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A few weeks ago, my work team and I loaded up in a sweet Dodge Grand Caravan to travel across the state for a meeting.
This particular meeting entailed driving three and a half hours one way, meeting for one hour, and driving three and a half hours back. Since yours truly is the project manager, and it was my idea to make sure we meet with constituents and stakeholders in person as much as possible and I got to captain the boat both ways, something I never mind as long as there are people to talk to. Couple that with how beautiful the drive through the mountains this time of the year and we have ourselves a recipe for a memorable ride. Sometimes the journey is more fun than the destination.
Both of my bosses are PhD holding parents that are well respected in their respective research communities. One of my bosses is as laid back as they come and the other, the ultimate professional. It is a great 1-2 punch; in the community research arena, people are often wary of academics and my bosses make sure everyone is comfortable and the right things are said. This is born out of genuine care and interest rather than contrived lip service.
During the course of the trip, the topic of “work burnout” came up. I rarely talk about it, let alone in front of my bosses. Yet, hearing it from them made it okay to be out in the open. The meetings, mindless emails, idiots – you name it, they’ve dealt with it. That level banal bullshit grinds down even the sharpest edge. Honestly, I’d rather people be upfront with the mundane realities of their ten-year head start in the field rather than lie to me and tell me I’ll need to know cursive like teachers did in middle school.
We all grapple with work burnout. The idea that we work all these years to “retire.” How many times have you seen Mr. Beerbelly work, retire, head up to the tee box on the first hole and keel over with a heart attack? All of that work for what? We throw money into IRAs, 401k accounts, try to save squirrel a little money, buy a house and hope we don’t take it in the ass from life. Who knows if we’ll even have a Social Security?
It drives me crazy when I hear people say, “You never work a day in your life if you do something you love.” I love my job because I like to help people, I enjoy the people I work with, and I also enjoy not living in a cardboard box. Like many harsh realities of life, you have pay the bills. My one boss often laments about having nothing to show at the end of the day. He always talks about becoming a garbage man because of the movie Men at Work. This man holds two masters and a doctorate but would being a garbage man be his “never work a day in his life”? I guess the seaweed is always greener.
We spend a lot of our life in some sort of institution. From preschool up to high school, onto college and beyond. Each step of the way, people feed you more bullshit, from “you won’t get to use a calculator” to “if you work really really hard, you’ll get a great job and live the American Dream.” You basically get one shot to figure out your life. We ask 18-year-old kids who are often first-generation college students to figure out what they want to do and if they fuck that up, they are financially taking it in the shitter for quite some time.
“You can always go back and do something new, Madoff. What’s wrong with you?”
I’m glad I went to college and grad school. I’d do it again and I love what I do, but that doesn’t diminish the feeling of burnout. Yeah I know, you can chase a new dream but that dream better fucking pay the bills. Lop that on top of what many of us already owe and restarting from the bottom is often unattainable unless you want to put yourself behind a second 8 ball.
Every year is getting shorter and I never seem to find the time to do anything. We’re already a week into November and its dark at 5:30 p.m. Sometimes, the realization that I will be doing this for the next 35 plus with a high likelihood of never retiring gets me down. The only reprieve from the 9-5, Monday-Friday life, at least for the time being, are weekends, holidays and PTO. As Noel Gallagher once said, “You can wait for a lifetime to live your days in the sunshine, you might as well do the white line.” .