Have you ever thought about what the real cost of staying in the wrong job is? The answer is 2,000 years old (at least) and shouldn’t come as any surprise to you. Yet many of us continue to repeat an ageless mistake.
If you’ve ever spent any length of time in a job that is simply ‘not right’ for you, you understand the impact it can have on your life. It affects you emotionally, psychologically and physically. But the biggest cost is not what you think it is.
It isn’t the fact that your enjoyment of life declines (although it does).
It’s not that your relationships suffer (although they do).
It won’t be that your friends get tired of hearing you moan about it (although they will).
It isn’t any of these.
The true cost of staying in a poorly fitting job is the loss of your most precious resource.
Despite our lives getting busier and busier, most of us fail to account for the value of our time. Now, an economist can tell you all about the time value of money and how interest rates reflect the expectation of future…blah, blah, blah….snore ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.
Your time is valuable!!
You have an obligation to make sure it counts!!!
[Insert personal confession here]
I have a pretty sketchy record when it comes to valuing my own time, especially when the subject is work. When I’ve found myself struggling through periods where I was dissatisfied with my role or environment at work, I told myself that it was OK because in signing my employment contract I’d agreed to sell ‘X’ hours of my time per week to the company. From that point, anything they asked that was broadly related to what I’d been hired to do and that didn’t place me in physical danger was alright. (Within reason mind you; I’m not going to prison for anyone.)
I was wrong.
It was absolutely NOT OK.
Why wasn’t it OK? It all comes back to time.
YOUR time belongs to you…and it matters what you choose to do with what you’ve been given.
Writing almost 2,000 years ago, Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (aka ‘old Roman dude’) summarised the issue in his famous treatise On the Shortness of Life. In it he wrote that any length of life is sufficient, provided that it is lived wisely:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
(Hmmmmmmmmmmm. That sounds deep! I better go back and read it again.)
Why is this relevant to our topic? Because when we choose to stay in work that is unfulfilling, from which we derive no sense of purpose and that doesn’t align with the vision we have for ourselves, we are settling for a life that is less than full.
We are selling ourselves short.
Study after study after study highlights the importance of devoting our labour towards something that is meaningful to us. Some ‘thing’ that reflects our purpose. This is especially true for younger generations.
It’s entirely possible that you may not know or be able to clearly explain what your purpose is. This is a problem that many of us struggle with. It’s a big issue…and one that we’ll need to devote more time to another day. Suffice it to say that if you don’t think you’ve got a handle on what your purpose is, you’re running a grave risk. Getting back to our ‘old Roman dude’, Seneca issued a warning about the dangers of substituting someone else’s purpose in place of your own. Working to fulfil the goals of others – in modern parlance ‘working for the man’ – was judged to be destructive to the soul:
“Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations…If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.”
I can’t speak for you, but I for one don’t want to be or feel wretched.
So, where to from here?
If you’re disengaged at work, do something about it. You could start by reflecting on the tasks and activities that make you feel most alive. You need to get to you know yourself really, really, really well. Once you’ve done that, think about how can you engineer your days to include more of the things that you do love and less of the things that you don’t. Small victories may be small…but they’re still a win in my book. Doing this can help you better understand the value of your time and keep you focused on striving to use it wisely.
Maybe Seneca hasn’t delivered a solution to your situation. If not, hopefully he’s made it easier for you to define the problem and, with that, help steer a way forward. Find work that you can apply yourself to with purpose. But, make sure that you’re working towards your own purpose and not somebody else’s.
It’s a journey and one that we all need to take. More to come….
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