Work that Works for Me

When I was working at the farmers market, I often had a moment that I felt really happy. It might be when I was walking through the market with my Primavera breakfast, or it might be seeing the sunrise turn the sky peach as I walked over to move my car off the street into the parking garage. (I know that it was never when my alarm went off at 5am on Saturday morning.) But that moment of satisfaction or contentment or joy was there at some point week after week. And it made me think about why I don’t have that same feeling at my ‘real job’ at an investment company.

In the five months that I worked selling apples, I thought a lot about why I felt so differently at the market than I did at work. Was there something about working outside that I liked better than working in an office building? Was selling apples more satisfying because it was more tangible than office work. At the end of a day at the market, I only had to look at the stack of empty apple boxes and flower pots to know exactly what I’d done with my day. Was it just inevitable that a once-a-week job would be more appealing than the grind of full-time, Monday through Friday work?

I was thinking about this one morning, after we’d set up the tent and unpacked the apples and the flowers, when I was walking over to move my car. I thought about how I’d been thinking about how the farmers market was different from office work rather than thinking about how office work was different from the market. And from that perspective, I suddenly realized that the real issue was the subject of the work.

When I thought about what I did at the investment company, I realized that it was all really about money — I wrote about topics related to money, I edited other people’s writing on the same topics — but I didn’t really care about money. At the market, nearly everything I did was about apples — and I loved apples. I loved eating apples, selling apples, and talking to people about apples.

It was so obvious. I suddenly understood why I was happy to talk to customers at the market about their favorite apples, or the apples they remembered eating as a kid, but at work, if someone tried to talk to me about their favorite investment or the first mutual fund they bought, I’d tune out. I’d start saying meaningless niceties  — Oh really? Mmmm-hmmm. That’s interesting. — meant to prevent the conversation from continuing.

And I could now see why I didn’t feel as connected to my ‘real’ job or to my coworkers. I’d long thought that it was my fault — that I didn’t make enough of an effort to socialize with my coworkers, that I expected too much out of a my job (a salary and work I cared about? Get real). But now I looked at my coworkers in a new way: I saw that some of them felt about money and investing the way I felt about apples. I remembered how years ago one of my coworkers had told me, “When I started learning about economics and finance, I thought, ‘this is how the whole world works.'” His work meant something to him.

I’m still not entirely sure what to do with this new understanding, but I don’t feel like I have to act on it yet. (After all, the other big realization I had last year was that my decision-making process is just very, very slow. It’s no surprise that I’ll need some time to sit with it for a while.)

For now, it’s enough to know why I’ve been so conflicted about my work. It’s enough to not feel like I’m crazy and to get to stop blaming myself. It’s enough to have had five months of work that helped me remember what it feels like to do work that works for me.

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