“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
~ Bertrand Russell
For most of my childhood, I thought that when I grew up I wanted to be a spy. I have no idea why I clung to this for so long. (We’re talking years here.) I would have been an awful spy. I walk like an elephant (so I’ve been told). I’m pretty sure I would tell you anything you wanted to know if I were subjected to torture. Or even if you just brought a big dog into the room. In movie scenes when someone is rifling through the desk drawer of someone else who has just stepped out of the room, I become extremely anxious and have to cover my eyes. It really wouldn’t have been a good “fit.”
I’ve never been one of those people with a strong vocational calling. I don’t think that’s so uncommon these days. Several decades ago, it became the done thing to tell children that they could be anything at all if they just set their minds to it. On one level, the positive message of that is great. On another, to be presented with the entire world can leave you crippled by choice. And I think a lot of us were.
Having a lot of choices sounds fantastic in theory, but as anyone knows who has ever stood in the toothpaste aisle of the drugstore for half an hour, trying to figure out whether tartar protection or plaque control is more important, too many choices aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And here’s why: no matter how well you choose and no matter how happy you are, there is always something at the back of your brain saying, “I could have chosen differently and if I had, my life could be so much better. Who knows what else is out there that I’m missing out on because I picked the Colgate gel with extra whitening and new fresh mint flavour? This is good, but what if it could be better? Where would my teeth be now, dammit?”
This doesn’t just apply to toothpaste either. People apply it to ice cream flavours, to their clothes, to their homes, to their investments, to their mates, and — looping back to my point — to their jobs. I know people who apply it to every single decision they make. I actually think that having a few generations out there now who think they are both capable and deserving of anything and everything is possibly one of the bigger social problems of our time. But maybe let’s leave that one for another day.
Anyway. Having my espionage dreams stomped on by both reality and a surprising lack of spy recruiters in the suburban outskirts of Victoria, I instead went off to make my fortune creating ice cream cakes and chocolate-dipped cones at Dairy Queen. I learned very soon that this was not my calling. Have you ever dipped an ice cream cone in chocolate syrup? It’s much harder than it looks. I quit that job before they had the opportunity to sack me for losing too much ice cream in the chocolate syrup, but I’m sure I only beat them by a matter of minutes. So, my frozen treat career in shambles, I thought I’d try something else.
Around this point, my resume started to take on the coherence of an absinthe drunk. I busked for a while. I sold up-market knick-knacks while wearing period garb in a shop that pretended to be English. Then I sold down-market sunglasses, mainly to teenagers and one surprisingly loyal drug-dealer. Spent some time in an art gallery and some more in a travel agency. Tutored some math. Followed the money and moved into the hospitality industry: coffee shops, hipster bars, swanky hotels, mafia-owned pizza joints — I was pretty equal opportunity. Did some face-painting. Hustled some timeshare. Taught some ESL and then junior high social studies. Did some relaxation massage work.
And then I decided I might like to get into accounting. (The obvious next step.) Which brings us up to present. Don’t believe those accountant stereotypes folks; we are a wild and fascinating breed. Or maybe that’s just me. One of my bosses told me once that most accountants are attracted to the field because they are comfortable with math and because they are risk averse. Huh. This is not what attracted me. I just thought it might be fun to play with spreadsheets all day for a living. As it turns out, there’s a bit more to it than that, but still, it suits me. I like numbers and order and deadlines, and accounting has plenty of all of these to go around.
Is it my passion? Sure, it’s one of many. My job doesn’t define me, and it’s just one part of who I am. I may not be a lifer, but I’m still having fun, so I’ll stick with it for a while yet. And here’s something I’ve realized over the years: all jobs have their good bits and all jobs suck sometimes. You might think that would be obvious, but sometimes the messages we’re fed imply that perfection is there for the taking if you choose right. In one of my classrooms in school, there was a sign on the wall that said, “Good Enough is Never Good Enough.” I believed that for a long time. But you know, that’s a rough way to live your life. Unless you’re some kind of prodigy, there is no one perfect job for you. And a lot of times good enough is good enough.
Don’t get me wrong — if you’re miserable, of course you should move on; and if you have a dream, then yes, get some good advice, work out a detailed plan and go for it. But if you’re mostly doing ok and the only thing keeping you from happiness is the thought that there might be something better out there that you’re missing out on, maybe it’s time to close that door and make the most of a pretty good thing.
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for my facepainted-musical massage/english school/tax preparation centre empire. And if you need a napkin folded into the shape of the Sydney opera house, heck I’ll throw that in free of charge.