All Work and No Joy

I recall being about six weeks into my first full-time post-collegiate job, one that expected unpaid overtime, offered few benefits, and had tons of deadline stress, when it occurred to me, “This is what being grown up means. You work forty hours a week not including the exceedingly tedious commute, and if there’s any energy left over, you do laundry, lug groceries, and clean the nest. Welcome to adulthood?”

The business I worked for competed for government contracts, and it was plain to me that the point of all that competition was to keep the president’s sailboat in good trim and to ensure that his membership at the swanky country club never lapsed. I was absolutely bewildered to think that I’d slogged through seventeen years of education, part-time jobs, and more education to… hate my life?

I was lonely, bored, tired, broke, and supposedly on my way as a “successful professional.” This was all very bewildering. Matters improved somewhat when I ditched the Beltway Bandits for the practice of small town law. My motivation was as follows: I had become a single mother, and spending three or four hours a day commuting that I could have been spending with my kid was morally untenable for any amount of money. I was all the family my daughter had on hand, and she did not ask to be born. Time for me to Mom Up.

And yet, the practice of law was no great shakes either. I was good at the niche I’d found–foster care law–but far from happy in my work.  A case that ends up in foster care court means somebody has already dropped the ball, hard. But, I told myself, the work was meaningful. I could–if I was lucky and diligent–make a positive difference,

and besides, the bills had to be paid.

I think that was my parents’ Depression-era mentality talking–the voice that says any job is better than no job, and the bills must be paid–but I wish that voice hadn’t been so loud in my head for so long. Not until I started writing silly little love stories (I was fifty when my first book was published) did I get to a place where I felt my work was meaningful, sufficiently lucrative, and also joyful. 

The advice I gave my daughter, until she was probably sick of hearing me say it, was, “When you think about where to put your fire, do the thing you love so much, you are going to do it whether you get paid for it or not. Life is too short to hate your job, and much too short to ignore your passions.”

A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation by Grace BurrowesI have always, always loved to write, whether it’s composing an email or writing a twelve book series, but as a young and even middle-aged adult, I ignored what gave me joy, and particularly did not expect to find joy on the job. I’m paying attention to the joy now, by gum, and I am desperately grateful that I can earn my living the way I do.

What advice do you wish somebody had given you earlier in life? Or did somebody come along with a timely word that helped you change directions when change was needed?


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5 comments on “All Work and No Joy

  1. I’m so thankful that when I figured out I didn’t like the path I had chosen for a career, that I was able to pivot (at a very late stage of training) to something that I was utterly suited for. When I approached a mentor about making the change, they said, great, here’s what you have to do to make the change, and then I screwed up my courage and made the jump. WHew!

  2. Some of us like silly little love stories to the point we’ll pay real money for them!

    Your life has shaped and molded you into what and who you are now. Is that a bad thing?

    I think we all wish we were one of the shiny people who had been blessed with everything at birth, including good judgment. The bad fairy shows up at every birth, however, and sometimes with uncanny frequency thereafter. I’m in a constant pitched battle with mine. I just pray I’m not assigned someone else’s!

    Blessed be.

  3. My Aunt Isabella, my Mom’s (much) older sister was fond of saying that if everyone threw their troubles up in the air, that each person would be certain to catch their own when they came down. In other words, you might think you have troubles that are unbearable but in view of others’ troubles, maybe yours don’t look so bad? I had an unpleasant upbringing…domineering, overly disciplinarian parents who never “spared the rod,” a father who was alcoholic, a mother who (looking back as an adult) clearly suffered from untreated depression. However, my Dad managed to work two jobs to put food on the table (even though we lived in a tiny, damp & cold illegal basement apartment in my grandmother’s house). Mom kept the house clean and made daily meals. Seeing what others have gone through to reach adulthood, or the trials and tribulations they may be experiencing now, I have no complaints. After all, every one of those experiences made me into the person I am today and (I like to think) I did a much better job of raising my kids, who are amazing, empathetic, self-sufficient, lovely adults. I guess the advice would have been, “this, too, shall pass.” Endure, survive and life will get better. Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  4. Oh, Grace. This makes my heart hurt for you. I’m so glad, and we your readers are so lucky, that you were able to FINALLY do what you love. And I just LOVE the group of ladies who are your die-hard fans who comment on this blog! I feel that we all have quite a lot in common. We may be a bit tattered and torn from our experiences in life, but we PERSEVERE and carry on.