Why Do We Waste Our Lives Working at Jobs We Hate?
Why does our need for money cause us to ruin our happiness?
Life is precious, right? We speed through trying to hang onto things that make us happy — a week vacation here, an iPhone there. We spend time and money on things that make us giddy in the short run.
Why aren’t we thinking of the long run?
Why do we spend all our time and energy at jobs we dislike when life is so precious and short?
There has to be a better way to spend our lives than living for the weekend and a short vacation in Bali.
I know — money, right?
“Making money isn’t hard in itself, what’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting your life to” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A Life of Work
I’ve had a job for as long as I can remember.
When I was just a kid, I spent the days after school and the long weekends at the bakery my dad owned. I remember spending my summer helping my mom run the place, staying at the bakery from 4 a.m. to well after dark. I didn’t mind so much. It was our life, and we got all the free cookies we could ever want.
I recall being up to my shoulders in soapsuds, spending all morning washing the glaze and grease from cooking trays. I remember being on my hands and knees, scraping the floor of the kitchen after my dad and brother spent all night baking donuts and sweets.
My brother and I never complained. Our parents taught us from an early age about hard work and doing what it takes to support your family. This was the time when I developed a work ethic that would drive me to the top of every company I worked for in my life. My family needed help. My parents were doing whatever it took to support us, so why shouldn’t we?
Times were hard. There were several bakeries over the years. Some closed because we couldn’t afford to keep them open, and some got sold. I’ll never forget that time in my life because it taught me that anything worth having is never free.
If I wanted something, I’d have to work for it.
Later, as a teenager, I worked every summer in an Apiary. I was part of the team that extracted the honey from the trays in the hives. It was hot, brutal, backbreaking work. We arrived before the sun came up in the morning, drank our thick Cajun coffee, and worked until the extraction storeroom was empty. Most times, it was almost dark again when we arrived home for a hot bath. We had to stand at the door and strip our honey-soaked clothes and boots off, and then we scrubbed ourselves raw until the smell came out of our hands, feet, and bodies.
The pay wasn’t great, but as a young teen, farm work was the best I could hope to do.
A Real Job; or Was It?
Because we moved around the country so much, I quit school when I was 15. I almost finished the ninth grade. I helped my dad in another bakery until I was 16. I would hide in the back during school days so the attendance officers wouldn’t catch an underage kid working.
After I turned 16, I filled out an application at Burger King and got my first “real” job. I worked long hours for little pay. At the time, the minimum wage was under $3.00, so even with overtime, I made very little.
It was nice, though — as a punk 16-year-old, I was making more than many. Because my dad was sick and my mom was struggling, I would keep $20.00 of my check and give the rest to my parents to pay bills and buy food.
I never once got upset, because I knew my family needed it, and my parents taught me to always take care of your family.
I worked at Burger King for many years. I worked my way up into management and made decent pay for a young guy with a ninth-grade education. That job helped me get others at Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Little Caesars Pizza.
It was when I was working 80-hour weeks as a salaried manager at Taco Bell that I finally had enough of the life as a fast-food manager. The hours were terrible, and the pay was sub-par. I was thankful I could support my family, but the sad fact was I hated my job. I’d hated my job for as long as I could remember.
The only reason I did it was to feed my family.
On top of the 80-hour weeks, I decided to start college. First, I had to get my GED. I scored in the top percentile of the country, even though I hadn’t studied anything in years. I was always great in school, and I guess you could say I was smart.
For three years, I arrived at college every morning at 4 a.m. and attended classes until 8 a.m. After class, I went straight to work and most days worked until 10 p.m. When I got home, I was so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I still did my homework and projects for the day. Most times, I’d be lucky to get to bed by midnight, and then I was up again at 3 a.m.
I did this for three years. A semester after getting my associate’s degree, I quit school. The letdown of life after school was too much for my fragile mental health, and I had my first of many breakdowns.
Even though I was sick and suicidal, I still managed to get a job at a software company, building websites for companies like Intel and the public library. I did that until a headhunter found me and my family moved to San Jose to work for a startup as a web developer.
I was still sick and depressed, but I did great work, so much so that the company was sold, and I went to Boston to work. While in Boston, I somehow turned a programmer job into a position as the head of the web design and usability department. As in all my previous jobs, I worked day and night, sometimes up to 100 hours a week.
Looking back, I pushed so hard because it’s what the company asked for every day. Even though all that stress made me hate what I was doing, I did it because the company was paying me very well. I was making more with an associate’s degree than most people in the company with a master’s degree.
I did it because I needed to pay the bills and I never did anything halfway. I did it because I learned from a very young age that if you want something you have to work for it.
I did it even though I hated what I was doing.
Crash and Burn
Before long, everything I worked for would come to an end.
I was struggling with my mental health. I was violent to myself and suicidal.
But I took on even more. A friend from work and I started a web design firm and built some very high-profile websites. We made a ton of money, but my health was so bad I couldn’t keep up with the load. I left the firm and stuck with the regular paycheck because by now, I had a house and car payments.
Then it all fell apart.
I walked into work one day to find the office mostly empty. As soon as I sat down, I got a call from my boss. They wanted to meet me in the conference room. Once inside, I saw the CEO and CFO were sitting at the table as well.
I received walking papers. I had a nice severance and health insurance for another six months, but no job! I was one of 150 that lost their job that day. I found out the company was restructuring, and many of the high-salary managers had been shown the door.
This all happened after the dot-com boom. We were in a recession, and there were no jobs in Boston.
The floodgates in my mind that had held back the storm broke open. I spent two weeks in the mental hospital after trying to die by cutting myself to ribbons.
I lost my house and all the possessions I worked for over all those years. We moved back to Arizona with our tails between our legs. I tried to work, but my mental health wouldn’t let me. I ended up in the hospital again.
Shortly after, my doctors suggested I apply for disability. Little did I know it would spell the end of my traditional working life.
I Saw the Light
Back in my days in Boston, I got an idea in my head. When I had my own company, I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed calling the shots and deciding on my own what to do with my life.
I decided that I would be an entrepreneur. Even though those years with my own business were the worst health-wise for me, I knew I needed to be my own boss. But nothing I tried worked, and I was never able to replace my disability income.
After my divorce — when I truly lost everything — I uprooted my life and moved to the other side of the world. The Philippines healed me in many ways, and through a whole lot of hard work, I improved and got to the point where I am today.
I’m still collecting disability, but at the same time, for the first time, I’m doing whatever it takes to replace that income and support myself and my family.
I picked up writing a few years ago because it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. If I was going to work again, I wanted it to be doing something I loved. I didn’t want to struggle and hate what I was doing.
I’ve done enough of that in my life.
I’ve learned something at this point in my life. I want to do work that fulfills me. I want to do work that makes me happy.
I’ve been combining my love of writing with my entrepreneurial spirit and building something that will finance my life. I am hustling like nobody’s business, but I love every minute.
I try not to have regrets, but I still think about all the wasted years of my life doing things I loathed. Sometimes I wish I could go back, knowing what I know now, and do it all over again. But I know I can’t, and I’ll have to accept that all the hardship I felt was there to teach me a lesson about work, life, and balance.
I wish I could take some young people aside and tell them what I’ve learned. I wish I could change their paths, so they don’t have to suffer the same fate I did.
I’m glad I’ve come this far. I am glad I’m finally to the point where I am happy with every part of my life.
Why Do We Do It?
We work at jobs we despise because we need money. Some of us have pride and want to show everyone that we are a success. We do it even if we hate what we are doing.
I wish I could go back and tell myself I don’t have to hate my life to make money. Like everyone else, I thought you worked until 65 and retired on social security and a pension. For some reason, we all think we have to delay our happiness until we’re so old we can’t enjoy anything.
You don’t have to do what you hate! I see many of you trying to do a side hustle. Many of you are trying a side hustle with Medium. Not everyone will succeed here, but don’t let that make you give up. Try freelancing! Try writing a book and sell it on Amazon. Start a blog!
Do something that makes you happy and fulfilled. Don’t waste the best years of your life slaving and slogging at something that makes you groan when you wake up in the morning.
You have one life! Remember that!
I hope that you can find happiness and fulfillment, my friends.