“How was your day?” My partner’s late father asked me on a visit about 10 years ago.
“Eh, it’s Friday,” I replied.
“So many people talk about Friday, Friday, Friday. They can’t wait until Friday, but I never felt that way. I always liked my work.”
I envied his words (and I see now that Studs Terkel said something similar in his introduction to “Working.” Quoting a cobbler, “Though my weekends go by soon enough, I look toward Monday without a sigh.”)
That was not me 10 years ago. I was working in a publishing job with a difficult boss and little contact with the outside world. Not only was I always looking forward to Friday, but I couldn’t even enjoy the full weekend, because Sunday always brought the dread of Monday.
But let me first backtrack to offer a brief history of my working life: My first job was in the kitchen of my grandfather’s pizzeria in San Diego. My grandfather, an immigrant who supported his own family in his teenage years after his father suffered a stroke, had a work ethic that could be summed up in advice he gave to my mom when she was in her 20s: “Don’t call in sick. And if you’re sick, don’t let people know it. They might think you don’t want the job.”
And I can still hear my grandmother telling my cousins and me, “We earn our money by the sweat of our brow.” It is only in retrospect I realize she was not just emphasizing how hard she and my grandfather worked to earn what they had, but she was also perhaps drawing a contrast to others who inherited money or had less-demanding jobs.
My aunt and uncle sold the family business in 2005. My cousins and I say we would give anything now to be back in that kitchen, with an apron on, making sandwiches, calling out orders to a room full of customers, even washing dishes – though this may have less to do with the nature of the work and more to do with family nostalgia.
After graduating from the University of California, San Diego, with a degree in literature and writing, I worked full time as a staff writer for the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, a position more interesting than it may sound. Sure, some of the reporting was provincial, but I also reported on refugees from Sudan, migrants on both sides of the US-Mexican border, janitors struggling for union representation—I even scored two weeklong trips to Guatemala and Jordan.
In 2005, I moved to New York City and worked as an editor for a group of community newspapers in suburban New Jersey for two years. I watched the newsroom downsize, and even though I received a good promotion, I knew there was not a future there. Of all the fields undergoing changes, journalism has to be at the top of the list. I would not advise young people to pursue it.
I moved to a tiny publishing company, where I edited legal, financial and medical newsletters, while also coordinating the company’s marketing efforts. It was a significant pay increase, but at a cost: It was here that I dreaded Sundays. I used that time, however, to develop other interests by taking continuing education classes at NYU on the architectural and cultural history of New York City.
Traditional advice to young people is to “find your passion,” but I read better advice recently: It’s healther to think of passions as something that you develop, rather than something you “find” inside you. From a Quartz article about the study:
Instead of looking for a magic bullet, that one thing you must be meant to do even though you don’t know what it is yet, it can be more productive to perceive interests flexibly, as potentially endless. A growth mindset, rather than a fixed sense that there’s one interest you should pursue single-mindedly, improves the chances of finding your passion—and having the will to master it. This approach will also inform your work by providing additional perspectives gleaned through multiple interests, O’Keefe tells Quartz.
And that is what I did. I developed an interest in the history and future of this city — I even built a postcard collection that I once blogged about. I looked for jobs that could tap into that interest, and was offered a job as communications director for a City Council member. I will not forget walking into City Hall for the first time, and I still don’t take for granted the privilege of working there a few days of my work week.
After nearly a decade of dreading Sundays, I once again enjoyed every day of the week. The job is not perfect, and after four years, I am ready for a new challenge. The most logical place for me would be in the communications department of a city agency. I enjoy New York City government, and I know I have good digital and written communication skills. Also, as the working world changes, I see in city government a place that offers challenges, rewards, opportunities for advancement, and the sense of stability we spoke about last week.
At the same time, part of me wants to explore and develop other interests. I told a colleague that I was looking to go to graduate school, and she suggested a government-related program at Baruch. No, I told her, I am not looking for something related to my work. I want to take classes that interest me, and see where that leads me.
And so here I am.