Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Office Jobs, Purpose, and Making Money Work

Perhaps you have noticed that I don't really know what I'm doing with this personal-finance blogging stuff. Perhaps you have noticed that I write screeds about values a little too often and direct my small readership to articles from Kiplinger's too rarely.

I'm confused. Not about blogging--in general. I'm confused about what I want my life to be.

I took a job basically right out of college. It's a job at a company whose name impresses people, and it offers opportunities for advancement, and all that sort of thing. It offers a 401(k) with a decent match and health insurance. It's a good job. It doesn't pay a great salary, but it's a good job.

But much like the dissatisfied co-worker whom I advised to quit (and who will, in fact, be giving notice after Christmas), I'm not sure those things are more important to me than doing interesting things with my life, the kind I may not be able to do from an office. How can people do this their whole lives? How can they sit in offices, which basically means being alone all day, spending the bulk of the day treading water? Am I supposed to just sit in this office and save money every paycheck and wait for the milestones of my life to pass outside the window (no, my office does not have a window)? Am I supposed to sit in my office and wait to get married and have kids and send them to college and retire, go home worrying about the balances of my accounts, watch a movie, fill in the day's expenses into my budgeting software, go to sleep? For years?

I find this prospect terrifying, depressing, and absolutely untenable. I can't do that. I cannot do that. And I won't. I'm not saying I couldn't do this job for a couple of years until I go back to grad school--but not my whole life long.

I feel like with lots of people, focusing on money gives a sense of movement to a static life. If your goal is to make a million dollars by the age of thirty-five, each day at work is a challenge not because you like the work, but because you're trying to position yourself to advance. And I guess I can respect that, but it's not for me. I can't do a job I don't love. Not for my whole life.

I want to travel. I want to see beautiful things I've never seen before. I want to have lots of friends in lots of places. I want to read lots of wonderful books. I want to use my brain, which is a pretty good brain, all day long. I do not want to use it printing up shipping labels. I come home from work exhausted. I come home from work not wanting to read a book or go to a museum. I haven't seen my best friend (who's an unpaid intern at a theater group she loves, and is thinking about starting a company with a couple of her fellow interns--that's a theater company--and tutors rich high school kids to pay her bills) in more than a week. I want to have silly parties, drink cheap beer and laugh at jokes about Paris Hilton and Ulysses. Maybe I want to go back to Portland, where I have friends who roast pigs over backyard spits and sit on Goodwill couches on the porch, doing the crossword and watching things go by. Maybe I want to stay in New York, where the people-watching and the public transit are unparalleled and you can always find good bread. Maybe I want to study for the GRE, apply to grad school, and pick myself up to move wherever I get in. New people to meet. New books to read. I don't know.

I don't know what I want to do. I'm learning, slowly, about what I don't want to do, but I really haven't come much closer to figuring out what I do want to do. Whatever it is, I want it to sustain me. I want doing it to be something to look forward to and to enjoy every day (or at least, the vast majority of days).

Personal finance bloggers often scoff at needing to find one's purpose. They advise, instead, settling down at a well-paying job and keeping financial goals in mind. My priorities are different. I will make the money work, honestly I will, just as long as I can figure out what I should be doing and find a way to be doing it. This doesn't mean that I should be reckless, and it doesn't mean that I shouldn't educate myself on how to deal with money, but money is not the point. It is not enough to sustain me. I need to pursue a life driven by a sense of purpose.


Anonymous said...

I agree... money's a tool, it gives you choices. but often it's hard to figure out how to handle money wisely without making it the be-all and end-all.

Anonymous said...

"Am I supposed to just sit in this office and save money every paycheck and wait for the milestones of my life to pass outside the window (no, my office does not have a window)?"

Ouch. This hit a little close to home. I did do some travelling and adventuring and job-hopping when I was between college and grad school. I wish I had done more. Now, I am trapped by a family, career, and house. I wish I could pitch the career and keep the family and the house. I'll let you know if I figure out a way to do that.

Ms. MiniDucky said...

Definitely close to home. I feel like we're at that point where we have to be hyperaware of whether or not the decisions we're making are locking us into a lifelong slog through OfficeDronedom.

mOOm said...

Ultimately this is the "human condition"... we know we are going to die and the question is how to be happy in the meantime... I'd advise most of the 20-something bloggers not to worry so much about money and finances. I didn't worry about such things myself, though I was always pretty frugal. The main thing is not to pursue someone else's dream. Don't worry about what you think society expects from you. Really no-one cares... you do need to do what you want. I would say I've been partially successful in all this. Over time I've learnt to exert my autonomy more. I now want to get out of academia where I've made my career up till now... and am having all these sae feelings all over again about the same things.