A new year holds opportunity, a fresh start, a time to change. But most of us are returning to the same old jobs where we will deal with the same old frustrations. I love giving advice but the real challenge in being your work friend is that few people are in positions to realistically make the changes that would improve their professional lives. There’s too much at stake.
Yes, you should quit your job. Yes, you should call out the overbearing colleague who steals your ideas and talks over everyone. Yes, you should go back to graduate school. Yes, you should make a drastic career change and pursue your passion. Of course you should make the risky, terrifying choices with absolutely no guarantee of success. But what we should do and what we can do are two different things.
And still. It is a new year. However challenging change in our professional lives might feel, we are not just cogs in the machine, trapped in unfortunate circumstances. In these early days of 2023, I’ve been thinking a lot about how who I am and what I do for a living are two very different things. I’m a writer and professor and editor. I love my work, but it is still work. I am, admittedly, a workaholic. Like many people, I am overextended and overcommitted. I work far more than I should, even though my time is finite and apparently, I do need sleep. I am ambitious, yes, but ambition alone is not responsible for the intensity of my professional life. The older I get, the more I question why. At the end of my life, will I want to be remembered for who I was or what I did for a living?
I am far from alone. In the United States, we have an obsession with work as a virtue — the harder we work, the closer we are to God. It’s a toxic cultural myth that contributes to the bizarre valorization of people sacrificing almost everything at the altar of an extractive economy. It’s why an entire discourse rose around labeling people who are simply doing the jobs they were hired for, nothing more and nothing less, as “quiet quitting.”
The expectation that we should go above and beyond for employers who feel no reciprocal responsibility is a grand, incredibly destructive lie. We may not have a lot of professional flexibility, but we do not need to believe anything that is so fundamentally detrimental to well-being.