A Middle Finger to the Modern Trap
I’m looking for a job and it is depressing. Trudging through the lists of meaningless positions feels wrong. It feels like a waste. People have so much potential and the world we have squanders it.
I see my friends settling into careers even though so few are doing what makes them happy. Friends who acted, who sang or who talked about seeing the world are now locked in jobs that pay enough, but not a lot. Jobs that drain them so much that their free time is just a chance to recover for the next week. They don’t create anymore. They don’t have the energy.
A mate of mine went through university juggling a double degree in drama and marketing. The marketing side only there to keep her parents satisfied that she had the option of a “real” career. The intention was always to pursue acting, even as a hobby. But once she left university and began an entry-level job, her passion for theatre was forced to take a backseat. Instead, long overtime office hours whittled away at her time, which was now spent on projects that often ended up being binned when the short attention span of the corporate world moved on. Hard work went unrecognised and any free time she had was saved for recovery. It was a stable job that paid the bills, but it was one that consumed her – and still does to this day.
How often does this pattern repeat across the world? How many poets, how many dancers, how many artists do we lose because people become trapped?
I look through job listings and so many seem redundant.
Jobs designed to make a company seem more important. Jobs paying almost nothing but requiring years of experience, there just to eke out a bit more profit for shareholders. Profits that the workers never seem to see. The average Australian CEO makes almost 80 times what the average worker makes, and this gap increases every year. There should be enough wealth to go around so that people who want to volunteer, create or travel can.
So why do we let this happen? Why are we okay with dying slow deaths in jobs that deprive us of our chance to be human?
There is work that matters. Work that rewards compassion and creativity: teachers, nurses, social workers. But in return, these people get the least. Meanwhile, I’ve had corporate jobs that pay me more for just turning up, sitting in a cubicle and scrolling through Facebook for eight hours a day.
One of my best friends works as a teacher and I know from her how demanding that is. She pours everything into helping her students achieve and excel, a task that has gotten even harder in this time of virtual classrooms. And yet when I bring her up to colleagues in corporate office environments, the response from older co-workers is usually the same: teachers should be more grateful of their long summer holidays – the pay shouldn’t matter because the “passion” for teaching should get them through. Jobs that help are expected to be their own reward, the lower pay being the trade-off for having a career that is meaningful.
We are told that dreams are nice but that eventually we need to grow up. Climb the career ladder. Do something that makes good money, even if it doesn’t make you happy. Dreams become hobbies if you have the time, but more often than not, they just get left behind.
Free time is already so full. How can anyone be expected to try something new – take that dance class, learn another language, act in that play – if they work 40 to 50 hours a week just to live? How many passions and stories are lost because we don’t have the chance to take risks? Time is too precious to waste on a chance when we don’t even have enough time to dream.
There are patches of light, little changes for the better which you can see in parts of the world: communities and companies trialling four-day work weeks or universal income or more flexible hours. Little changes that claw back some of the time that we’ve lost.
It isn’t enough. Bigger changes need to happen, but it is a start. Things to look at and learn from. This isn’t how the world should be and we need to start changing it. Vote out the people who are there just to leech money and work for corporate interests. Try to make changes in our workplaces for the people who are too financially unstable to risk speaking up. Get angry and use that anger.
It’s time to break a system that prioritises money over being human.
Cover by Timon Studler