My job on paper sounds awesome. I’m an intelligence officer, not the clandestine kind, but an analyst. I research and write papers of intelligence value to our nation’s military and civilian decisionmakers. I work with a lot of very smart people, and our products are theoretically used to help the President, Congress, and Department of Defense make policy and actionable decisions. My day could have me at the Pentagon briefing a general, and some of us even do rotations briefing the President or Secretary of Defense. Sounds completely awesome right?
I wish it were so. For about 30 months now, I’ve been absolutely miserable. I will go into details later about why working for the government is soul crushing, but for now, I just want to discuss some of the reasons why I think men stay in unfulfilling jobs. For those that don’t know, my wife asked me for a separation this week from what I thought was a happy marriage. I was wrong and one of the things I’ve come to realize is that I’m truly unhappy in life. How could that not translate into my marriage? The #1 thing bringing me down lately has been how unfulfilling my job has been.
We stay for security
Having a job, especially in today’s job market, is a blessing. Whenever I complain about work, people will often say, “at least you have a job.” But my job is SOUL-CHRUSHING. It’s not worth it right? But I have a family to feed, three houses in my name (thank you military PCS moves), and life responsibilities that unemployment or welfare just aren’t going to cover. But I’m smart, right? I have a college degree. I can do things that the world needs. I build web pages… decent ones too. I can write. I’m a trained and proven leader — I should just open my own business! Then immediately my brain is flooded with all of the what-ifs and how will I make it past the first year without money.
We stay because it’s the evil we know
Leaving our miserable job that we’re good at is way more riskier than what could happen to us. If we leave government for private sector, we may find ourselves just as unfulfilled but without the tenure and government protections that guarantee we can work for the next 20 years with a steady paycheck. The risk of leaving a secure job to an unsecure one–we may hate just as much–is a risk.
We stay because we don’t want to fail
This is especially true if we’ve told people how much happier we’d be if we quit. What if we leave our safe and secure government job, that so many in America envy, and then fall flat on our face? I mean, failed business ventures, unemployment, being fired… these are all risks of those that leave. To some that risk is worth it, but the chances for failure are great.
We stay because people expect us to
In other cases, family and friends may convince us that it would be stupid and ridiculous for one to leave a safe and secure, high paying government job. I’ve had all of the above fears repeated to me by concerned family and friends when I even mention quitting. Quitting now makes me believe my whole family will be disappointed in my decision and would worry about my future. But my true friends at work, they secretly want to quit just as badly as I do!
So should I quit my job?
I’m not actually asking you to answer this for me. You don’t know my whole situation. I make great money and the work we do on the grand scheme of things is important to our nation. I really starting having thoughts of quitting (for real, not just talk) after hearing a TED Talk by Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend. He advocates that we should follow our passion and stresses that by surrounding yourself with people that share your passion, you greatly increase your chances for success. He was brave, he left the job he didn’t love to pursue his dreams.
I can’t answer this question. On the one hand I know there are things I would absolutely love to do (start my own web design business full time, teach high school history and coach high school football, become a full time writer of both fiction and non-fiction books), but as of now, I have no group of people with similar passions to support any of those ideas.
On the other hand, I have a lot to be grateful for in my current job. Maybe I should adopt the philosophy that my career is just the way I earn money to live the life I’m passionate about. My career does that right now. I make enough money and have enough vacation days to really do the things I love and provide outstanding opportunities and activities for my children. When the children are older, there’s also nothing to stop me from coaching high school football. With the separation, I’ll have plenty of time to write or build web pages for clients. Maybe I can view my career as a the enabler for living the life I want. I mean… I get 20 days of paid vacation a year as well as over 20 sick days, all on 40 hours a week of work (minus deployments) and a six figure salary. Who wouldn’t kill for that?
So what I’ve decided to do is change my outlook on career. To show gratitude for the good things I have, while pursuing my passions as a hobby. I’m going to stop dwelling on what’s wrong with my Agency and how we could be doing better… it’s their Agency after all, not mine. If the day comes my passions become more profitable than my ‘career,’ then I’ll look at another life change. But ultimately, I have kids I want to provide for in every way and a wife, for now, that I still want to see successful in her current training and start of a career. My job can provide all of that and still give me a few weeks to spend traveling the world and writing.