Do we live to work or work to live? This often surfaces as a recurring question when talking to people about work life balance and the enjoyment of their work.
Do I “put in the time” so that I can have the lifestyle I desire outside of work hours? Or do I “do what I love” at the cost of less than ideal lifestyle outside of work hours?Money, time, values, culture, hobbies, and relationships are all factors in trying to live out an answer to these questions. In the following interview, the subject shares about stepping into their profession after college, sticking with it for several years, and what career and work life balance means to them now.
The interviewee evaluates the origin of their career mindset and how they would like to change. Please keep in mind that this person is not speaking from research or a position of expertise; this is simply their perspective of their current circumstances.*
*This person is not a client, but in order to protect their privacy, all identifying information will be kept confidential. They consent to the publication of this interview.
What is career to you?
What career is to me has changed since graduating from college. I had worked toward a degree, then did not apply it. I went after a job for money.
I have watched my whole family join a field and stick with it, so that was the mindset I had. I jumped into my first job out of college, started making money, and life was good. I started paying my bills and got out of debt. But when I think about a career now, it is not that path anymore. I want to do something that I am actually interested in and that I get value out of.
When you were making that choice right out of college, what was your criteria?
Money was a factor. I have also wanted to help people in some way, so I thought, “How can I get in touch with people?”
So what was the top priority?
Money. I had student debt. And I needed a car. And money to pay for rent.
Where was that mindset coming from?
From family. From parents, really. The expectation was to support yourself. But no one ever really talked about how. Even now when I think about my parents and relatives, it has never been about following your heart but more of a means to an end.As a family, we have it ingrained that if you’re not working hard, then you are not going to be successful. And if you are miserable, it is okay because you know that you are a hard worker. But I have learned that it does not necessarily have to be that way.
It was not entrepreneurial or creative. It was always, “What’s the best job you can get to support yourself and your family?” And my whole family has pretty much stayed in the same place.
So that message of, “If you’re not miserable then you’re not working hard,” where do you think that message comes from?
I think in my family it comes from a blue-collar perspective. Of my cousins, I am one of three who went to college out of a total of about twenty cousins. Pretty much none of my aunts and uncles in the generation above that went to college. Nothing has been academic. It was always about survival. Or limiting perspectives because of a lack of money.
They are used to the struggle . . . or their struggle. No one branches out. Nobody moves. The family members that have moved are doing a lot more for themselves than anyone who has stayed close to home. It is almost like the more you branch out, the more drive you have . . . probably because they’re filling a void. <laughter> But it seems to lead to success and motivation.
So it was big for you to leave your hometown, and big to go to college, and to try to think about career in any other way than to just make money.
Yeah, and I feel like that last part is where I am hitting a wall right now. I know that there is a next step and other things I could be doing. That there is another mentality to it. But I’m trying to figure out what that is.
I have not had many people in my life that do that . . . if any. I went a separate way than most of the people that I knew in college. I felt like I outgrew the people around me in terms of aspiration. I had a cashier job in high school where I had some friends that did not go to college.
In college, I had friends that did not have to work and I did. Then after we all graduated college, I still had the mentality that I needed to make money so that I can live, pay bills, and do more for myself. But I never thought about networking as being something that was helpful. I am still learning.
You have not encountered a work mentality that makes a lot of sense to you.
Right. Reflecting on a childhood friend who comes from a really different family, I remember that she did not have to think about working to get something that she wanted. She comes from a loving family but she just has not had to work for things.
And it is not necessarily a bad thing, because she has the ability to jump into something new or maybe a little scary and think, “It is going to be okay.” It is just so different from my experience. I have noticed that she does not feel great about herself and I think it is because she has not had an opportunity to accomplish something for herself. But she also has a lot of freedom.
We have just had two very different mentalities to life. I would like to be going down a path where I go for something that interests me or that I love and see if anything comes of it. Not the “nose to the grindstone sitting in a cubicle, this will pay the bills and I will be fine” mentality. I have outgrown that mindset now. I have got to branch out. I have to try new things.
Where do you think that is coming from?
I think I have always been curious about how to be more than what I am right now. A lot of the people that I have grown up around are complacent. Which is not a bad thing, but they will hit a certain level and that is good for them. For me, it is not.
I always felt like an outsider. The groups that I found and the relatives that I had, I never fit in with a lot of ideas that they had. When you have to question everything about your being and who you are as a person, it adds more drive.
Tell me about those first few years after college and what that season was like for you.
I started in customer service in the field that I am in now for probably about a year and a half post college. After that, I decided to move, and dove further in to my field. There was a good available job when I moved and that has been what I have been doing ever since. Going back to my family stuff, it checked all of boxes of money and benefits. But I feel like now I have done everything that I can do with it.
Did you consider going to college outside of your hometown?
I did not know I had options. There was never a set track. College was just this label to achieve.
What was your mental headspace during those years before you moved?
Well, I enjoyed it because I did not take it that seriously. For my job, if you are a well-mannered person, you are going to be fine. Life was pretty chill during those two years.
Stress set in when I moved. I had the mentality that I was going to hate it . . . so then I hated it. There were also a few other variables. Tough living situation that was a bit of a shock. I remember thinking “this cannot be it.” I kept having this image of a dartboard and my dart was on the wall way down in the corner.
Did consider switching careers when you moved?
I started to look into other options, but it always came back to money. Since then, I have started to change my mindset a bit. Eventually I might switch into a different setting.I am trying to be more mentally flexible and get out of the mindset that I have to be in an office to make an income or have a job with the standard benefits up front.
I’m exploring possibilities for how to make a living doing something that I actually like. I have changed to think more about my insurance work as a piggy bank. Creating that image has helped me detach from that a bit.
I am good at connecting with people and meeting them where they need to be. My mind is always in a reflection mode. Everything I do right now is very analytical. I have a lot of empathy, but I would like to use that differently and be in a positive mindset.
When I first started in my profession, I never had to tell people things that I know are going to hurt them or make them upset. You are not making people feel better. You have to be like, “I can help you, but within reason.”
Sometimes I think it is easier for personalities that are not as empathetic. I had to learn how to make a point and then defend it. Developing a thicker skin has helped, but I’ve noticed it has started to impact my relationships and the way that I interact with others. People in my work are very cynical and jaded.
I am obviously still trying to figure out what career means to me. What does it mean? What do I do? What steps to I take to get there? Career is a word that gets tossed around a lot, particularly around college.
I do not really see things and life in the shape of a career anymore. I fall somewhere outside of that but I am also not interested in just having random jobs to make ends meet. So I’m starting there and making a network. It has been good letting go of the mindset that I grew up with.
How have you been able to let that mindset go?
I no longer see the point in suffering. I bought into that until I started my current work. It has disrupted my comfort zone. If I do not like something, I am going to find a way to fix it. I do not how right away, but it has pushed me to look a little further for myself.
If you were to go back to your college self, what would you want to say?
A lot of my head space was about identity. If I would have had a better sense of who I was and had been less ruled by fear, I could have explored so many other things. When you have a lot fear, you do not do much.
I feel as if I was stunted in a way before. I think I would tell myself, “Do not be afraid of the unknown. And don’t try to hide from it.” In high school and college, I did a lot of drinking to escape that fear. I was not owning who I am. I remember really being on edge during that time period and maybe hiding behind some friendships. I used to be really angry.
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“Career,” courtesy of geralt, pixabay.com, CC0 License;
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