Your Job Does Not Have To Save The World.
There’s an Instagram post floating around, reposted by my friends, popping up on my “Explore” page. It’s a simple quote: “Your job does not have to save the world.”
I cried when I first saw it.
Maybe you’re like me. I was one of those kids placed into a gifted program when I was ten. Maybe you also thought this meant that your “gifts” demanded giving back, that your intelligence and creativity should be used to solve the world’s problems.
I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t be a good person, or do good things. But maybe you’re not responsible for the whole world.
I have a friend who survived the gifted program with me who works now as an accountant. She is married, has lived in different cities, travels often. We had lunch a couple years ago, when I was scraping by as a teacher, and she wistfully gazed at me and said, “I wish I had your passion. Or your sense of nobility.”
I wish I had her sense of boundaries.
There’s a lot of problems that can arise when you’re told you’re smart, or talented, or gifted, or whatever. Especially if you combine all that praise with teachings and expectations about morality. It’s possible to be too responsible, or too invested in the common good — you can forget about your own well-being in the process. You can experience burn out. You can use up all your energy in your work and have nothing left for your home or yourself.
Jobs Don’t Save The World. People Do.
I thought — and part of me still struggles with this — that my job and title needed to be reflective of my values, degrees, and interests.
I was a religion and philosophy teacher. I did my best, which wasn’t perfect but was still good, to walk with adolescents through some of life’s toughest and most demanding questions. I did my best to offer them tools and resources and life-giving options.
I now manage a small business in the beauty industry. We do things differently than most businesses in the beauty industry in that we have a focus on finding non-toxic options for our clients.
But “education” certainly sounds more noble to me than “business.” Religion and philosophy sound more “me” than “beauty.” People usually raise an eyebrow, wondering what the hell happened, ask me about when I’ll return to teaching and what my breaking point was.
Like the work I do now isn’t good enough. Good in the moral sense of the word. Like my academic gifts are being wasted in a frivolous industry.
The thing is, I was burned out on academia. I finished my second master’s degree while teaching full-time and it felt like something in me snapped. I needed time to quiet the noise in my head. I needed therapy. I needed to not have to directly wrestle with life’s toughest and most demanding questions.
In other words, I needed new problems. The ones I was familiar with were driving me mad.
Now, I do not work with adolescents on exploring the meaning of life, or the meaninglessness of life, or whether or not God exists. I don’t help them balance a loving God with an imperfect and not always loving Church. Instead, I process payroll and develop systems for flow in the shop and greet clients.
It sounds weird, right? I get why people ask me about the dramatic swap.
My job is not out to save the world. I’m not trying to solve a major problem (although I do think the ingredients we use in the beauty industry have got to be examined more carefully and I’m proud of my shop’s search for better options). I am solving small problems. I’m finding ways to save the shop money while paying our employees the most we can. I’m responding to impatient clients with patience. I’m showing up and doing my best even though I haven’t really got a clue how the business world works or what exactly needs to be done.
I don’t think jobs save the world. I think people showing up and trying to make things better saves the world. No matter the industry, or skill set.
No matter what expectations were placed on you when you were a child.
A Talmudic teaching tells us, “Do not be daunted by the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
I have not abandoned my work just because I left the title that reflected it. I have only abandoned the idea that titles matter.