The Dilettante’s Approach to a Career

by Megan Reynolds

My ex-boyfriend and I were driving to Vermont over a long weekend when we started arguing about money. Money, in our relationship, is irrelevant at this point; we have not been together for a while, so our individual financial situations aren’t relevant to each other. But when we were together, money was a topic that played heavily into our relationship. He’s in journalism school, a decisive step in a career peppered with jobs in a field he didn’t enjoy. After a prolonged tenure in a variety of careers that didn’t fit, I have recently started a job that is in line with my interests and goals. Most of the time we were together, we spent a lot of time arguing about jobs: Get a job, work the job, stay at the job. Leave if you want, but don’t try jobs on like you’re shopping for shoes. You have to settle down after a while.

“I want to go to law school,” he said. The sun was setting outside, casting the snowy hills of the Taconic in golden relief.

“You’re a semester into journalism school, and I don’t understand how it is that you already know you want to do something else,” I told him. I raised my voice. Maybe I was yelling. I stopped looking out the window, and started staring intently at his profile as he drove.

“I don’t want to be a journalist,” he said. “I just don’t want to do what I’ve always done. You changed jobs, and you’re happier now, right?”

We drove in aggrieved silence.

Work is work. We do it because we need to make money, to pay bills, to have a roof over our heads. We do it to imbue our life with a tiny bit of meaning. It’s the thing that makes it so that we can do the stuff we really like, like yoga classes and coffee with friends and fitful bursts of shopping on windy Saturdays. It is energy expended in order for money to be made. The very word sounds trying. The hard consonant is a closed fist. “I can’t meet you for apple cider and donuts,” you say, “because I have to work.” There are sympathetic sighs; a tacit understanding. The discussion is closed.

I have never fully understood the personality it takes to never be satisfied. Sure, the grass is always greener, but at some point, that mentality ends. The dilettante’s approach to a career is not a sustainable one. I like stability. I greatly enjoy knowing where my money is coming from, when it is arriving, and that it will be arriving steadily. I have worked at a lot of jobs, and spent a lot of time flailing, but now I am in a career that, while not perfect, is directly in line with things that I want to be doing.

There’s a difference between changing jobs because you have to and changing jobs because you want to. The latter implies privilege, the former necessity. You change jobs frequently because you need to make more money or because you need to find something that doesn’t make you want to lay on the floor when you get home every night. A career history peppered with jobs in various fields says to me, “This person hasn’t had the luxury of being able to pick their next move. This person had to do whatever it is they could find, when they could find it.”

My father worked a wide range of jobs because he had to figure out a way to make sure my sister and I had clothes and food and backpacks. This is where I got it from. My ex-boyfriend’s parents each had one job their whole life — steady jobs that paid well. The constant hustle that I saw my whole childhood wasn’t a part of his life, and that’s where the difference lies. I have only recently learned that it’s okay to say no to some opportunities and yes to others. The plain fact that I had options, career-wise, wasn’t something that seemed accessible to me. Yet, my ex-boyfriend spent lots of time just thinking about what he was going to do next, and how.

Throughout the course of our relationship, I had equated his inability to just sit down and work at a job without yearning for something else as a lack of maturity. Adults have jobs that they maybe don’t like that much, but they work at them anyway, because they need to pay their cell phone bills. Perpetual teenagers flop around the job market, flitting from one job to the next, constantly on the lookout for something that is just a tiny bit better than what they have right now. They refuse to sit down, shut up and just do their job, any job, the job they have at the moment. They are always looking for the next best thing.

This isn’t immaturity. It’s wanting better for yourself. It’s wanting to do something that, on some level, makes you feel good about the work that you do, being able to come home at night and feel a tiny bit of accomplishment. It’s about knowing that there’s something better out there and making the choice change.

We sat in silence for a while in the car, the aftermath of the fight lingering as we drove through a slowly-darkening countryside.

“I get it now,” I told him. “I’m doing something that I like now and I get it.” The silence grew companionable. This fight, one that we’ve had for so long, was finally over.

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.

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