Intertwining meaning and work - words on embracing a crooked career path.

I recently read this book called `The Good Enough Job` by Simone Stolzoff. It changed my perspective about meaningful work and expectations from work. This book talks about how we obsess over finding meaning through work and how this is a misplaced endeavour (when work is a sole source of meaning) resulting in an incomplete life experience. Don't get me wrong - the book won't convince you to not chase your work related dreams - but it might convince you to do it in a more wholesome manner. 

As a child, I got asked this question like most children do. What did I want to be when I grew up? My answer changed from an Engineer like my dad to an Artist like my aunt to a Vet because I loved animals to a Dentist because it was the practical thing to do as a woman to a Forensic Expert since it was finally settling on some sort of whatever engineer because I just didn't have a better reason to pursue something else over that.

I ended up becoming that some sort of whatever engineer, never really appreciating the skills I gained along the way. I grew to resent my parents and the Indian school system for not rewarding my inclination towards art and not letting me be an artist. In my mind - they didn't let me be an artist, my one true vocation. But, how wrong I was. 

As a polymath I’ve had trouble finding a good career fit all my life. As I progressed in my career, I saw others around me finding endless meaning in their jobs. I envied them. They spoke about work with passion. While I questioned the point of my work related projects - they threw themselves in deep. What was I missing? Why didn't I love my job as much as they did? I saw it as a way to make money. As financial independence. Of having money to spend on things I couldn't before. Not as something I'd pick over other fulfilling things. Like spending time with family or friends. Why didn't I get excited on Sunday night at the thought of Monday? Something was wrong. Wasn't there? But, Simone's book flipped me on my head in the best possible way.

I’m an electrical engineer by trade. A web developer for fun. An artist for life. A wife to a very driven and somewhat of a workaholic husband in the tech industry. A daughter to my parents who live 8000 miles away in India. I read this book while I was getting ready to apply for jobs and before I read it, I was dreading the process entirely. I kept putting off the job hunt until the very last minute before I couldn't anymore. I was expecting yet another start of a struggle with no clear idea of a why. Simone's book helped me find alignment with my “why” and form a story around it that made sense to me. Having this story is important. This story helps us make peace with what work means to us....whatever it be.

My why was right in front of me. Work gave me money. And money is a way to reach those other meaningful things for me. Activities that were meaningful. Making more and more money for better advancements in my career has never motivated me and so no matter what career I dove into....if the job was stimulating enough....I'd be awesome at it. That was my good enough job. It was my best job. And, guess what? I already had it. :) 

I realized that the meaning I sought had to come from vast sources and work was only one of those sources. I've learnt that many people confuse living a meaningful life with loving what they do for work. Like I did. My art. My family. Our 10 year old puppy. A community. There’s a lot of ways meaning could be found and surrendering to this thought process was a key factor in flipping my mindset. 

My mindset switched from I need to make money while doing something that is in total and complete alignment with my likes and making money and having the means to support those other meaningful endeavours. Isn't it great to have a source of income that you don't hate and that also lets you chase what is important to you in life? Such as making art. Or buying that very expensive ticket to visit my family back in India.

This clarity has given me a boost of energy. I'm certain that this clarity also makes me a better team member at work. It makes me a better partner to my husband. And, in general I'm more at peace. It helps me be a more whole person since this so called meaning can never be snatched away from me if I get laid off or fired or change careers or any number of other endless reasons that work has become unstable and precarious in today's times. New technology being discovered cannot take meaning away from life. A bad boss can't take it away. A promotion I miss out on can't touch it. No one single thing can put a dent in it. 

How much does it matter for the story you weave around your work and your identity to make sense? A lot. The story you tell yourself and how you present yourself to the outside world matters. It took me a while to weave this story. Do you have a story?

Everyones good enough job looks different and mine is where my skills with electricity, empathy and creativity meet a mentally stimulating atmosphere. Wherever that is....I shall stick around as long as they let me. My mind demands having variety in the work I do and it has taken me a long time to recognize why this is. I can give it variety. My brain also demands loving what I do and I've had many passionate tearful talks with it and talked it out of that childish dream. A dream job is a myth. I cannot and will not believe in that pipe dream. Life is too precious. 

My art. My family. My friends. These things bring me true meaning and are worth chasing, and chase them I shall. Doesn't mean I won't enjoy my work. I will and I do. But, my entire being will not arrest if circumstances around work suddenly change. 

I am thankful to Simone for writing this book. From me and many other polymaths like me. His book is well timed with the economy as it is. So many people in tech getting laid off from their dream jobs. My wish is for them to read this book. Someone getting laid off isn't a surprise these days and it makes me sad. All these people are going to be questioning their why. And I know how confusing it can be to do that. I’m sure this book has resonated deeply with people at various stages in their life. If you identify as a polymath or as someone who associates a big part of their identity with work, I recommend you read Simone's book. 

After reading this book, I was also able to finally feel thankful towards my parents for guiding me academically to pick engineering over other things. It meant I was able to cultivate versatile enough skills that now allow me to make money creatively. For the longest time I felt I didn't fit in anywhere since I didn't particularly love electrical engineering. But, at 35 I finally understand - it's not about loving what you do. At least - not for everyone. For most of us - it's about finding out the sweet spot where our natural aptitude and skills meeting each other to give us the best chance at earning enough money to actually do what we really want to do. Now I understand why my mom used to say - when you grow up you can make your own money and do what you want to do, until then listen to what I tell you. 

No electrical engineer I know wires things up for the absolute love of electricity itself. She does it so things can function....and she can finally go home to her friends and family where the real life is being where she isn't as easily replaceable. 

Now - I have the means to do what I want to do. I can write if I like. I can make art. I can buy good enough paint with the money earned from my good enough job and make art with it. So what if the money I earned didn't come from selling a painting? The end result was that I got to make some more art.

I can finally embrace my crooked career path as it has been and see it with gratitude. The story makes sense now and its only the beginning. :) 

Always a weirdo,



Back to blog

Leave a comment