity to do field work anymore. That said, this is only a small piece of the puzzle.
One of the questions embedded in my friend’s email was the idea that there are many people, certainly today, but especially in years past, that worked the same job for decades and were happy to have it. At least, seemingly so. Were/are they miserable but simply did/do not show it, or perhaps show it differently?
Contrarywise, I might suggest that there are people who find a profession, or with great luck, a full time avocation which seemingly gives them pleasure and fulfills some part of their lives. But there can be danger in that, for if one finds some way to earn a living from what they love to do and it turns into a “job”, which then turns sour, one risks losing that which initially gave them pleasure.
Examples of this might be a childhood friend who was a naturally gifted sketch artist and who started down the path of making it a career but backed out. I never understood why, but perhaps this is the reason. Similarly, my brother, who loved to work on cars in his youth – a regular gear head –, got into the auto-mechanic profession and years later seemed ground down by finding no enjoyment in the activity and eventually walked away from it entirely. There may well be other explanations behind each of these examples, I really don’t know.
Either way, there is the issue of both longevity and job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction as the case may be) and I really do not know what all to make of it, nor have a good answer for the question.
Concurrently addressed in my previous post was the issue of depression and while the two may well influence one another in my case, I do not think that they are inherently intertwined in all cases… at least depending on the severity of the situation? I really don’t know and can only speak from/to my own experience. But I was trying to come back around to the idea of seasonality, and so…
Another kind of seasonality.
I have never been one of those people who “knew what they wanted to do when they grew up”. At 42 I guess I am supposed to be “grown up” and I still don’t know what I want to do. In looking back on my life the principle constant has been change. It would take a concerted effort for me to list out all of the different jobs I have had over the years. The reason I bring this up is directly related to another part of the question embedded in my friend’s email as noted above; do the younger (and by including myself, I enlist here a liberal interpretation of younger…) generations have different expectations when it comes to the reality of work? Again, I think this is too simplistic. I think, rather, that there are numerous, different perceptions to, and thus realities of, what we call work.
I have mentioned bits of my past here before, but to reiterate somewhat; I uprooted myself prior to graduating from high school. I spent my senior year in a vastly different place and situation than I had spent the previous 5 or so years. Then, practically the moment I graduated, I uprooted myself again and spent the next many years on the move, not staying in one place for more than a year and often not much more than 6 months or so. The point here is that, during what one might call the “formative years” of my acquiring a work ethic, I was bouncing from job to job and place to place.
Actually, that might not be quite right. I do not think that “work ethic” is necessarily what is at question here. I think rather, there is more of a concern regarding perceptions on what makes a “good” life. For some, stability and consistency are the order of the day and encompass what is good and right. For others, there is the idea of living life differently, in a more experiential, “caution to the wind” sort of lifestyle. Again, this imposed dichotomy is far too simplistic, but I think that for the purposes of the current discussion it will suffice…
Thus, my hypothesis is that… well, maybe there are two possible hypotheses here, albeit related to be sure. On the one hand, perhaps I am one of those that are “wired” to be more comfortable with change and new situations instead of settling down and finding consistency. On the other hand, as suggested above, perhaps in a time when many people learn the tricks and tools of building a career behavior and skill set, I was casting around investigating many different options. I suppose there is a hint of the old “nature v nurture” question here, but anyway…
Either way, in regards to the question of job satisfaction, I have held my current job for just over 5 years and this is, by far, the longest time that I have done anything consistently. I simply don’t know how to manage it; the whole idea is a bit foreign, especially given that there is not even really a seasonal variation to it. Given the ideas I have been stumbling through here, I wonder if the same wiring or learned behaviors might not add to my depression, but somehow I think that this is a much more complex issue. Either way, I feel that it is beyond the scope of this current discussion and so I will let that idea lie for now.
There is another topic that was brought up in my friend’s email and this one is a bit more elusive, but one that I have been mucking around with for a while myself; the idea of doing things for the greater good, even when they might at first seem pointless. When it comes to cultural preservation, or any type of resources management, or really just about any aspect of conservation or even academic pursuits, much of what is done is for the benefit of future generations. Certainly we in the present gain from such efforts; museums, advances in medicine and science in general, clean water, wild places… the list goes on. And certainly there are those who may be in the business for personal gain, but we will not go any further down that road for the moment.
Something that I particularly liked about this portion of the email was this; “we always stand on the shoulders of our predecessors and even if our achievements seem obscure or small we are still an important link in the larger continuum”. I completely agree with this and feel that it is true. The problem in my current situation is that I have a very difficult time seeing achievement in my work, neither obscure nor small; hence the problem with pointlessness and hopelessness. And I recognize that this is directly related to my attitude and not specifically the job that I do.
Backing up a bit, I would like to revisit the idea of the greater good. I like to work, especially when I feel some sense of accomplishment, even more-so when I feel that something that I have done has affected or made some difference for/to others. But this is where I have found myself in an awkward situation; I still believe in the benefit of what I do in terms of historic preservation, yet the on the ground, reality seems too much like pointless widget counting and this undermines my sense of accomplishment. Instead of benefiting the greater good, I oftentimes feel that I am wasting time.
Anyway, I am not sure if I satisfactorily responded to said email, nor if I succeeded in providing a decent follow up to the previous discussion. Summer is coming and the Wife and I are preparing for a brief vacation and so, all in all I am a bit scattered just now… especially to be managing such heady thoughts. So for now I will simply bid you happy trails.