A poetymology of work/career

My mum always told me that when I grew up, I could do anything that I put my mind to and she would be proud of me no matter what, as long as I did my best and was happy. This was a great message, and it inspired me to write the following poem when I was 13.

work scan 1

Although my mum was right to try and instil the belief that anything is possible, when I took my first steps into the working world I soon realised that my career would be determined by more than just talent, choices and hard work; it would also be dependent on timing, opportunity and competition.

From a young age, I wanted to be a “gerbilist” (which has since become a slang term for a type of journalism that I definitely did not aspire to). I chose my school subjects to furnish my application for a journalism degree and when I was accepted to my first choice university, I spent three years working pretty hard to graduate with honours. I did work experience at local newspapers to get some bylines under my belt and I volunteered at local magazines and websites (supported by a day job in retail) to get more experience. I created a professional-looking CV, applied to every entry-level position within commutable distance and swotted up before every interview.

In other words, I did everything I was supposed to do but I could never quite land a paying job in journalism – although I came pretty close when I was one of the last two candidates shortlisted for an editorial assistant position at a glossy magazine. I was disheartened when I learned that I had just been pipped to the post by the other candidate, who had slightly more experience and would later go on to become the editor (I still can’t buy the magazine because it makes me wistful to see their name rather than mine in the credits). Oh well.

By my mid-twenties, after a few years of trying to get my foot in the door, I had a choice to make: either continue to pursue something which was starting to seem futile or consider other opportunities which might make good use of my skills. I’m not ashamed to admit that I did the latter and went on to develop a pretty good career in marketing, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about the fact that it isn’t what I set out to do.

My career, although respectable, isn’t what I dreamed about doing when I was young. It isn’t what my family hoped for ever since I announced my intentions to become a “gerbilist“. It isn’t what my teachers envisioned when they signed my yearbook (“I hope to see your byline someday – not in The Sun though, please!”, one staunchly Liverpudlian teacher wrote). And it isn’t what I spent a lot of money to study.

But it’s OK. I’ve come to accept that not everyone gets to be what they always wanted to be, because there simply aren’t enough dream jobs to go around. Many children dream of becoming astronauts or ballerinas but the world only needs so many of those!

I think it’s OK to do a job that you didn’t set out to do and to make the best of it; you might even find that you enjoy it (as I did when I went into marketing). It’s also OK to be happy in a so-so job simply because it pays your bills and fits with your life; there’s no rule that says you have to love your job, despite all the ‘inspirational’ quotes which suggest otherwise!

As individuals, we’re so much more than what we do for a living. If you work an average 40-hour week, that’s only around 25% of your time – what about the other 75%? Granted, you probably spend about a third of that time sleeping (assuming you actually manage to get seven hours of sleep a night!) but that still leaves 50% of your time for personal endeavours – double the amount of time you spend at work. Shouldn’t how you spend that time, as a partner/relative/friend rather than an employee, count for more than what you do for a living?

For many people the cost of pursuing a career can be much greater than the reward, which is what inspired the poem below. It describes the pitfalls of people being so concerned with climbing the ladder that they don’t stop to consider whether it’s propped up against the right wall (i.e. whether they’re pursuing the right career) in the first place. I hope you enjoy it, however you may feel about your current job!

A poem about work

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