Partial Happiness

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I ran into a personal account yesterday of a painful job decision someone made when he essentially realized that, no matter how much he loved teaching as a career, it was impossible for him to continue working as a mathematics teacher in the public school system. As the author put it in his title, "I quit my passion and took a boring job." It's hard to read at first, but I recommend reading the whole thing: Despite the fact that I think the author makes some mistakes (He seems to regard teaching in public school as his calling, rather than teaching, for example.), his overall lesson is a good one:

Your career is just one part of your life. You might not become a much happier person just because you do the work that satisfies you the most. You have to consider the effects it could have on you as a person besides just having to do the work. You should do the work that gives you balance, and not the work you love the most.
I think the story linked above exemplifies the following point made by Michael Hurd, in an elaboration on an analogy he once drew between career and marriage:
There's a distinction between a career commitment and merely a job. A career is a form of work you "marry," while a job is something you can do with productivity and pride, but you're not in any sense married to it. I'm saying: don't make a career commitment unless you find work worthy of your highest productive efforts and focus. In a totally free and rational society, almost everyone would be able to do this. In less than rational societies, some can and some honestly cannot find a career to love. Our society, while still the best one to live in on earth, is encumbered by stupid ideas (many documented at this web site) that lead to stupid policies, including political ones, that make for fewer fulfilling lines of work than would otherwise exist. I am suggesting, like you, that some happiness is better than none at all. If you cannot find a career worthy of committing to like you would to a marriage, you can still be productive -- and pursue other values in life, instead ... OR until you find that career love which, I agree, could even happen later in life. You're correct that love requires two individuals while a career only requires one. The possibility of finding career happiness is greater than the possibility of finding romantic love in the highest form you might like. Neither is impossible -- and both are important enough to refuse to give up on, no matter what the times or culture are like. In romance and career, aim for the stars -- and go as far as you can go. [bold added, links dropped]
Finding a worthy career does not necessarily happen all at once, or early in life. Not finding a career -- or being unable to pursue one -- needn't preclude some measure of productivity and happiness in the meantime, either. I think that these points are often missing from the kinds of posts the former math teacher alludes to that exhort pursuing one's passion at all costs. As with finding the right romantic partner, one cannot find the right career, instantly, through sheer force of will. Attempting to do so to the exclusion of other things one enjoys is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Steve D said...

It depends upon how much happiness the pursuit of your highest passion brings. While it may not be productive per se, it has the potential for a big payoff.

Gus Van Horn said...

One issue here, though, is whether someone really CAN pursue his passion AS a career. Were I passionate about math instruction at the high school level, but not quite good enough to obtain employment as an instructor in one of the relatively few private schools that exist relative to what would in a free economy, I might be out of luck, unless I found a way to do this, say, as a tutor. The author I pointed to has other examples within the public school system, although the kinds of issues he brings up makes me doubt I could find working in public schools to be tolerable under any circumstances.

Steve D said...

Another issue is how the public school system has reduced options for both educators and students - not just directly because of the cost. I found this out when searching for a school for my son; many of the private schools these days seem to be clones of the public schools. So your hypothetical math instructor has even fewer options.

Gus Van Horn said...

Quite true, and for both philosophical reasons on the part of the people running such schools and because of state regulations governing even the nominally private schools.