‘When I grow up, I want a really good job’
‘She’s got a degree but she hasn’t found a good job yet’
‘It’s so hard to get a good job these days’
Good. A good job. ‘Good’. So what really constitutes a good job? The phrase has become entirely synonymous with a ‘highly paid job’ within our joyous, capitalist existence. I detest this. Is it not just a little disheartening to consider we live in a society that prizes money above happiness, under the guise that money itself equates to happiness? A giant proportion of people appear to love hating their jobs, but love to spend their money (or, even worse, just ‘have’ money). If you earn enough spare pocket money that you can buy yourself a fridge magnet or something with a cute catchphrase like ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ and recline in your armchair, in front of your TV, you will be blissfully unaware of the irony.
Imagine all jobs carry the same wage packet. Now try to distinguish between good and bad. Surely, a ‘good’ job is one that is preferable to the others and to all intents and purposes, said job should entail doing what you prefer. Follow? Good. If you didn’t have to concern yourself with the cost of living and the price of status, wouldn’t you get a job you enjoyed? I mean, really think of actual roles, that you, as an actual person, would be happy in. Consider it all, not just your ‘dream job’ (however infiltrated by financial discourse that might be). I’d hazard a guess that there are plenty of people out there working mid-salary office jobs who would find serving behind a café counter more pleasurable, but would protest that the job they have is better (i.e. the wage they earn is higher).
My point here is that we, as members of society, overlook the value of happiness. I’m not actually trying to say anything about specific careers, here. For a culture that is so individualistic in many ways, we don’t half insist on generalising and pigeonholing. All I am getting at, is that people don’t often get the chance to do what they’re good at/interested in/satisfied with because of the mountain of external factors; the guilt, frustration, worry and pressure – these all boil down to the appearance and actuality of monetary value. Who cares if you have a degree and decide not to grope for slippery graduate offers so you can slide on into a career in your field? A starting salary for a graduate job might squeeze you above minimum wage – bravo – and when you tell your relatives and in-laws-to-be that you’re working in [insert umbrella term related to degree] they will all nod and feel reasonably comfortable and unaffected by your remark. ‘Normal’, their brain cells will mumble to one another (assuming they have more than one). However, tell them you graduated with a first in engineering and now you’re working in a bar, enjoying meeting people, practising a hobby… oh. Wait. Nobody’s listening anymore. Their brains have likely been unable to follow the rest of your sentence due to sheer paralysis as a result of discovering you aren’t making use of your all-important qualification just yet. HEATHEN! You’re wasting your life! So while Joe Bloggs tries to smear on his best approving smile and disguise his confusion in response to your admission, you’re left squirming and awkwardly trying to swim the surface of the stigma.
Why? Why are so many people stuck with a one-way view? Why is working a temporary, minimum wage job a waste? In what way is allowing yourself to have enjoyed learning during your university course, without salaried outcome being paramount, a cop out? Why, in the minds of the many, is happy and free tethered to lesser while contracted and miserable prevails? I’m exasperating myself. If you are lucky enough to immediately find a job you love, that happens to fit in perfectly with all social expectations, great (you must have saved a drowning kitten in a previous life or something). However, what if you don’t want that? What if your happiness lies somewhere else, you need a break or you want to explore some other aspect of your potential? Or what if you want to travel or just bloody live this life, which is a tricky enough obstacle course without needing to carry around the ill-considered judgement of others or worse still, an ingrained guilt. A manufactured emptiness. A synthetic identity crisis borne of capitalist expectation.
This is why I rant and rave. I’m guilty of it. I have been the one to squirm whilst telling so-and-so that I’m working a minimum wage job post-university (or not working at all). I’ve been the one to frantically embellish my pathway. I’ve felt empty, lost and confused for working a lower-paid job than I’m capable of, and for leaving a job when I hate it. I’m also proud of it. I won’t work a job that is making me impossibly miserable and I’m okay with that. I will take my time to pursue my hobbies, reconnect with old interests and travel to new and interesting places without much money. I’m in a beautiful town in Sicily as I write this article. I’m staying here for a month with my boyfriend in a little apartment on the ground floor of a wonderful family’s home. The apartment is in exchange for a few hours of voluntary work in a cultural centre/restaurant and we get fed, too. It is a really good job.
I have 500 euros to my name. I’m sure I could name many a university counter-part, who may have £5000 in the bank that they earned doing their titled and salaried graduate role and now, after a few years, have moved on from the graduate and in to the steady commitment of a full-time, permanent, reliable career. If that’s what you want, great, but I know what I’d prefer and I’m doing it. I implore all of you young graduates to pause, take a breath and realise you have the choice to have control – think about what a good job really is to you. There is time! Has everyone forgotten The Tortoise and the Hare?