There seems to be a peculiar affliction among the design and technology industries when it comes to career satisfaction.
Though plenty of people in the world are dissatisfied with their career situation, we can often attribute that to traditional factors like un-engaging work, low pay, lousy benefits, long hours, physically and mentally stressful jobs, or demoralizing and disenfranchising environments.
But we work on “cool projects” for “good companies.” We do work that is stimulating in an environment that seems nurturing. We get paid above-average salaries with decent benefits. We work remotely, we work flexibly, we seem closer than ever to achieving a work-life balance. And yet, everywhere I look, people are constantly changing jobs or positions, rapidly leaving, starting, or ending projects, or deciding to leave the field for good, defeated.
You’re trying hard not to show it, but baby I know it
Partly, I think this is because we are in a unique place when it comes to our careers. On one hand, we love what we do. The reason we pursued this field in the first place is because we were fascinated by it. We’ve eagerly done the work ourselves on nights and weekends, immersing ourselves in passion projects out of the simple joy of learning and creating. On the other hand, there are actually several lucrative jobs available in our field, at good companies, paying good money. This seems to be the perfect recipe for happiness, getting paid to do what we love. Yet I continue to see a massive amount of churn, stress, discontent, and burnout at an extremely rapid rate.
If you would only love me like you used to do
I can’t help but notice the parallels between work and relationships. Because we have a passion for what we do, and are able to do it for a living, we make the mistake of thinking that we need to feel personally fulfilled by our careers – and not only that, but that the passion we experience is supposed to be a permanent state, because we’re doing what we love. What we are experiencing is Eros, the Greek term for passionate love. In a relationship, this is the honeymoon stage, full of desire and the feeling of “being in love.” At work, this is the excitement of a new job, a new project, a problem that you are enthusiastic about solving.
The mistake that people make in both relationships and careers is thinking that Eros is the only, defining state of being in love. When it naturally starts to fade as the relationship wears on, we think that we are doing something wrong, that the love is ending, that we’re not really meant to be with this person or in this job. Days stop being magical and start being a grind, and we wonder where all that passion has gone. And so we leave, looking for greener grass elsewhere. Do this enough times, and it’s hard not to be cynical, whether about love or about what you do for a living.
Don’t let it slip away
I’ve thought about why I’ve stuck to being independent for the last 7 years, even as I’ve watched several friends switch between independent and employed, and employer to employer in the same span of time. I believe it’s because I’ve learned to embrace other forms of love for what I do. Anyone who has been a long-term relationship knows that the honeymoon phase is named such because it is short-lived. Eros will still be around, but it can no longer be a foundational part of what holds everything together. Done right, Eros becomes a single important component of a broader scope of love that one can have for another, and a long term relationship is about finding that fulfilling personal balance of all forms of love.
Bring it on back
This is not to say one should stay in a job or relationship that is actively toxic. That’s a distinction each person needs to make for themselves. But, if ennui or restlessness is setting in, maybe it’s time to look at the other forms of love and how those can help you rekindle the spark in your career:
Ludas – Playful Love
Appreciating the times where what you do is actually fun, even a little silly. Ridiculous side projects for no good purpose, an informal hack day with friends, doodles and sketches, coloring books, logic puzzles, project-a-day prompts. Rediscover why you thought it was so joyful in the first place. Take fun breaks and do career related things that loosen you up and make you smile.
Storge – Familial Love
Forming bonds with other people in your field is crucial, just like friendship in other areas of life. A healthy mix of acquaintances (people to whom you might be able to ask work-related questions, or chat with when you see them), business masterminds (who have a deep understanding of your career path and can offer advice and consultation), and true friends with whom you can bond with outside of work-related topics. Camaraderie and connection with other people strengthens your love for what you do.
Pragma – Practical Love
Remembering how what you do aligns with your other life goals. Maybe it’s the flexible hours, the interesting problem solving, the ability to create something from nothing, the interesting clients, or the fact that you get to help people. Maybe it’s the fact that you can earn a decent living, provide for a family, save for a trip, or put a child through school. Remember what your career allows you to do aside from the actual output of your projects.
Agape – Generous Love
In the digital space, it can feel disconnecting to not create anything tangible, but there are still ways we can impact others with generosity. Maybe it’s the extra mile you go to help answer questions for clients, or the look on people’s faces you love when the lightbulb goes on. Maybe it’s giving back by teaching people to code or draw, leading workshops or conference sessions, or writing tutorials or blog entries to share knowledge. Maybe it’s contributing to a project or fixing bugs. Maybe it’s just personally helping friends and colleagues in the industry. Give back and be generous.
Philautia – Self-Love
Finally, though not an interpersonal form of love, it is often hard to love others (or what we do) without also focusing on loving yourself. Though this is something I personally struggle with, I find even the act of being aware has helped me develop more love for what I do. Remembering that the love you have for yourself and the love you have for your career are not the same is important, because either can be in flux at any moment, and one should not entirely depend on the other. You are not just your career, and your career is not just you.