Geraldine Crawford asks this poignant question in the first instalment of her series on Life and Work
At my daughter’s recent graduation ceremony Greg Dyke, Chancellor of the University of York, made a pretty inspirational speech. He had advice for the new graduates in front of him who were about to embark on their careers:
“Whatever you do, don’t stay in a job you hate. Change it.”
I wondered if this was a talking point for the huddle of forty and fifty-something parents gathered outside waiting for their offspring to emerge from the auditorium. Perhaps he had struck a chord – not just with the bright-eyed, eager 20-year-olds.
I remember certain periods in my life when going to work felt as exciting as getting ready for a night out, a party where you knew everyone and there was guaranteed to be lots of entertainment and interesting things to do and people to talk to. Yet I have also known the opposite, when work was boring, unfulfilling and even destructive, a cause of stress and anxiety which followed me home, and when getting out of bed to start another day seemed a superhuman effort.
Having counselled many women about their attitudes and expectations surrounding work, I find it interesting to note how much we all vary in our expectations of what employment might give us in terms of fulfilment. If we start experiencing a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction with work I believe it is important to be honest about what it is we really want to change.
As much as we may want to compartmentalise, we don’t always leave our personal family and relationship issues at home when we enter the workplace, nor do we leave our work problems behind when we head home. Some women who embark upon career counselling begin to explore their relationships and satisfactions not just in work, but with work. They then start the bigger process of looking at many aspects of their lives and begin to question: ‘Is it really this job, this career that I no longer love or is it something else in my life that I want to change?’
Yet if it is our work we fall out of love with, there can be consequences, sometimes serious; when dissatisfaction morphs into depression, anxiety and stress.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that what may be no more than a ‘lifestyle issue’ for some women is irrelevant for the thousands of women in low-paid, unskilled occupations where questions of fulfilment and enjoyment are concepts likely to be greeted with at best incredulity and at worst exasperated contempt. Recent statisticsxxxxxx by have highlighted that women in their 50s have been disproportionately affected by the recession in terms of employment. Having a job at all in recession Britain, even a low-paid unskilled one, is for many a means to an end and being able to pay the bills is the only motivation necessary.
Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee spent a month in 2003 undercover existing on the minimum wage and working in unskilled jobs for the purpose of researching her book, Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain, which still has relevance ten years on. She encountered women who, whilst unlikely to say they loved their work, still managed to take pride in it and maintain a dignity in the face of indifferent and cynical treatment from their often newly privatised employers.
Some women have more choices. They can consider changing career if they fall out of love with their job or they can consider strategies which help them get more out of their current work. In their forties and fifties some may decide that they want new challenges. They may also learn that previous decisions, which were made for all the right reasons, no longer match their current circumstances. They may find that in some sectors, the opportunity structure and education landscape is very different to when they last looked, with great opportunities to study and work flexibly that may not have been available in the past.
In the coming weeks, future articles will focus on career change, retraining, taking up education, and the balance and interrelationship between work and life. We will look at women who are already loving their jobs and inspire women who want to be able to say they do in the future, but my message will always be let’s not consider career choice in a vacuum.
Career decision-making cannot be separated from the context of our own unique personalities and motivations, our personal circumstances in terms of families and responsibilities or the reality of the current economic climate.
So is it essential to love your job?
I think I would prefer to say that it is essential to have a job that fits the life you want to live and the person you want to be but with the proviso that, when love turns to hate, I’m with Greg Dyke on this one – it’s probably time to move on. Then again, if we pay heed to those recent statistics, for many of us out there in our forties and fifties the only thing that might be ‘essential’ currently is to actually have a job at all…