The Job Problem: Stop Worrying and Start Doing (You Only Need to do 2 Things)!

Quick update: Thanks to everyone who voted in the last survey! The results are in, and it looks like the books I’ll be reviewing are Chris Guillebeau’s $100 StartUp and Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine; I’m also primed to focus on my next new project–the Do Something book (part of the Start Something Project, coming soon). If you’re curious about either of those, I’ll have more updates very soon–and you can sign up here to be the first to know about each of these projects as they get off the ground). But more on that later… right now, let’s talk about the two things you’ve gotta do in life. Only two, I promise.

Second update: Apparently those of you on the email list weren’t getting any of the posts from the month of May. Hope you enjoyed the vacation! The bug should be fixed by now, and you may get a bonus email or two all in a hurry–let me know if there are other problems and I’ll fix ’em up.

The job problem.

A lot of people are out of work today, particularly at both ends of the age spectrum. Young people, disenchanted with the broken promise of education, are finding that a college or master’s degree doesn’t promise a paycheck or a life path. Instead, folks with advanced degrees are bagging groceries and queuing up coffee drinks.

At the other end of the spectrum, especially for people in their late 40’s and 50’s —  finding a new job is challenging, particularly after dedicating one or more decades building skill sets that may or may not be transferable to the type of work available today.

We’ve heard of the split economy — 90% of people are in a recession while 10% are experiencing a huge boom (predominantly in the tech industry). I live in San Francisco, where we’re pretending the recession never happened and where start-ups and businesses are booming. Travel to anywhere else in the world, and you’ll see panoramas of unemployment, students buried by debt, living at home, and of 30-somethings moving in with mom and dad. Both the American Dream and the American Education system are broken.

This blog post won’t fix either of those, not today at least. (I’m working on it…) 

But I do want to debunk one myth.

The myth that one job, one career, one thing is solely responsible for your happiness, welfare, productivity, and life’s earnings.

For fresh college grads and more senior employees alike, lets deconstruct the framework of “work.” We want to have work that is meaningful and valuable, right? But no one will hire us, right? Let’s re-frame this:

I think you really only have to do 2 things.

First, you have to make some money. Life ain’t free and it costs money to live each day, even if you minimize this as much as possible. Food and shelter require some financing.

Second, you need to do something you enjoy.


Hammertime. Wait … I mean–Nevermind.

Here’s the thing. One thing, job, or entity doesn’t have to satisfy both objectives.

In fact: it’s probably highly unlikely (and not very smart) to put all of your eggs in one basket. Don’t search for the one job that will make you shit tons of money and also make you unbelievably happy. That’s also a lot of pressure. And I’m not sure that’s very wise. You wouldn’t invest all of your savings in one stock, would you?

I’m not saying that amazing jobs don’t exist. I’m just offering an alternative: why invest your life in one job? Instead of fretting over the right opportunity, the perfect job, the ideal scenario (and since when have we ever been right about our life path looking forward?)–go out, make money somewhere, and do something you love somewhere–possibly somewhere else.

Find something to do.

If you’re a young college grad, go ahead and wait some tables. Bag some groceries. Make some coffee. Walk a bunch of dogs. Clean cars. Paint houses. Mow lawns. Yes, your shiny diploma and superb linguistic skills from the Ivy League Institution you attended make you overqualified at the task.

Got that? Find something that makes you money.

Next, you need to find something you love.

So what?

Starbucks offers great health insurance, 32-hour work weeks, and you can get all of your shifts done in the morning from 5am until noon and have the rest of the day to do something you love.

Then, go find, build, and do something you love. Start a crochet website. Publish your essays for free, because the first two years of a writers’ life is generally slow, painful, and unpaid. Remember: Mark Twain was an insurance salesman–yes, he worked as an insurance salesman. He also wrote a bunch of books people today still remember. Which do you think he loved more?

Let’s say you’re a bit older. If you’re 55+ and want to postpone a sudden or unexpected early retirement, I am sympathetic to how difficult it is. The older generations are the most challenged age group to get rehired. At the end of your career, searching for a new job is frustrating.

The advent of “not knowing” what the future holds can be paralyzing, suffocating, miserable. Those without jobs often spiral into depression and helplessness because of the loss of control about their future and outcome. Because you don’t know when a job lead or prospect will turn into paid work, you can’t estimate with any certainty the outcome of your present work efforts. The longer you’re unemployed, the harder it is to motivate yourself out of unemployment.Being unemployed is one of the worst things you can do to your career, and the longer you’re unemployed, the more unmotivated you become, as you habituate and adapt to the lifestyle that soon becomes insidiously “normal.” 

I think there needs to be a pattern-disrupt. Face the facts. It might be the case that you aren’t ever going to get another “real” job. Yet I think that there are always options, if you re-conceptualize what it means to work.

Find some way to get paid. Your job is to get some money in your pocket. Hook yourself up with some benefits. Tutor high school students. File papers as a desk clerk. Go the old Starbucks route.

Get strategic about how to generate other income, too. For example, what ways can your current assets or spaces be used to earn money? Rent a room (or two) in your house to a grad student or professional who needs a co-working space. Sign up for AirBNB. Or make part of your space a vacation rental. Got a car? Put your car on one of the local owner car sharing services like Get Around or Relay Rides. Do daily task services like Task Rabbit or Zaarly, fill needs on Craigstlist, become a personal assistant on Exec or Zirtual, or give away a bunch of your stuff in an old-fashioned garage sale.

And at the same time you’re finding ways to make some money, make sure that you’re also feeding your soul. Find something you love. Carve out an hour or two a day to dance, read, laugh, play, or explore. Start a garden. Write the book that you want to write. Start a blog. Take a class in computer programming. Become an entrepreneur. Teach courses at the local university.

A good rule of thumb? Maybe spend about half your time doing the work, and half the time playing. Can’t afford it? Make the weekends for play and the week for fun. Hustling like crazy (and I’ve been there, so I get it) — set aside one night a week, minimum, for you time. I take dance lessons on Wednesday, and it helps me skip through Thursdays and Fridays.

Open your mind. Try new options .There’s a lot of way to get what you want (money and happiness) — and it doesn’t have to come from one place.

Sometimes I bemoan the tedium of parts of my job. I’ll be honest–image editing for thousands of pictures and minor tweaks to web frame corrections or endless hours of copy editing–these aren’t exactly the most titillating tasks. As my friend Alex reminds me about those tasks that sometimes get tedious:

“Sometimes you have to feed your soul, and sometimes you have to feed your cat.”

Perhaps you have to find a couple of places to figure out how to make that happen, and in the future, it might not look like what you think a traditional job looks like.

That’s okay.

If you’re waiting for perfect, remember–all you’re doing is waiting.

Go feed your cat.

And never forget: you must also feed your soul.


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17 Responses to The Job Problem: Stop Worrying and Start Doing (You Only Need to do 2 Things)!

  1. Good thoughts. I’m slowly beginning to realize and accept that happiness and income can and are generated from different sources. There are so many different options for work that a “traditional” 9-5 job will soon become the minority.

  2. Andrea says:

    Your job is only one part of your life. It`s not your life! And yet – wouldn`t it be cool to have a job you love doing. Where you do what you love and what other people are paying you for (Convergence as Chris Guillebeau describes it).
    It´s about time to get out of the comfort zone and try new stuff. Forget about traditional degrees and do what you are good at and what is valued by others.
    Hope it`ll work out :)

  3. I have had my head in the clouds regarding finances for the past few years. I read your post at an absolutely perfect time. Love the humor and the content, Sarah!

  4. Kevin Riedel says:

    Great post, Sarah.

    I think that not finding work is a blessing in disguise for many college grads. The situation they are in will force them into finding work they love. While many of them will hate the process of getting there, they need to realize that most people end up hating their jobs eventually.

    If given the option to choose between “suffering” from the get-go after graduation or climbing the corporate ladder for 5-10 years before discovering it’s a terrible life… what would you choose?

    Me too.

    BTW, love the MC Hammer reference…

  5. Sophie says:

    Brilliant post Sarah! Loved your humor and I completely agree with your idea that we shouldn’t expect to find everything in one place. The good news nowadays is that there are many opportunities that weren’t there before. I’m concentrating on the positive aspects of our living and of course lots and lots of hard work. Keeping the motivation and inspiration is challenging in certain conditions, but whoever loves challenges should find it bearable to walk the road of barriers.

  6. Mike Lambley says:

    BEST ADVICE EVER! I’ve often thought the “perfect job” would be to have a different job every day. Maybe one that’s more physical, one with with customers, one creative, one you hate but pays great etc.

    Your ideas hit the mark for me. I do my own form of mid-week dancing that helps make Thursday and Friday more tolerable. Thanks for reassuring me that I’m not alone.

    Well done!

  7. Jenni says:

    Love! Needed this so very badly today, so thank you. After 5 years I’m in the middle of being laid off and I have nothing but a blank canvas and a very, very bleak savings account staring back at me. People keep telling me to ride the unemployment wave until I figure something out, but I’m afraid to get complacent that way. Thanks for the ideas and the insight – exactly what I needed at this very moment.

  8. Amanda says:

    I have a lot of personal thoughts on this very issue. After getting laid-off, it took me 2 years to find full-time employment again. While it was a lot of ups and downs, i don’t know if it was the worst thing I’ve ever done. I met a lot of people, I broke out of my shell and put myself out there when connecting with potential employers, I got a job in San Francisco. I very well may be sitting in the same job if I hadn’t gotten laid off because I had a job in the recession. Because of how I approached unemployement, I wouldn’t label it as one of the worst things I’ve ever done, but one of the best growth experiences I’ve ever had (and learned how to exist on verrryyyy little….haha). I still struggle, however, with fulfilling my needs with the two points you write about as a professional heading past the entry-level steps in my career. As a 29 year old, how do I better align my passions and pay check and set myself up for a life beyond early stages and way before retirement? I appreciate your thoughts on recognizing that it’s not all going to be gravy, relying on one thing is not the answer, and I need to work on what I need daily :)

  9. Wyn says:

    As someone who has been actively searching for a job for the past few years, I find this post both naive and insulting. Yes, I might be able to get a job working for Starbucks but that won’t pay my mortgage and won’t even cover the health insurance until I’ve worked there for 3 months (at least). The 160 hours I would need to work to earn that insurance is time that could be spent on other things – such as applying for a better paying job. Much of the money I would earn in the job would be spent on childcare and other work related expense. I don’t care about a perfect job – just a job that pays the bills.

  10. Christina says:

    Great post! I’ve found myself in that boat of looking for the perfect job that would be my sole source of income these last few months. It definitely made me worried and anxious when things kept not working out. However, eventually I gained some perspective and made things work – a lot of it had to do with these sorts of realities and realizations that you talk about in this post. I wish I had read something like this at the beginning of my job hunt! I’m glad other people will, though! :)

  11. Hi Sarah, great post! I broke out of the corportae world a few years back and have been in property design and renovation and most recently launching a new on-line maternity brand. It is tough but life is what you make of it. I know that in time the rewards will be far greater than they could ever have been in the corporate world!

  12. Ee says:

    My dilemma after reading your article is that – I really love my job and I’m quite satisfied with the money too. I often wonder if I have loved my job less, maybe I will be less affected by the frustration at work, how things are not turning out the way it is supposed to be, etc etc etc.
    I even cried once when I was thinking of changing my job…because I really love how it feeds my soul and my interest. I even went to further my studies part-time so that I can contribute more…and I love every minute of the learning and working even though I am lacking sleep.

    So should I take out some of my eggs and put in another basket?

  13. Alessandra says:

    Loved the post, as it really validates my current lifestyle aproach; I have my 9-to-5 job that provdes steady income and benefits, and I have my side business as a belly dancer. The first one ensures that I can feed my body each week and the second one feeds my soul.

  14. Erin Bradley says:

    HOLY CRAP! You are speaking my language. I’ve been in a place where my ‘real job’ is going great, financially things are good, but the job doesn’t necessarily feed my soul. I always find myself torn between finding “freedom” and maintaining financial freedom. It’s a good perspective to remind yourself that you actually DO need money and that there’s nothing wrong with making money, so you can enjoy the freedoms you seek or create. I love this post!! awesome.

  15. Andi-Roo says:

    Love the urge to feed my soul as well as my cat… too true! I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to do both, but this served as a great reminder to be grateful for that! Thanks! :)

  16. […] false starts, and failures, and going back to square one, before I figure out my thing. Reading this article helps. Saying all these things out loud to attentive ears helps. Writing sporadically in my journal […]