Last week I tried calling someone who’s in between jobs. I talked to his wife instead because he was “at the office.” “Why,” I asked, “if he’d sold his company?” She said he liked going in. He’d been working the same job for about twenty years
If changing careers has parallels to dealing with death or divorce, then seeking out what’s familiar and normal for you is what you’ll do. It’s different than hopping from job to job, which is closer to serial monogamy and the end of a job isn’t too impactful. A long-term career is more like a partner, providing meaning and structure.
There’s also the de facto religion of the US of industriousness to consider, busyness is the strenuous demonstration that you’re practicing industriousness. “Not really working? Well, I’ll just pop into the office anyway.” That pattern runs deep, like a tiger’s stripes. If you could shave down a tiger, you’d find a tiger’s skin is striped too, not just the fur.
Maybe this guy had crossed his finish line without noticing. But when he goes to the office he was feeling that “People like us do things like that” even though running on permanent overdrive is unnecessary. Life is not a contest to see who can accomplish the most.
Conforming to the social ideal that to be worthy you must be busy is hard to see, like fish that aren’t aware they’re surrounded by water. Doing something that really interests you, it’ll result in a much more enjoyable life than just doing something to be busy. But it’s hard figuring out what it feels like to be you, right now, not your story.
Last year, most people’s favorite Pope, Francis, was asked about his secret to happiness. His answer was,”slow down. Take time off. Live and let live. Don’t proselytize. Work for peace. Work at a job that offers basic human dignity. Don’t hold on to negative feelings. Move calmly through life. Enjoy art, books and playfulness.”