Should You Work for Money or Love?
After assessing Covid-19's seismic effects - as well as his own in life in the wake of a marital breakup - a computer-programmer-turned-writer asks and answers the question, "Should I work for money or love?"
The “Great Resignation” — a term referring to the record number of people quitting their jobs after the onset of the pandemic (more than six million of them between January and August alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) — is at least in part being driven by the existential question of, “Why am I working?”
Crisis upon crisis
I went through an extended period of professional uncertainty before becoming a writer. In the end, working at a job I didn’t like just to make money had grown too painful, and so I found a way to earn a living by doing what I loved. I thought thereafter that I was done with existential angst, at least as it applied to my career, but Covid-19 came along and taught me that I was wrong.
As if that pandemic alone, and a resulting world teetering on madness, hadn’t been enough, I was struck with another sucker punch in the summer of 2021 when my marriage of eight years (and a relationship of 14 years) fell apart. And we have two small kids… it has been a rough few months. Add to that the fact that I recently turned 40, and it seemed all the ingredients were there for one corker of a midlife crisis.
At least one happy byproduct of these events was that they drove me to question my purpose in life, and more specifically, my purpose in work. But the first thing I had to face post-breakup was increased costs, and the certainty that I didn’t want to become one of “those guys” who doesn’t support his family after a divorce. So, after a bout of moping, I got busy generating new business. I worked like a dog, had some decent months, and — I’m glad to say — didn’t become one of “those guys.” But I was also miserable. Writing about cryptocurrency, financial markets and computer programming topics while I was in that state of mind just wasn’t doing it for my soul.
Can you do your job for the next 40 years?
The past two years have been hell for a lot of people — anxiety, fear and crippling loneliness seemingly the themes of the day. To have to sit and make money at something you don’t love in the middle of all that seemed to me like adding another nail to the coffin. I began to question my role in the world, and what my legacy would be. Yes, I was making enough money to support my family and still put a bit aside, achieved through my usual grind, namely business articles and some work on ghostwriting books. But did I love what I was writing? Not at that moment. I would’ve much rather been writing personal essays, but the bills needed to be paid.
Working on something unpleasant to pay for necessities is fine occasionally, but, I asked, “Was I willing to go through that grind, and only that grind, every working day for the next 40 years?”
Thankfully, like the pandemic, the initial crisis of the breakup subsided somewhat, and we settled into an amicable separation. A light began to appear, but being in that tunnel changed me. I knew that, moving forward, my work needed to provide me with a lot more meaning if I was going to live a happier life.
Professions must evolve
My work history began as a teenager, doing telesales for a local vitamin company, followed by a 17-year stretch as a computer programmer, and finally on to writing. Now comes the next evolutionary step: dedicating a portion of time each day to writing something that gives personal meaning. I’m not entirely sure what that will be yet, perhaps more reported articles, or a book of fiction. All I know is that I must do it. Working for hard cash can only take me so far; I have to also dedicate time to working for the love of it, or I’ll lose my mind.
Perhaps a lot of those millennials contributing to the Great Resignation feel the same. Why do we work? And what for?
When I was younger, cash was the only concern, but now that the hourglass of my life is slowly losing sand at the top, priorities are changing; happiness has more clout for me than cash, at least at the moment.
If the pandemic hadn’t come along, there’s a good chance my marriage would not have fallen apart… yet. I also would likely have been content to do the daily grind and work like a dog because I would get joy from seeing my children at night. But the milk was spilled and there was no point in crying about it. (Although, for those dudebros out there trying to “keep a strong face,” my advice is to lock yourself in a room every now and then and let the tears flow if you need to. Grief is destructive if you let it fester.) And there is a point in questioning things, because as self-awareness begins, we can effectively choose pathways.
One other pro tip: If I was to continue investing in regret in the wake of all these events (which I had done plenty of), I would simply never have come out of that spiral. Life happens, and the best we can do is deal.
So, should we work for money or for love? It depends on what’s going on in our lives at the time. We are the determiners of our destinies and must make choices according to what is happening now. Deal with the present — honestly, and completely — and the future will take care of itself.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor