I get bored with all my jobs after six months

A reader writes:

How do you know you’re in the right job? I’m in my early 40s and I’ve worked for corporations and colleges and social service agencies. The same pattern always emerges, which is: everything is great for about six months, then I get bored and start looking. This pattern repeats itself across entry-level jobs, management jobs, etc. I am now debating going from a management job to a high-level individual contributor (been in current job for 2.5 years), but am not sure it is for the right reasons other than the bright and shiny.

Some details: I was a social worker right out of college. I was really good and they kept giving me more work and I got burned out after two years and quit. I worked in finance after my MBA and hated the culture, which was great for aggressive white males but not so good for others. So then I became a university recruiter. I did love that for about a year but the travel was terrible. So then I worked in a university career center. Looking back, I didn’t have great reasons for leaving, but I did after two years. I went to work in university admissions for a certifiable narcissist and left after a year. In my current job, 2.5 years, I manage multiple departments and staff. It is the most high level and challenging job I’ve ever had, and I’ve gotten lots of accolades, but again: bored with paperwork, personnel issues, and processes, as well as underpaid (my boss has said it’s egregious). I am looking at a possible move to a job in the research department of the university. This looks promising because I can use my brain a bit more and learn a new system. Learning new things is what drives a lot of these moves. If I feel like I am not taking in enormous amounts of new information, I feel stalled out.

And, something that is probably working in the background is that a real passion for me is creative writing. I do this during evenings and lunches, and I am realistic. Only a lucky few make a living writing novels. So, I continue to try to find a job that fits, with decreasing hope that I will ever get there. I have talked to a life coach a few times and she believes I need to be more vulnerable at work. She thinks I change jobs so I won’t have to reveal my true self. I took that to heart and read some Brene Brown books and I’ve been working on that.

I’m not privy to the conversations that you had with your life coach that made her conclude that you need to be more vulnerable at work and reveal your true self … but I’m pretty skeptical that that’s the issue here.

And I don’t think you’re necessarily choosing the wrong jobs. It sounds like like you’re just getting bored very quickly, and that that’s likely to happen regardless of the type of job you choose. There aren’t a ton of jobs out there where you will be taking in enormous amounts of new information all the time, for years.

I also wonder if you’re not looking closely enough at the ways in which your work probably does challenge you. You’re managing multiple departments and staff right now. Unless you’re incredibly hands-off to the point of negligence, there are probably new and varied challenges there all the time. What’s making you overlook those and focus instead on the tedium of paperwork?

To me, it sounds like you’re looking to work to provide a type of fulfillment that you probably shouldn’t be expecting. It’s great if you’re lucky enough to find work that’s deeply fulfilling long-term, but an awful lot of people — probably the vast majority — work in jobs that are sometimes interesting, sometimes not, and primarily (if not entirely) a way to make money.

So it might be that you should focus on being okay with the idea of work as a way to pay your bills. If it becomes more, that’s a bonus. Obviously you don’t want to settle for being miserable, but that’s a very different thing than just being bored. (And I’m going to double down on the idea of being okay with a little boredom since you have a passion — writing — that you work on in the evenings and on lunch breaks. It actually might be hard to keep up that level of passion — and time investment — if your job was competing with it.)

If you bristle at the idea that it should be enough for work to provide you with a reasonably comfortable livelihood without also providing deep fulfillment and constant challenge, it could be useful to explore why. What are the ideas you have about work that make that feel wrong to you? And are those ideas realistic, given what you know of the work world? On one hand, that might sound awfully discouraging … but it can also be really liberating to decide that work doesn’t have to fulfill you like that.

More reading for you:

I get bored with all my jobs and don’t know what to do with myself

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 411 comments… read them below }

  1. a big fish in a small pond*

    omg! “It sounds like like you’re just getting bored very quickly, and that that’s likely to happen regardless of the type of job you choose. There aren’t a ton of jobs out there where you will be taking in enormous amounts of new information all the time, for years.”

    THIS ^^^ !!!! (and the rest of the advice too!)

    Thank you so much, Alison! I chased promotion after promotion trying to stay interested and challenged and now I’ve been CEO for a number of years and STILL battle the boredom. I thought the role of CEO would give me the novelty and challenges I’d need to stay interested, and it hasn’t. Clearly it is me and my perception and not the series of jobs I had over the years.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Even jobs where you’d think this would be the case, like research science, aren’t that way. When I was in academia, there were a lot of days where I spent 10-13 hours pipetting minute quantities of chemicals from one exquisitely sterile container to another, or cursing at a balky piece of equipment. Yeah, I spent time reading journals, but the bulk of my time actually doing my job was procedural and dull. If you’re expecting a job to dazzle you with novelty for years or decades, you’re not going to get that.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I was trying to think of a job that would be 100% interesting and engaging, and I couldn’t think of one. I’d even bet Indiana Jones has tons of paperwork after he discovers an ancient magical artifact. Could you imagine all the expenses he has to process? All the travel arrangements and passports?
        It’s adventure 20% of the time and boring paperwork 80% of the time.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            I’m getting a glimpse of this writing an EA that includes cultural resources impacts. So much paperwork. So, so much paperwork.

            1. fishy*

              Ugh, I feel your pain. I have an overall pretty engaging job in natural resources, but I spend way more time than I care to think about drafting and editing NEPA documents that no one reads (often including options that were never realistically considered for implementation).

              1. Clever Name*

                You mean the “no action” alternative really isn’t a feasible alternative and they’re going to widen the highway (or whatever) regardless??? ;)

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Ugh. My life right now, in a nutshell. “Yes, sir, we actually do need to explore alternatives. Real ones.”

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I’m laughing out loud imagining Indy grumbling as he fills out an accession form in triplicate to store the Ark in the giant warehouse, then drafts a memo justifying his whip budget to the university finance office.

          1. JaneB*

            Judging by the way Indy blows off his teaching in the movies, I reckon he doesn’t do his paperwork most of the time, just leaves a trail of cursing colleagues & admins to do it for him – that’s would be the common pattern for a male research “star” beloved by students. Not that I, a middle aged female in academia who does boring to most slow and incremental research, teaches loathed but required core modules and sorts out a great deal of other people’s paperwork, am at all bitter….

            I was once told by my boss that a fellow academic was “too brilliant to be good at admin” – gah!

        2. KHB*

          I’m a science writer and editor who gets to focus on a completely different field with every new piece I work on. I do get to “take in enormous amounts of new information all the time, for years,” and I know I’m extremely fortunate to have such a job.

          And yet, a lot of my time is spent chasing down non-responsive reviewers and interviewees, chasing down my colleagues when they don’t meet their #%*#%&* deadlines, poring over figures to make sure their use of hyphens and dashes and superscripts and subscripts and boldface and italic all meet our publication’s style guidelines, figuring out how to nicely reject people who want to write for us but aren’t quite qualified to, and on and on.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            Oh, God – I totally get it. I am a specialist too, writing and editing about a topic that I find very interesting, and I get to do all kinds of different writing on it – features, news-features, hard-science production stories, financial stories, political stories, historical stories, food stories – and photography that ranges from boring grip-and-grins to sweet little animals to cute kids to delectable food to lovely landscapes. Lots of variety, right?

            But ye gods, you still have to do all the boring stuff (figuring out and chasing down sources, transcribing interviews, editing other people’s commas and dashes, evaluating 60 near-identical photos of sweet little animals, driving 200 miles in pelting rain for an interview, nagging people about deadlines, rounding up caption information, etc.) that makes those things possible.

            And then there are some days that writing is boring boring boring. It just is.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              This is me, too. I have a lot of variety in my job, get to research, write and create material and presentations around this topic – I feel like I learn something new almost every day.

              But it still gets monotonous and some days I just don’t. want. to. write. I agree that its just the nature of most jobs.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              I often come back to that 19th century writer who spent the morning taking a comma out, and in the afternoon put it back in.

              I mean, not on a good day. But there are times…

          2. Breda*

            Yup – I work in publishing, with almost complete control over the books I work on and an ever-changing slate of duties. It’s practically a job requirement that I be able to take in and retain loads of new information all the time.

            But it’s also the kind of job that requires careful attention to mind-numbing paperwork, whether that’s contracts or money; endless follow-up emails; and reading up to half a dozen drafts of a novel I loved the first time I read it to see if it’s ready yet. The big-picture stuff is ever-changing and fascinating, but the quotidian details are not. I just figure this is true no matter where you work, and since it’s all in service of the fun big picture, I can deal.

          3. Kathleen Adams*

            I was venting about how boring writing to could be to someone one time (a non-writer, obviously), and he said, “Well, if you hate it that much, you really should do something else.” He couldn’t seem to grasp that it’s possible to enjoy writing but at times to find it frustrating or tedious or to just not be in the mood. Apparently if you’re a writer, you’re supposed to want to write, like, all the time.

            Yeah, right.

            Now I need to go work on my newsletter, and I am totally not. in. the. mood. :-)

        3. SL #2*

          In the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, there’s an animatronic Indy at the very end of the ride, muttering about how much he hates tourists (after he has to “save” all our lives) and I just laughed really hard imagining the amount of insurance paperwork he has to fill out after every car load of tourists gets rescued.

        4. Ted Mosby*

          There is NO WAY Indiana was planning his own travel and processing his own magical deities. No way. He must have had admin for that. ;)

            1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*


              “Wait….there’s no Nazis here.”

            2. Franzia Spritzer*

              Indy explores Florida with groupon codes for golf, beach horse rides and swimming with dolphins, the fan boat ride is full price, sorry Indy.

        5. MK*

          And James Bond is, when all is said and done, a civil servant. I am sure he has his fair share of bureaucrasy to deal with.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Happy Hump Day, 00 Section!

            Please remember to approve your hours in ADP no later than 5pm. As you know, this is essential for getting your timecards processed, especially hazard pay!

            Don’t forget, there will be cake in the break room at 3pm for 004’s birthday. Make sure to stop by and wish her the best.

            Also, please remember that the Assassin of the Month parking spot is currently resolved for 002’s Porsche. There’s a silver Aston Martin parked there today and we’re sure it was just an accident, but please respect the current AOTM.

            Please note that our staff meeting for Friday at 8am has been cancelled.

            Best, M

            1. Marillenbaum*

              This reminds me of the now-defunct tumblr “Memos from S.H.I.E.L.D.”, where Nick Fury would have to remind people that just because they worked with superheroes saving the world, that didn’t mean they were exempt from turning in their receipts to Accounts Payable!

            2. JessaB*

              Dear 00 Section –

              Please be advised that you do actually have to fill out your paperwork. Chocolate and roses is not enough to remotely make me chase you down.


              CC: M

          2. hermit crab*

            That’s exactly how he’s portrayed in the books, actually. The early books, in particular, are very clear that Bond has like 360 days per year of doing very little (and then the book is about the other five days).

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              This is why I liked Casino Royale (the movie) so much – it hinted at a little of that.

            2. MK*

              It’s been at least 25 years since I read the books, but I do remember they were a lot more grounded in reality than the films.

          3. dragonzflame*

            MacGyver, too. I mean, the Phoenix Foundation must be an NFP so he’d have to do a serious amount of paperwork, debriefing, reporting… Plus having to apply for funding for his next mission. I mean, I’m sure Pete Thornton does a lot of it, but MacGyver would still need to write the reports.

            And Dale Cooper might have Diane and his Dictaphone, but he’s still a cop.

        6. Emi.*

          Hell, when I did a summer research experience in theoretical math, the purest and most thoughtful and interesting field there is, I spent at least 50% of my time on LaTeX (and 90% of non-LaTeX time on cranking different cases through a proof that I knew darn well was going to work).

        7. ChocolateBrownie*

          I finally found a job that is 100% interesting and engaging, working as a psychotherapist. It’s incredible, the variety you encounter when supporting members of the public about their difficulties and treating mental health problems. But until I got into this career, the first decade of my working life was spent wanting to cry from boredom while waitressing, delivering pizza, selling clothes or making coffee.

          To be in a position where work is something that brings fulfilment rather than something you endure to pay the bills is an incredibly fortunate one. I think a lot of people feel this sense of shame that their job is ‘just a job’ when society tells us we can grow up into the job of our dreams, ‘get a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!’. But I don’t think many people grow up wanting to work on a checkout, clean bathrooms, empty trash cans and so forth, all of which are necessary jobs for society to function and bloody hard work!

        8. Boris*

          He also spends like 90% of his time as a professor. A lot of boring paperwork in academia. Even Indy must fill out grant applications and try to submit his papers to journals with enough impact.

          1. Ted Mosby*

            writing is so flipping unfufilling when you do it for hours and hours each day and not just in your spare time when you feel inspired and all of your creative juices have been squeezed into one pent up glass of novel juice all day long. Go read a movable feast; he’s just sitting in cafes drinking and feeling melancholy like 75% of the time.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Hemingway’s cure for writer’s block was always absinthe.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I’ve been working on the same document since last September. Sometimes it feels like Groundhog Day.

          1. Happy Lurker*

            We had one report that took 9 months to complete and required 2 year updates. So every time we finished, we had a couple months off and had to start again. I was bored out of my skull, but when I look back it was the best job I had. The people were crazy, but my boss was amazing. We would laugh at the ridiculousness together.

      2. JustaTech*

        Yeah, no one ever talks about the tedium of science in undergrad. I started to figure it out when “run lizards on a race track all day” turned out to be surprisingly dull (unless one got away, which was exciting but horrible), and was really driven home by “watch this thing drip for 3 hours”.
        I did develop a whole new vocabulary for cursing scientific equipment, when good old Anglo-Saxon cussing wasn’t enough. The best was “you misbegotten offspring of a toaster and a speak-and-spell”! Directed at a quarter-million dollar instrument.

      3. TL -*

        Truth. I am currently using a machine to move tiny amounts of liquid from one sterile container to another. I’ll be here all day today and all day tomorrow.

      4. Sarah*

        Yeah, I’m in academia too, and while there’s definitely an ASPECT of “always taking in lots of new information,” it’s not like that 24-7. There is still boring paperwork and tedious meetings, etc. I would say I’m on the high end of “finds my job deeply meaningful and interesting,” but there are still days that are not fun.

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        At graduate school in physics:

        Alex: Today I plumbed things. Sometimes fluids, sometimes electrons, but basically 14 hours of plumbing.
        Chris: I cleaned surfaces. Microscopically.

      6. Koko*

        Yes, I also love learning – and I dropped out of grad school once I realized the difference between consuming knowledge and producing it, and that doing the latter doesn’t satisfy the itch to do the former.

        I try to satisfy the itch in my job now by learning more about my field. Attending webinars, reading blogs and whitepapers and even the occasional full-length book, listening to podcasts, talking to others in my field about our challenges and solutions. None of this is required of me or assigned to me by anyone at work.

        If I was just doing what my employer expected of me, there would be much less learning going on in my life. I make it a point to remain a student–a consumer of knowledge–and while it certainly helps me professionally that learning happens independently of my job.

      7. KelsBells*

        Oh man this is true. I’m an astrophysicist and reading this while running some very tedious data calibrations. The cool part of my job is pretty small, while a large chunk is tweaking some code and then re-running everything to see if it fixed that weird problem you had.

    2. Big Picture Person*

      Same here. I’ve ran two companies over the last year, and still fight the boredom. I’ve contemplated going into consulting to try to get over it, but I truly don’t think that will do it either.

      1. Ivy*

        Nah, consulting is very intense but at some point the problems start to sound familiar, especially if you specialize. Unless you get excited about dealing with difficult clients, this can keep you on your toes for a longer time (and ends usually in burnout)
        I’ve been in consulting almost 2 decades, just finished a “sales pitch” call and frankly sounded bored even to myself

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I’m an environmental consultant. It won’t help.

        1. hermit crab*

          Me too. Consulting often means that your clients can push all their boring stuff off onto you. :)

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Occasionally, one must learn the art of silence, lest one blurts “I bill out at $157 an hour and you want me to do WHAT”

            1. hermit crab*

              “Yes, of course I will make you a table based on the text that you asked me to write to summarize the original table.”

        2. Clever Name*

          Me too, and I get bored easily as well. That’s why I’m a technical specialist in at least 3 different (unrelated) disciplines. It’s nice working for a small company. :)

      3. Loose Seal*

        I’m the same way with easy boredom. Once I’ve gotten something down pat, I’m thinking, “What’s next?”

        I’ve thought that I’d be a good information gatherer/web poster for a site like Buzzfeed or Cracked for this reason. You get to trawl through a lot of different stuff and have a chance to be learning new information all the time (I assume). But I’m sure that if I ever got into it, I’d find that the webcrawl/writing part was the smallest part of the job and, just like every other job I’ve ever had, the rest of my time would be full of endless meetings that meander away from the agenda, pointless paperwork with arbitrary deadlines, and last minute rushes to help someone else meet their arbitrary deadline that they forgot about.

        My method of getting to retirement without being bored out of my mind was to do my work well and diligently, look for ways to speed up or automate processes, and make my main goal to be a pleasant and helpful worker (not my easiest trait as I’m naturally more of a head-down-do-my-own-work sort of person). Then after about 18 months, I’d start casually looking for something new that seemed like a good fit for me at the time. Not necessarily a promotion but I didn’t want to travel back down the ladder, either. I’d take my time finding something and, by the time it was all said and done, I’ve have 2 to 4 years in at my previous job. And since I could describe my career path as mostly upward and spin it so that it seemed to lead me to exactly the advertised job on purpose, it wasn’t that hard to convince people to hire me in a job where I had zero experience in but looked interesting.

        So it’s all worked out. I’m not suggesting everyone do this if they don’t want to. My sisters will have worked their entire adult lives for the same company, and my mother and step-dad did the same up until they retired and they are all appalled at my job-switching. But I’ve been pretty happy with how I’ve handled my career (the same way I assume they are pretty happy at staying at the same place).

    3. MK*

      It might also be useful for the OP to realise that even his dream career of writing is not boredom-free. I have read blog posts and the like of “the lucky few that make a living writing novels” and it’s doesn’t sound as if they are expempt from routine and paperwork. I cannot help but wonder if a lot of her frustration isn’t coming from the conviction that, if only she could be a full-time novelist, life would be perfect.

      1. Gadfly*

        Just a few weekends ago I attended a writers conference and a huge chunk of program could have been re-titled “Yes, you have to deal with all the boring parts: it isn’t enough to just write the book”

      2. Djuna*

        Or another perspective – which is that if you spend all day writing (even when it’sin a field that you’re passionate about), it can be very hard to knuckle down to a few more hours of that at home in the evenings. I joke about it and say work ate my useable words for the day/week/month.

        I think Alison’s advice is spot on – and I’d add that I wrote more for myself when I was working in “boring” jobs that didn’t challenge me. This was purely because they didn’t require my entire attention and I could let ideas bubble away on the back-burner, then come home and get them out on paper/in pixels. They also meant I could leave work at work, which isn’t always so easy for me now.

        I love my job, because I’m constantly challenged and always have to learn new things, but I have written very little for myself in the past few years. On the other hand, being energized and excited about my job often means using my creativity to improve what we’re doing – so it’s still fulfilling, just in a different way. It’s the right balance for me, but I have no idea if it would work for anyone else.

        1. Simonthegreywarden*

          This is so true. As a writing teacher and writing tutor, I love to write. But after using up my brain power reading bad writing and trying make it better, the last thing I have any energy for is sitting down and writing on my own projects!

      3. zora*

        I was just telling someone something similar about being an actor yesterday. She was saying she’d always wished she’d tried to be an actor, and I went in to all the ways it’s actually a really difficult career path, and not all it’s cracked up to be! Even a lot of the actors we consider celebrities have to spend a LOT of their time hustling for the next gig.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          That was me when I was younger! I wanted to be an actress, but when I got into college and heavily involved in our theater department, I realized that I did not have the intestinal fortitude to handle near-constant rejection; instead, I wanted to get feedback I could work with, like “this character shouldn’t be wearing yellow”. I’ve been working instead on finding a career path that allows me to include the things I loved about acting (public speaking/performance) with fewer things I hated (auditions, vague criticism).

    4. canadian journo*

      I’m a journalist at a city newspaper, and if you’re a general assignment reporter at a city paper you literally immerse yourself in something different every day. Journalism as an industry is an iffy career move, but if OP is a good writer and wants do something different every day the job can’t be beat!

    5. Drama Llama's Mama*

      I’m an analyst supporting healthcare consultants, and I do get to learn a fair amount in the course of my job – every time we tackle a new project, I learn about a hospital, or a community, or a disease state, or a drug, or a process. That’s the cool and exciting part. On the other side of things, here’s how I spent my time today:
      1 – sorted out my time billing for last week
      2 – updated a database that I and my fellow analysts use with a more current data set
      3 – spent two hours trying to figure out why my numbers didn’t tie between summary and detail on an analysis I’ve been working on for a week now
      4 – attended an internal WebEx about company goals for 2017

      Today was not unusual; many of my days are like this. I don’t particularly look forward to the tedious stuff, but it comes with the job and some level of boredom is always inevitable in any job, I think.

  2. nnn*

    Since OP seems to be driven by learning, my first thought is to wonder whether they’ve tried taking classes. I believe they currently work at a university (if I’ve followed the plot correctly), so maybe there would be a tuition discount, or the ability to audit classes for free?

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      This is a good suggestion. Joining a writers’ group, volunteering, or blogging would also be possibilities.

    2. Amber T*

      If you can’t take classes at your university, you can check out free/cheap sites as well! I’ve taken quite a few classes through Coursera (which are real college courses taught by professors at colleges). Udemy is also a good platform to check out.

      1. JustaTech*

        Or EdX. Some of those classes are *intense*. (I took the science of cooking class with my mom and after the first lecture she called me up “What is a mole and why do I care?” It was a loooong class, but we both learned a lot.)
        This is what I do during slow times at work with the implicit or explicit permission of my boss.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          “Well, mom, we’re taking a science of cooking class. Either it’s a classic Mexican sauce of chiles and spices, or it’s 6.022140857 × 10^23.”

    3. katkat*

      That’s a great idea.

      Would people suggest the employee asks their manager for approval (or for help with any course costs), or just pursues this independently in their free time? I wonder if asking their manager if they can take classes would also serve as a way to show initiative and show that they can handle more learning/workload than what they’re currently dealing with?

    4. Emi.*

      The Teaching Company has a lot of video lectures on DVD (dorkily named “The Great Courses”) that are intended for adults who wish they’d learned more in college, mostly humanities. I used some of them in highschool, and they were good! They come with study questions, too, but you can also just watch the videos for fun. (They’re pretty pricey, but you might be able to find them secondhand or at the public library.)

      1. D.A.R.N.*

        You could also get the audio versions of a lot of these lecture series via Audible. I’ve been through three of them so far and they’re great. (Go for Food: A Cultural Culinary History along with The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World for a pair that complement each other perfectly.)

    5. JAM*

      I’ve definitely found I’m not going to find fulfillment with my jobs. It took me a while to realize that I’m also okay with that. I’ve started taking classes, reading non-fiction for online discussions/book clubs, and taking Dabble classes or cooking classes and it has helped so much with my attitudes at work. These past few months I had some personal issues with the family and I couldn’t get in the classes and it was obvious at work that I was going stir crazy as a result.

  3. EA*

    I think you should focus on the positive, and that Alison is mostly right. You have navigated a few career changes extremely well. A lot of people struggle with that, but it seems like you moved pretty seamlessly while doing high level work.

    It has taken me years to accept the fact that I am a “work to live” not “live to work” type of person. I was raised in an upper middle class -you are so smart, change the world sort of environment. I was told “find something you love, then you will never work a day in your life!” (HAHAHAH). I quickly found that I am just not passionate about working. I care, I do a good job, but I don’t get that much satisfaction out of it. It has always been a job, with some parts I like and some I don’t, that I want to leave behind at the end of the day. I feel deeply embarrassed feeling this way, like I am not living up to my potential and I am not “doing something” with my life. I find way more satisfaction from my hobbies than from work, and am finding ways to accept it.

    I apologize for my little AAM confessional, but I really think a lot of what society teaches you about work isn’t helpful.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think there are SO MANY people who feel like this, and who feel like it’s a shameful secret because they’re part of a socioeconomic class that tells everyone they should love their work (which is such a privileged viewpoint, and for some reason that never gets taken into account either).

      1. anon for this*

        Yes, exactly. I’ve struggled with this myself. My family is upper middle class and I went to expensive private schools that emphasized the arts (which I loved) my whole life. I always wanted to be a (fiction) Writer & was vocal about this since the age of like two but after college I spent a year or so working part time and writing the rest of the time… and I quickly figured out that I didn’t love writing enough to spend hours a day doing it! I’m now working full time and writing when I feel like it. But I’ve always felt disapproval from certain family members and friends that I’m not “doing what I love,” even though I do enjoy my job. My grandmother always asks me how my writing is going in this tone that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. As if that’s the only thing in my life that matters. She’s not interested in my work, even though I’ve achieved a lot in the past few years and find it interesting, challenging, rewarding, etc.

        None of this was ever discussed with me growing up. I’m very fortunate, and I’m certainly not complaining, but I’m kind of shocked that no one sat me down at any point and talked to me about work, worthiness, money, fulfillment… that no one questioned the wisdom of “do what you love,” or pointed out what a privileged viewpoint it is… More and more I find that way of thinking utterly useless and harmful.

        1. agmat*

          “More and more I find that way of thinking utterly useless and harmful.”

          I completely agree. It’s harmful to those who come from an upper/middle class life where “do what you love” seems reasonable – and especially harmful to those who come from a less privileged position where it’s aspirational. It can cause years of wasted time and money because a person’s expectations of what working (and adult) life “should be” is so warped.

          I’m grateful that my family’s advice was geared more towards “focus on what you’re good at”. It had nothing to do with love, or passion really. I did have the opportunity to go to grad school for a field I was (am) passionate about, but did not pursue the “passionate” jobs to the ends of the earth (most of which pay diddly, like field work positions that end in 1 year). Now I have a very secure position that is definitely boring at times, but I’m good at it. And I can turn it off at 5pm. And I’m younger than 30 – I feel like many in my cohort has bought into a lie.

          1. anon for this*

            I’m 26 and I feel the same way—and now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t come up with anyone who benefits from “do what you love,” at least not how it’s peddled now. Like you said, it harms those for whom it’s aspirational and those for whom it’s just, I don’t know… par for the course?

            I love that your family encouraged you to focus on what you’re good at rather than just what you “love” or are passionate about—I think figuring out what you’re good at can even lead to love of your work! Or at least satisfaction in it. Rather than starting with love and then trying to find the right fit. I think we’re told to think of love or passion as starting point, whereas it can develop over time. It certainly did for me. I didn’t love my job or my industry when I started in it 4 years ago—now I’m in a diff role in the same industry/company and while I wouldn’t say I love it, it challenges and satisfies and pushes me to grow, and that’s more than enough.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              I will say chasing what you love has certain benefits, but it also has certain drawbacks. I was able to quit my FT job at 35 to go back to school and switch gears to a completely different field. I wouldn’t change my job for the world but some of the “fun” is gone because I turned a part-time job/hobby into a full-time+ job and kept the part-time job/hobby going. Now I live and breathe the same subject almost constantly. My life lacks some variety – which I am working on.

          2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            And there’s a certain pleasure to doing what you’re good at! That can be its own source of fulfillment. What I do right now isn’t thrilling exactly, but it’s something I’m damned good at, and it uses a lot of my strengths. It’s cool to know that.

          3. Gadfly*

            And not harmful just for those for whom it is aspirational–it is also used to degrade those who are doing all sorts of basic, necessary jobs that aren’t life goals but pay the rent and feed the family.

          4. Starbuck*

            I’m reminded of reading the responses to the PhD Debt Survey that was done a couple years ago, where people were discussing their tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars of student loan debt that they’d accrued in pursuit of being able to “do what they loved” without having a solid plan on how they’d secure a livelihood as well. There was a lot of bitterness and frustration from those students who felt that the advice to pursue what they loved, without any caveats provided, had been very unhelpful and unrealistic. Overall a fascinating read.

          5. Nichole*

            Yeah, definitely. I have a friend who’s working on his phd in history and we had a conversation a while ago where basically he was talking about how ‘lucky’ I am that what I’m doing (engineering) is something that’s valued by society and compensated appropriately. And it was a very frustrating conversation, because while I by no means dislike engineering, the fact that it’s valued by society and compensated appropriately was a key decision point and not something that happened to turn out that way.

        2. kbeers0su*

          I’m so glad that I’m not alone in this! My thing was always art- I drew all the time growing up. So I went to school for art, because it’s what I loved, so I should make it my career, right? Wrong. I hated my art classes and feeling forced to produce art. Luckily, I got involved at my university, which led me to my current career.

          I’ll also say that when I first started this career path I was a “live to work” type. But I was also young and single and could pour all my time/energy into my job. I’m still in the same career, but since taking my newest role I’ve definitely made the switch to the “work to live” mentality. And it’s honestly helped me stay sane. So now if I have days that just plain suck, or days where I feel like I accomplished nothing of importance, or days where I literally twiddled my thumbs and tried to make work happen…it doesn’t matter. It’s just a paycheck. I like it, I do it, I put it away and go home.

          1. anon for this*

            You are so not alone! I wish all this was talked about more, esp. with young people (esp. with “creative” young people, but maybe that’s just because I was one!). I feel like kids are encouraged to think about what they want to be when they grow up but not told that these things aren’t static, desires and needs change over time, what you want when you’re 6 may not be what you want/need when you’re 26… and that’s normal/common/okay!

            1. AVP*

              Also, just because there’s something out there that you love doing and think would make for a great career – there are trade-offs there, too. Dream careers don’t always pay well, or they come with serious work/life balance issues, or confine you to a specific geographical area that doesn’t make sense for your family life.

              (I wish someone had told me all this before I picked my career – I’m great at it and it’s going well but it is highly impractical in so many ways!)

            2. zora*

              I’m glad that my acting teachers in NYC back in the day were super upfront with us about how hard the job really is and everything you have to do that does not include being on a broadway stage. I loved it and was good at it, but I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t love it enough to work that hard for the rest of my life (no weekends off, 6-7 day weeks, constant hustling for the next gig)

              I think they helped a lot of us make a very informed decision about what we wanted to do while we were still in our early 20s and it was pretty easy to change direction.

            3. CrazyEngineerGirl*

              I’ve never considered this before, but even the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ is conditioning the “live to work” mentality. In a question, you’re implying that what you do, your job, is what is important and what the main focus of your future and life should be. Perhaps questions closer to ‘what do you want your life to be like’ or ‘what do you want out of life’ would be better as an all encompassing view where the job you do is a contributing factor to your LIFE.

              Would this work with a 5 year old? Probably not (although it could lead to some very entertaining answers.) But as children get older…

              1. DQ*

                I’ve actually started framing discussions with my 12 year-old daughter to be more like that….”Do you think you want to work in an office or a hospital or somewhere else?” “Would you rather have less extra money but do something you love or do something you just like but have money to spend on vacations, etc.?” “Do you want to travel for your job or work close to home?” etc. I want her to think about her future and (because she enjoys and is really good at cognitive work vs. physical) go to college, but not feel pressure to have any idea what job she wants when she’s 12. I told her when I was 12, I didn’t even know my job was a thing (IT Director) but I knew I wanted to wear high heels and go to an office every day. Spent some time in my 20’s chasing the dream job but quickly realized I had other priorities.

          2. Starbuck*

            I was on a similar track at one point- spent all my free time growing up creating art, got pretty good at it, and also developed a reputation as a “promising artist” which meant lots of people encouraged me to pursue art as a career so that I could do what I loved for a living. When I was getting ready to apply to colleges in high school, I visited several art schools. I could have gone if I wanted to- my parents fully funded my undergrad education. But one of their conditions was that I go to a liberal arts college/university, not an art school.

            So I went to a big public R1 school instead, and by the time I was ready to chose a major, I’d decided on a STEM field instead (an interest, but not a passion). I still create art all the time, but I’m so glad that I don’t have to stress about getting paid for it or having to meet deadlines! I create art when (and because) I feel compelled to, which is the way I like it. Sometimes there are opportunities to do art projects for my non-art job, which is nice because those are up to me. Of course I still have people telling me all the time that I should monetize my hobby and sell stuff online, but I do my best to take that as the compliment it’s intended to be, despite it being frustrating sometimes that people assume it would be so easy.

        3. anon now 2*

          Hahaha. So I’m reading the comment you replied to and I was reminiscing about how I used to write short stories as a kid and my parents were convinced I was going to be a famous children’s author. And how I still wonder (and feel slightly bad) if I let them down by not doing that. They weren’t even doing anything overtly pressuring- just being excited about a hobby that I really liked as a kid! But in that upper middle class/everyone’s a brilliant star environment, it’s so easier to internalize that pressure of “potential.”

          1. Elle*

            Wow, you just described me. Was really into writing as a kid and at age 30, my mom still asks me “why don’t you just write childrens’ books?” even though I have a career in a completely unrelated field. I think she’s a bit disappointed that I didn’t go into some type of creative field.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yes! The class-privileged “love your work” thing really irks me — and I think there’s some generational stuff intersecting there as well. While I reject the “coddled millennial” storyline, I think it can be genuinely tough to navigate shaping a new work identity around the idea that it’s really ok to take a job and work hard just to pay the bills.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yeah, there’s some class privilege stuff here that OP could do well to…what’s the word? Interrogate?

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Yep. Unless you have a trust fund or a spouse who makes a lot of money, most of us can’t spend that much time doing art. I know exactly one published novelist who doesn’t have a day job, and he’s been writing for over twenty years, in various formats, and he doesn’t make that much more than I did at Exjob.

      4. PB*

        Yes! This was something I really struggled with for a while. I’m lucky in that I really do love what I do. I get to play with rare books and get paid for it! But at the same time, I also loved the things I do outside of work, and they all take money. And, of course, there are lots of things about my job I don’t like (meetings, traveling to conferences, reading training manuals, filling out my time sheet, annual reviews).

        I’d grown up being indoctrinated in the idea of loving work and being fulfilled by my job, but… I’m not! At least, not completely. My job is a big part of my life, but it’s not my whole life, and that’s okay.

      5. Loose Seal*

        I was asked to come to speak at Career Day at my niece’s school. I was speaking to grades 3-6, if I recall correctly, which was about 60 kids. I was just talking about work in general and planned to talk about how to figure out what your skills are so you can try to figure out what sorts of jobs you’d be good in. One of the teachers politely interrupted me at one point and asked if I would rather talk more about how to translate what the kids “wanted” to do into a career as opposed to what they were good at.

        I said that many times, what you want to do isn’t a viable career path. And I asked the kids to raise hands to answer the question: “Who wants to be a NASCAR driver?” More than half. (I sort of knew this up front; we live in a NASCAR-friendly place.) So I asked further questions to those kids: “Are you closely related to someone who owns a NASCAR team?” “Are you closely related to someone who is now or has been a NASCAR driver?” (This could have been possible actually in our area but it turned out none of these particular kids were related.) “Are you currently spending every moment of your free time racing in dirt track competitions?” “Do you have parents and/or grandparents who are committed to taking you to those kinds of competitions?” (Again, these last two might have been possible in our area but none of these kids were.)

        So I flat-out told them that none of them would become NASCAR drivers. They were not in any position to become so. They weren’t related to any and were already too late to get started making a name for themselves (in other words, they didn’t have those particular privileges which was not shameful or wrong; it just was).

        I killed their dream and their teachers were horrified* — seriously, I have no idea why I was invited to speak — but I hate the idea of building up the idea of “dream jobs.” Heck, in high school, I was certain I would cure cancer and win the Nobel Prize and I was vocal about it. I was halfway through college when I made myself a laughing-stock by mentioning that to my advisor. What I would have given for my high school biology teacher to explain to me that there are a lot of cancers and I’d probably need to pick a specific one before I made a fool of myself by indicating that I’d cure all of them and that the Nobel Prize is only given to a very few people and the odds of my getting it were rather slim, especially since I was good in the sciences but not a super-star.

        *Strangely, I was not invited to speak at Career Day again…

        1. k*

          I wish someone like you had spoken at my Career Days.

          It’s one thing to let kids dream and have ambitious, but some mention of realistic expectations should be required in every “When you grow up…” school lesson.

        2. Trig*

          I think your message is on point, though maybe more appropriate for a high school aged audience who are more able to act on it.

          But also, please come to my area and replace your Nascar example with the NHL. Though it’s more a lesson the parents need to learn…

        3. Hollis*

          I 1000000% agree with your approach to careers, though I do think most of those third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders would have grown out of their NASCAR aspirations naturally. When I was in about third grade, I said I wanted to be a novelist, which was really mostly just because I liked reading and didn’t know of many other jobs (besides doctor, teacher, etc.), and my mother sat me down and gave me a Very Serious Talk about how hard it is to get published. And, you know, if I had been about to go thousands of dollars into debt for an MFA in creative writing, that would have been a very reasonable thing to consider — but it wasn’t really necessary when I was eight. By the time I entered high school, if not earlier, I no longer particularly wanted to be a novelist, not for practical reasons but because it just genuinely no longer interested me.

        4. D.A.R.N.*

          I love this whole comment and what you did for those kids. They’ll remember you when they’re in college.

        5. John Squar*

          You can totally be a NASCAR driver, or a musician or a writer if you want to. It’s just that most people don’t want to.

          If you want a nice car, a house, a family, and lots of time to watch TV, you don’t want to be a musician. Musicians are people who would rather play at a dive bar for pennies and spend hours of unpaid time writing music every day than get a stable job and have money to buy nice things. The only musicians who become rich are those so in love with their music, they would choose it over money, status and respect. This is what it means to “do what you love:” to get what you want, you need to let go of all other attachments.

          On the other hand, you have kids who see rock stars jamming out in front of millions of adoring fans, and think, “I wish that was me.” This doesn’t mean they love music or that music is their “passion,” they just want fame and money.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      That’s exactly how I feel, too. I do enjoy my job, for the most part, and there are some aspects that I am passionate about, but that “Find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” thing? No. I have worked many days in my life, and I will continue to do so, I’m sure. It’s certainly possible that there are people who adore their jobs so much that they don’t consider those jobs “work,” but I don’t think I’ve *ever* met anyone like that, and I’m sure they are a pretty small minority.
      The motivational-slogan approach to finding out what to do with your life has caused a lot of discontent and harm, IMO.

      1. the_scientist*

        I agree. I genuinely love the field that I work in. I believe in the value of the health sciences to improve our healthcare systems, reduce unnecessary, ineffective treatments and enable people to live healthier, better lives. Outside of work I read and write about the same field, take courses, attend conferences, and do other activities to expand my knowledge. Sometimes I even think about pursuing a PhD. So I am incredibly lucky in the sense that I am passionate about the field that I work in. Do I love every second of my actual job? Well, no. Sometimes I have to work on projects that aren’t that interesting to me. Sometimes I have to sit through long, boring teleconferences. Sometimes I have to do annoying paperwork. Sometimes I don’t necessarily agree with the business decisions being made. I have other interests outside of work, and I don’t want to work crazy hours at my job because I want to maintain the time to pursue those other interests.
        My partner is a super work-to-live sort of person. He sort of fell into his field by accident, and doesn’t love it, but he does like that it gives him time to pursue his other passions: film-making and writing. He realized early on that he couldn’t make the kind of living he wanted doing those things full-time, so he does them on the side and is really diligent about carving out time for them.

        1. Natalie*

          See, and I struggled in the opposite way – I thought if I just found a field that I loved and believed in, it wouldn’t matter so much what I was doing in that field. So for years I never spent much time thinking about what I wanted to actually *do* all day. (I somewhat luckily stumbled into a job I enjoy and am good at, so hurray.)

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        In my experience, the people who do say that, and think they mean it (even though they obviously have days they hate part of the job), are involved in this really disfunctional and bizarre mindset of “but you are so lucky to work in [highly competitive and passion driven field], you owe it to all the people who can’t to devote your every waking hour to it.” It’s so unhealthy on a personal level, it contributes to some really serious issues in the field, and it encourages people to continue to pursue a career in it long past the point where that is a good idea for them.

        It would be so much better to just acknowledge reality, encourage people to go into the field with both eyes wide open to the reality of the [very, very poor] job market, and not lose track of the fact that the point of a job is ultimately to provide a way to *live.*

    3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I’m totally a work-to-live person. I’m lucky in that my job engages my professional and personal interests and that it’s important and fulfilling, but I’m in it for the paycheck, and if I won powerball, I’d be doing a bunch of other stuff. And that’s OK! It doesn’t need to be my passion.

    4. paul*

      Same here. It’s one of the few things my parents genuinely screwed up on IMO. My dad did-and does-work 70+ hours a week and loves his field ( navigating regulatory issues for pipeline companies).

      I was brought up with the expectation I’d find a job that paid well and I was passionate about because that’s what he did.

      Yeah, not happening.

      1. Annony For This One*

        I have a junior in HS. I am struggling against the teachers and counselors “LOVE what you do!”. Meh.
        I can appreciate enjoying what you do. I would, but dealing with the constant barrage of repetitive and flat out ridiculous request means that I don’t enjoy it – I work to eat and pay the bills. Sometimes, I escape work with AAM.
        I want to encourage my children to pick a profession they can live with and pay the bills AND go on vacations. Not set them up for fantasy and then let reality slap them in the face.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          That’s a really important point. I think it can help to teach kids to focus on the tasks they enjoy and the skills they feel they’re good at. When I was younger, I wanted to be an actress; when I got older, I realized that what I really wanted was work that involved public speaking, coaching, and organization. I’m still figuring out what that should look like long-term, but it was an important starting point.

        2. Lil Lamb*

          I find this incredibly ironic because I know at least five teachers (two in my immediate family) who are work to live people. They get through the day, put their best effort and energy into it, and then go home.

        3. D.A.R.N.*

          The whole thing about encouraging people to pick a job that pays the bills seems to be more and more relevant after the housing bubble burst. I feel like a lot of people are skewing more towards “I just need to pay the bills and do my passion work after I clock out” these days because of the economy. Nobody wants to risk their livelihood or lose health insurance to become an artist (to use my own passion work as an example).

    5. Cleopatra Jones*

      It took me a loooonnnngggg time to accept that it was OK to feel this way about a job or career. The moment for me that made it OK was when I realized that…I don’t want my 9 to 5 cutting into my 5 to 9. It really is OK if I just want work to be work, and not my reason for existing.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is true and so helpful, because so many people feel this way.

      One of the things OP may want to consider is what kinds of activities they enjoyed at their jobs. Then I’d go through the list of “blah’s” (e.g., excessive travel, paperwork), and I’d figure out what percentage of “blah’s” are offset by the enjoyable things. Then I’d figure out if there are jobs that maximize the things you enjoy but minimize the things you dislike while still providing an adequate/livable salary. Many jobs that avoid paperwork are going to exist at a “lower” tier than management, and that’s not a bad thing! Especially because writing is OP’s passion, letting go of whatever pressure people put on OP to “strive” in their formal job could free up a lot of time and mental energy for OP’s writing.

      I also think it’s helpful to figure out what you can reasonably derive/expect from your job vs. what you do outside your job to supplement the things that interest you (e.g., joining a book club, taking classes on the side, getting deep down the rabbit hole with a specific hobby).

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Yes, this! I feel like there’s too much emphasis on title and not enough on specifics, so I always suggest the list of activities to people. I work adjacent to a field that is in high demand, but the vast majority of the people who want that field don’t understand what it is or how it works. The title sounds creative, but the actual day-to-day is very technical and analytic.

        When you understand the things you like to do, it’s a lot easier to find a job you like!

      2. Risha*

        Yes, letting go of the need to “advance” can be a game changer. I was a tech manager for several years, and it involved a number of things I enjoyed and was good at (overall system design, coaching one on one, etc), and a bunch of stuff I didn’t or was bad at (assigning out work I’d rather keep for myself, being the bad guy when people aren’t performing, calling clients with bad news, etc.). I went back to largely standalone technical positions, and while not every day is paradise, I generally enjoy what I do and make decent (though not spectacular) money at it. If possible, and I know many companies don’t make this possible, I’d prefer to stay on this tier more or less for the rest of my career.

    7. spocklady*

      YES I have struggled with this too. There’s another dark side (this way of thinking is just full of landmines and I wish I had noticed sooner) which is, what if you’re not changing the world enough, or in the right ways? Argh!

      There are just so so so many ways that “you’re so smart and special, now go out and make the world a better place, and make sure you love doing it the whole time” just really sets people up to feel like failures, or disappointed in themselves, or that they’re letting their education/their parents/themselves/whoever down.

      Boo. Good luck accepting that! It is hard work but so worth it.

      1. hermit crab*

        Ohhh yes, I’ve really struggled with the changing the world piece. I have a moderately do-goody job that I basically enjoy and am good at, but I’m not actively on the front lines of changing the world by myself (and I went to a prestigious college, a lot of whose alumni ARE doing that, or they appear to be, which doesn’t help). A lot of people invested a lot in me over the years, and I often feel like I’m wasting their investment. But I’m sure I’m not alone!

    8. Chromeo*

      I grew up in a lower middle class family where my parents worked hard physical jobs (construction and factory work), and I grew up KNOWING that for many people, work was just what you did to make money, and I never got the “Find something you love” line. It was always just “Find something”. But somewhere along the way I got it into my head that I was to rise above my parents and find a job I was passionate about.

      I found it and then quickly burnt out and by 25 realized that yes, work is just what you do to make money. It was a glorious realization and now I know I’m not out to change the world, I’m just out to make my life the best that it can be.

    9. Dee-Nice*

      As someone who was NOT brought up in the upper middle class, I really relate to this. I worked really hard in sub-optimal conditions as a young person, got in a top-tier college on scholarship (and was the first person in my family to go to college), and thought I would find something really meaningful to do with my life. It’s been kind of a disappointment to find out that I’m the kind of person who’s honestly just happy not to be poor, or to be in a job where I’m not being mistreated in any way. I feel like I’ve let my younger self down in many ways, and I often struggle with feelings of inferiority bc my job does not take advantage of the full extent of my intellectual capabilities. On the other hand, like EA, I find a lot more meaning in my hobbies than in my job, and I’m not at all willing to give up my free time for a more involved job, so…

    10. Yoshi*

      I’m a work-to-live person too. All through school and most of college I thought I knew what I wanted: I had a career path, and I was on it, and that was that… until I did a semester abroad, and spent the next decade living overseas and finding ways to continue doing that, long-term career planning be damned. I worked and studied in a number of different areas and found many things that I enjoyed, but nothing that I *loved*. And you know what? I’m ok with that. I was fulfilled by other things in my life; I didn’t need to find everything in my work.

      While my life circumstances are a lot more settled now, my priorities remain the same: I *need* a job that allows me to pay my bills, and where I will be safe and treated with respect. Full stop. Once those criteria have been met, my next priorities are having enough free time to travel and spend time with my friends and family. Those are the driving forces in my life, my passions, so I want a job that helps me do those things. Anything more than that is a bonus.

      There are people who have true vocations. I am not one of them. My father was and my mother was not, so I got to see both ways of working modeled when I was growing up. Both have their joys and their sorrows, and I was lucky that I knew that both were respectable ways to live.

      And while we’re talking about cultural pressures: there is definitely economic privilege involved in the ‘love what you do!!!’ mentality; there is also manipulation and exploitation of workers built into it. When you’re told that you should love and prioritize your job as a fundamental part of your life and identity, you are also being told that you should sacrifice yourself for your job and feel good about doing that. This plays into unpaid overtime and other uncompensated work, pressure to be accessible at all hours, negative views of taking sick or vacation leave, etc. There’s a
      Lot of cultural weighting here; and f you’re feeling conflicted about how work fits into your life, it’s worth unpicking how those various issues affect you.

      1. Manders*

        Your last point is a very important one.

        I don’t want to be the perpetual academia grinch here, but I noticed that OP has had a few university jobs and is considering another. I’ve seen this a *lot* in friends who work at universities. Getting the chance to live “the life of the mind” at work (as if people outside academia don’t use their brains?) is often presented as a perk so great that it’s worth being underpaid or working long hours or having unstable funding and employment. And for some people that tradeoff is worth it, but it’s important to go in understanding that the day-to-day of life at a university can be just as boring and bureaucratic as any other white collar job.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Yes, your last point is on the nose! Not just in academia, but in fields where the only way to get in is through an unpaid internship, and/or fields where most people are paid peanuts and overworked because “you have to have a passion for what you do!”

        There is also the issue of underpaying and undervaluing the caring professions, particularly teaching, because they are “women’s work” and “a calling” and “you are paid in love and warm fuzzies!” Noooo. Pay me in MONEY, not good feelings or warm fuzzies.

        The “love what you do” mentality leads to so much exploitation and abuse.

        1. JustaTech*

          No landlord has ever accepted “a calling” in lieu of rent. Or warm fuzzies, or exposure. You are right on the nose.

        2. Gadfly*

          Speaking of abuse from this, don’t forget the related idea that if you are stuck in one of the essential but mostly unloveable jobs that you are a failure and not worth as much, etc, and how that is used to justify lower wages.

          1. BPT*

            Right? Which doesn’t make much sense to me. It seems like the less desirable jobs that are still essential would pay more. I know that skill level/time it takes to train goes into this, but still.

            In my mind, sanitation workers are the heroes of this country and should be making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. They literally save lives (I don’t want to go back to the times of infectious diseases before modern sanitation), they have higher death rates than police or fire fighters, and they still get paid low salaries.

      3. JustaTech*

        I think your last point is also a big part of how start-ups operate: you should be dedicated to your job because we’re doing something really cool so of course you should work 80 hours a week and be constantly on call for two years and we do this really cool thing where you can take as much vacation as you want, as long as it’s none.

        Sometimes the people at the top know about this mentality and exploit it, and sometimes everyone’s a true believer, but at the end of the day it’s still working people to the bone.

    11. Shannon*

      I have felt the same way! It’s so heartening to hear from others who find satisfaction outside of work and use work as a means to live the lifestyle they desire. At least, that’s what work is for me. At the end of the day, I have no interest in work for its own sake and am lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t take over my whole life.

    12. Dang*

      FWIW, I’m exactly the same way. For a long time I thought I “just needed to find the right job” before feeling “the way I was supposed to feel” about work, but… it’s just not the case for me.

    13. Myrin*

      I’d also like to add that there are people who simply aren’t ~passionate~, full stop.

      I’ve actually managed to now work professionally in the field that has probably always been my destined path, cheesy as it may sound – I’ve had a natural interest in and affinity for its two components for as long as I can remember; it was my favourite subject in school; I had planned on studying something else but suddenly, as if by magic, it was clear in my head that the right thing to do would be to go for it after all; I’m now working on my doctorate and am likely to get an actual job in the exact and highly specified niche field I’m in which is almost impossible.

      And basically everyone who learns all that (or even just a bit of that) always remarks that they can tell that I’m really passionate about that whole subject. And I’m just… not? In fact, my dissertation involves one of the two types of work I’ve said I could happily do for the rest of my life, but I just find it so tedious. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t still love it or am no longer interested in it, far from it. But I’m just generally a “meh” kind of person, it seems. There’s a variety of things I really like doing, that I can and have done for days on end, but my feelings on them are more “How nice. I like this.”.

      I don’t feel some kind of burning passion for my subject which has surprised people on a number of occasions because I usually talk about it very excitedly in such a way that people think that I must be pouring my heart and sould into it or that I couldn’t ever tire of it in any way. And that’s just not the case. No one but my mum, who is the exact same way (albeit not at all about anything even remotely related to my subject), has ever believed me when I’ve said that if I was told tomorrow that I couldn’t ever do anything related to my field ever again, I’d be perfectly fine. But that really is how it is.

      1. JustaTech*

        Can I say that you might be better at your job for *not* being passionate? Somewhere between “slow and steady wins the race” and “less likely to burn out”.
        I’ve seen people who were very passionate about their research, to the point that their whole definition of themselves was tied up in their research. And that’s how simple disagreements on the topic turn into screaming matches in the hallway than end up with one person having a heart attack. (True story.)
        I’d take “good and relaxed” over “passionate and tightly-strung” every day.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          If you’re reading this and think JustaTech is exaggerating, they’re not.

          1. I don't work in academia anymore...*

            Truth. I once was subpoenaed to testify in district court regarding a dispute between two full professors.

        2. Cassandra*

          Are you talking about my dad?

          Because yeah. Researcher, screaming fights, heart attack in early fifties.

          I teach in academia too, but (don’t tell him this) he is kind of my anti-role-model. I don’t (and won’t) do lots of things the way he did them.

    14. NoMoreMrFixit*

      This is so true. I came from a blue collar background but went to college and got a career in IT. Lived for it for 25 years. My career was my life. Until my best friend sat me down and told me that my heart wasn’t in it anymore and she could see I hated what I was doing. Took a while to realize she was right. I’d gotten burned out. Took a few years to realize I’d spent my younger days looking for something work just doesn’t provide in today’s society – a reason to live. It’s what I do but not what or who I am. Outside interests and the people I share them with are where I get my soul fix.

      You love the challenge of new things. Take advantage of the single biggest perk universities offer – free or reduced tuition and take some courses in whatever fuels your passions. I got laid off before I could finish my degree in medieval history but it’s what kept me sane through some trying times. Work enables you to live the life you want. It can’t be your life. I learned the hard way.

    15. k*

      This is something I really struggle with. I grew up middle class, with parents that worked “normal boring” 9-5 jobs that they didn’t seem to really like. If felt like there was this expectation that they were working hard so that we could have better lives than them, follow our passions, change the world, etc. I feel like a total disappointment and underachiever because I work a 9-5 office job. It doesn’t help that my sibling was top of the class in med school, now works saving children’s lives. In reality their job probably includes a lot more running noses and paperwork than life saving, but I can’t help feeling like a let down in comparison when I spend half my day trying to un-jam a printer.

      Also, can I just say that I find this comment thread oddly therapeutic? Learning that a lot of people feel this way is very comforting.

      1. EA*

        It has been so therapeutic for me to read. I now think a lot of people must feel this way, but they don’t say it out loud.

      2. SKA*

        My mom would come home from work every night and complain for hours. I swore I would find a job I loved, and that if I had an awful job like my mom’s, I would quit.

        I realize now that there is a WIDE middle ground between “soul-sucking office job” and “I do what I love every day.”

        I also realize now that my mom MAY have just enjoyed complaining (she’s retired now, and STILL keeps up on the office drama).

        1. hermit crab*

          That last part made me laugh — I have a relative who didn’t work for many years, and I’m pretty sure the reason she went back to work was to have a job to complain about. :)

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Did we have the same mom? Mine really seemed to haaaate her job – my dad, too, come to think of it. Looking back, I don’t think it was so much their jobs were toxic as both of them just had a negative outlook on life. Untreated depression is no fun!

          If you want your kids to grow up with a work ethic, it’s a good idea to pay attention to how you talk about work in front of them.

        3. Simonthegreywarden*

          My dad was vituperative about how much he hated every job he had, and he made sure he told us all he only worked them so we could have a nice life. I appreciate the sacrifice… but he made the concept of regular office work sound just barely above suicide for all of my childhood. I developed a serious issue with 9-5 regular work, and spent far too long in retail and temp trying not to become him.

    16. Jessesgirl72*

      Barbara Walters has spoken out at length, multiple times, about this. She said telling college kids to find their passion and do it for work is such bad advice. (My summation) She says young people don’t usually even know what that passion is, that it can change, and even then, you can’t always make a living at it! She advises young people to get jobs they don’t hate to pay the bills, and find fulfillment outside of their jobs.

      She also speaks out about the idea that women “can have it all” and says that in her opinion, you can be a good wife, mother and worker, but that you can’t do all three at the exact same time- if you’re lucky, you can manage to be good at two out of the three on any given day. She says women kill themselves trying to do it all, and carry tremendous amounts of guilt when they can’t.

      In general, she wishes people would be more realistic and honest about what they tell young people about work, especially young women.

      1. SKA*

        I mean, in the normal sense that we use “have it all” (giving partner, go-to parent, top performing employee), men can’t really “have it all” either. But the good news is: every person can define “have it all” their own way. You just have to pick what you prioritize in life. I consider myself to “have it all” – it’s just that I define “it all” as a great spouse, an okay job, and time to work on personal projects and hang out with friends.

        1. Natalie*

          Yeah, for women “be a good mother” seems to be defined as “spend a lot of time at being a mother”, and it is definitely not defined that way for men. Paying for someone else to take care of your children for part of the day does not make someone a bad parent. And for that matter, staying at home or devoting a lot of your energy and time to your kids doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing a good job, either!

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Society doesn’t tell men they have to “have it all” though, and are failures if they don’t do everything absolutely perfectly.

            And she doesn’t define “good mother” necessarily as spending loads of time with a child- she certainly was never a SAHP- but it comes down to the old cliche about not being able to serve two masters. If your brain is all on one thing, it can’t be on another. And if it’s only part on 2 things, it won’t be on a third.

      2. Annony For This One2*

        Totally copying Jessiegirl 72, word for word for my children and myself. Thank you!

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, absolutely! I am a technical writer, and while I don’t love every second of my job (who does?), I find it mostly pretty fulfilling–it’s not my earthshaking passion, but I derive satisfaction from doing well at it, I like my coworkers, and I get paid a comfortable living wage.

        But when I was a kid and everyone was talking about Doing What You Love, I never would have said “technical writing”… in part because I barely even was aware that it was a thing that could be done! I mean, I guess logically I knew that someone was producing software manuals or whatever, but I had no conception of what that job would look like as a job, you know? There’s a reason that children and adolescents answer with things like “NASCAR driver” or “actor” or “novelist,” or even “doctor” or “lawyer.” Because those are jobs they’ve heard of at that age, because those are relatively high-profile jobs. Elementary school students and teenagers (and even to a lesser degree college students) who are told to “find their passion” or “pursue what they love” are probably mostly not going to be thinking CPA, or actuary, or risk & compliance manager, even though there are certainly people who have those jobs and enjoy them–in the same way that I wasn’t thinking technical writer, and am very happy in that job. (Hell, “garbageman” was always considered a joke answer back then, and yet I have a friend now who does junk removal and really enjoys it.)

        And I got the job by doing software support first, which I did not at all love (I mean, it wasn’t awful, but I did not love it; I just needed to pay the bills!) but while doing it I discovered that I both enjoyed and was pretty good at writing up internal documentation (walkthroughs for resolving common issues in the software, that kind of thing), which gave me the ability do do an internal transfer to the technical writing team after about a year. Had I held out for a Job I Love from day one, I might never have discovered technical writing, which would have been a shame.

        1. The Grammarian*

          I think schools should expose kids to all of the career possibilities. I’m also a technical writer, and I had not heard of technical writing in high school. I also agree with others that there should be more of a focus on “do what you can do well” and just living life (as opposed to living work). I chose to major in something that I could do well, as opposed to something that had better career potential/financial prospects, and I turned out OK. When I worked at a university, parents pushed their kids into STEM and made them stay there, even though the kids were getting failing grades in their freshman level science and math courses. These parents wanted the kids to live the parents’ dream.

    17. Lily in NYC*

      I could have written your comment, and I’m also an EA. It allows me to make a very good living even though it’s not a natural fit for me. I also sometimes feel guilty that I’m not living up to some imagined potential. But I know that I’m a lazy person unless I am truly passionate about what I’m doing.

      My “dream job” is to be a pampered housewife with no kids or husband. Haven’t figured out how to make that work yet!

    18. Soupspoon McGee*

      I’m a “live to work” person, and I envy you so much! I wish I were able to go to work, do a good job, and leave it behind at the end of the day to enjoy hobbies and family. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of years beating myself up because I just hadn’t found a career I’m passionate about that saves the world. I’m changing careers to something that I’m pretty sure will fulfill me, with an eye on the realities of paperwork and drudgery–but the path is grueling, and sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this to myself when I could be gardening.

      1. YuliaC*

        In that case, please don’t take up gardening as a career path! I once felt so sure that gardening was what I wanted to do all the time that I quit my day job and started a business designing and maintaining gardens. The business succeeded! I was good at it and had many happy clients. And I enjoyed it for about as long as the OP enjoys her stints – 6 months. After that, it became a tedious slog just like most other jobs. And after three years doing that I had to get rid of the business because I just couldn’t face another season of planting and weeding. Even now, 8 years after quitting that, I am still not too eager to get out and work on my own garden. *Having* to do something can often kill even the hottest of passions…

    19. SKA*

      A totally legitimate philosophy!

      I’m in my early 30s, and I kind of feel like I am an ambassador of the “you don’t have to love what you do (for work) to be happy” philosophy amongst my peers (at least those without children; it seems like parents figure this out sooner and/or don’t have the leisure time to worry about their job checking all the right boxes).

      I say this as someone who, for a while, was very much a “I’m just working this job until side project [X, Y, or Z] takes off” person. And then I gradually realized… I get bored of my side projects pretty quickly. And when I try to ramp up efforts on them (think: marketing myself, putting together business plans), I get burnt out VERY quickly and start to resent them. And when I think about having to someday support myself with these projects (paying for my own insurance, needing to make $X per month to stay afloat), it feels crushing. Especially since it seems like every 4-5 years, a new genre of side project piques my interest and I abandon the last thing I was working on.

      So I am perfectly happy having a boring job that I don’t feel particularly passionate about. I like it well enough, my boss is terrific, and the benefits are terrific. But it’s by no means what I “live for.” It’s a thing I do for 40 hours a week that gives me the resources to do the things I’m passionate about. And it totally frees me from the pressure of having to make the things I’m passionate about profitable – so, in that sense, I DO love my job.

      Added bonus: not being passionate about your day job makes it way easier to detach yourself workplace stress at the end of the day. And to not take professional criticism too personally.

    20. Marillenbaum*

      Oh my God, are you me? I have certain things about my work that I genuinely enjoy, especially talking to students and helping them figure out what they want to do. But at the end of the day, work is just work, and if I never had to work another day in my life, I wouldn’t be remotely upset about that.

    21. Pescadero*

      ” I really think a lot of what society teaches you about work isn’t helpful.”


      The idea that you should be working at “something you love” is basically designed to fail. It’s a complete impossible unreality for probably 90% of the workforce.

      For most folks – Either what you love to do is something no one is willing to pay for, or you aren’t talented enough to compete in the field.

    22. CDR*

      I think it is important to do the type of work that you are naturally good at–because if you pursue that, every single day won’t be a struggle.

      When my daughter was young, I just knew that she was meant to be a teacher. When she enrolled in college, she chose Communications as her major. A year in, she switched to Elementary Education. It was the best thing she could have done. She is so happy with her career choice and it honestly just suits her. She works to live and also lives to work–educating children in her passion.

      I think that a lot of folks don’t get enough guidance from the adults in their life about what they should do. I started college at 17 and majored in math. I burned out very quickly and dropped out. (I look back and think “what would I have done with that degree?” It doesn’t suit me at all and I chose it because I was good at it.) I am now back in school majoring in Organizational Leadership. I work in HR and I absolutely love the work I do. Everyone at work tells me they want my job, that is how much I love it. That doesn’t mean every day is great, but most days are. My peers in the same role might not feel the same, but my job just suits me and I feel like it is what I was meant to do. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get frustrated or bored. But I can’t imagine doing anything else.

      So this brings me to…..how would we possibly know at 18 years old what we want to do with our lives? And what if we don’t get good guidance that matches our true nature with a vocation?

    23. Chickaletta*

      EA and OP, I could have written those comments too. I’ll turn 40 in a few weeks and I’m just starting to accept that a wonderous, glorious career does not await me and that that’s ok. <—– emphasis on "THAT'S OK". I was also raised to "follow your heart" and told "you're smart, you can do anything you want with your life", which implied that it would have been a waste to not figure that out. I just wish I hadn't spent so many years struggling to figure it out and just enjoyed who I was instead of worrying about who I could be.

    24. Franzia Spritzer*

      My parents had opposing viewpoints on “work to live” not “live to work” this very thing killed their relationship. My mom worked to live, she loved her expensive hobby and found a way to pay for it through work. My dad was most definitely in the live to work category, he tried and mostly failed to do what he loved for all it’s worth. To say the least, growing up I got conflicting views on how to work as an adult. I’m reminded of something (I think) Alison said a while back about making a living from your art, something to the tune of ‘asking your art to sustain you is asking a lot of your art.’ maybe it wasn’t Alison, but it applies here. I am a dyed in the wool creative person, they both recognized in me that if I didn’t do creative work I’d likely end myself. They agreed the compromise was that I’m best suited to having my own business, but, and this is a big but, I should know exactly what that is before I invest in it. Which was/is very confusing, it seemed like they were suggesting to a kid that she figure her sh!t out first and make no mistakes, rather than learn, adapt and grow through doing. I still struggle with this. I know perfectly well what I’m good at, I know how to make money at it and I’m terrified by the risk. I was an active working artist before I went to school to get the requisite chops to not be an Outsider Artist, now that I’ve got the cred, I’d really like to go back to making artwork. However as an older wiser me with student debt I’m terrified that I’ll be asking too much of the art. Realistic me is trying to get comfortable with the idea of having a jobby-job that’s just a job, but I can’t picture myself in those kinds of roles. I’ve even toyed with the idea of having my own service business (like cleaning, or organizing, or staging homes for real estate, all of which I have experience with) that pays well enough to cover the cost of living and is flexible enough to allow my artwork some creative space. I imagine it like having two part time jobs, one stable and one fulfilling.

  4. deets*

    Alison mentioned this in her response, but it bears repeating – it’s okay if your work is not your passion! (I actually think it’s better if it’s not, but others have different preferences.) If you’re truly miserable at work, that’s a problem that needs to be resolved, but I think it’s normal and healthy to have hobbies that you enjoy more than your professional work.

  5. La Revancha del Tango*

    OP – I also get bored of my jobs easily. I’ve had my new job for about 8 months and before that it I averaged switching jobs about every 2-2.5 years. I have learned that this is how I am and I keep myself motivated by pursuing things outside of work, for example, taking on a new hobby or learning a new language. I try to keep my personal life exciting and fun so my work life doesn’t seem so boring. When my current job is slow, it’s realllllly slow… I do what I need to do around the office and I probably have 6 hours of time to waste. But other times its busy. So there’s a decent balance plus its a great job and I work with good people. Sometimes you just have to accept that you get bored easily and try not to make on the spot decisions like finding a new job and quitting.

  6. ESP*

    I can really relate to this letter and am pushing myself to hold on to my current job because I clearly funny want to keep making changes. Dunce I tend to end up in the same place is clear a part of this is my thinking (and most likely not that I’m picking the wing places, entirely).

    Following intently :)

    1. ESP*

      Stupid Android update!

      *don’t not funny
      *Since not Dunce
      *wrong not wing

      This is not a word game!

      1. Happy Lurker*

        Thank doG it’s not just me…I got an insurance replaced phone lately and grrrr. I spent a year teaching the last one and am totally disheartened that I have to go through and do it again.

  7. Antilles*

    To me, it sounds like you’re looking to work to provide a type of fulfillment that you probably shouldn’t be expecting. It’s great if you’re lucky enough to find work that’s deeply fulfilling long-term, but an awful lot of people — probably the vast majority — work in jobs that are sometimes interesting, sometimes not, and primarily (if not entirely) a way to make money.
    This is the key issue here. Modern American society is all about praising how “work is a lifestyle”, “your calling in life”, and so on…and overlooking the reality that for most people, work is really about keeping a roof over your head, food on your table, etc.
    If you struggle with this, it really helps to reframe your work in different terms. In fact, your 9 to 5 job is actually a key part of your creative process – because it buys you the freedom to spend the other 128 hours of your week in your real passions.
    Also, FWIW, the vast majority of writers have other careers even well into their successful phase. George RR Martin was an editor, plenty of them are teachers/professors, and so on.

    1. LawCat*

      I totally agree with you. I think what you do to earn money sometimes get conflated with who you are. I struggled with this where my job sort of became part of my identity in the past. It wasn’t healthy and it was frustrating. When I learned to separate those things out, I was MUCH happier both at work and at home.

    2. Jaydee*

      Even jobs that really are a calling or a passion come with a huge amount of paperwork and meetings and red tape and annoying coworkers and exhausting travel and sitting on hold and machines/computers that break and great ideas that don’t materialize and frustrations and the like. I think that’s the part that is left out when people say that you need to find your calling in life or do what you love. Doing what you love isn’t effortless. It’s just that the crappy parts are sufficiently outweighed by the good parts (whatever they are, and however you want to define them).

    3. Marillenbaum*

      Exactly! One of my personal icons is Anthony Trollope; he was a prolific novelist, but he was also a career civil servant who reformed the Victorian postal service while writing novels. While I don’t feel that same push to have a creative sideline, I appreciate how he blended art and work.

  8. ZVA*

    I also write fiction in my free time and I found it incredibly freeing when I finally figured out that neither my writing nor my day job needs to fulfill me! Or that neither needs to be the only thing that fulfills me. Both do in different ways. As do friends, family, and the other stuff I do in my spare time. “Diversifying” fulfillment for me means that I’m not relying on any one thing to make me happy, which I’ve found makes me happier (in a more stable/sustainable way) overall.

    1. i2c2*

      As another sometimes-writer with a serviceable day job, I love the idea of “diversifying” fulfillment! Fulfillment is so much to ask from writing, even when writing is important to you. (Ditto for a job, I suppose.) Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  9. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    “And, something that is probably working in the background is that a real passion for me is creative writing…..Only a lucky few make a living writing novels. So, I continue to try to find a job that fits, with decreasing hope that I will ever get there.”

    I echo Alison’s point that you’re looking for a level of passion, fulfillment, and satisfaction from work that most people cannot and should not realistically expect their 9-5 job to provide.

    My passions are cooking, hiking, camping, and travel, and while my job as an environmental scientist occasionally engages the outdoorsy side of my interests, it’s generally a lot of standing before a computer, writing environmental assessments, filling out forms, and dealing with various bureaucratic minutia. And I am at a place where that’s okay with me. I’m lucky in that I get to engage one of my major passions every night, when I make dinner for my family. But no job is going to constantly pump engagement and novelty at me or at anybody.

    And, take it from my friend, who is actually a published novelist with a string of successful novels that actually got turned into a TV show of some note: his life is not necessarily one of perfect fulfillment and constant engagement. Sometimes, he just has to sit down and belt out 2,000 words in a day, nose to the grindstone, and he will openly pine for a job where he can just go and be told what to do.

    “I have talked to a life coach a few times and she believes I need to be more vulnerable at work. She thinks I change jobs so I won’t have to reveal my true self. I took that to heart and read some Brene Brown books and I’ve been working on that.”

    This sounds like….well, I’ll refrain from using the words I’d like to use and tactfully frame it thusly: I don’t think your problems have anything to do with “being vulnerable,” and I think your life coach is taking an approach that is more affirming than it is realistic, helpful, or critical.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Sometimes, he just has to sit down and belt out 2,000 words in a day, nose to the grindstone, and he will openly pine for a job where he can just go and be told what to do.

      This is a really good point. Even doing what you want isn’t always pie in the sky–writers have deadlines and pros HAVE to write even when they don’t feel like it. We amateurs are lucky; we can dick off all we want because nobody is waiting on pages! Plus, you also have to boss yourself, and a lot of people find that difficult.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        For my part: I love hiking and being outside, right? And I’m an ecologist. So obviously, doing field work is doing what I want.

        Except when the goddamn data logger’s water seal cracked last winter and it’s full of water and hasn’t logged a point since late November, or when it’s 97 degrees, or when I step on an ant hill, or when I’ve spent 8 hours walking transects and my knees are turning to hot pain, or or or.

        1. paul*

          Trying to help someone with catch buckets for a salamander survey AND OMG LIFER MILKSNAKE but you have to buckle down and sort through the 5,000th salamander of the same species .

          Or when you’ve been hiking for 10 hours in thornscrub doing telemetry with Texas tortoises or Texas indigos and you’ve got prickers stuck in your legs and despite your sunscreen and gajillion bottles of water you’re burned and thirsty and starving.

          Or when you’re going frame by frame through game camera footage trying to ID species captured on it.

            1. jamlady*

              But we still love it when it’s fun right? It’s about to get close to 120 degrees in my region, the survey requests are starting to roll on in, we had about 20 flat tires in March, the Mojave Greens are starting to make an appearance, etc. – and all of that sucks. But there are some good things.

              I think it’s normal (and even lucky) for your job to have ups and downs. But when it comes down to it, you have other things outside of work to help fulfill your life and the job is there to pay your bills.

              1. paul*

                MOJAVES! I <3 Crotalus and we just don't get Mojaves in my region. I get to find them in NM sometimes though. Oh god them and molossus. *drool*

                I'm hoping to find the year's first atrox this weekend if it warms up a bit. Or viridis, I'll take either. Not picky.

          1. JustaTech*

            Or it’s 110 in the Mojave and you’ve finally caught your stupid lizard and the dumb thing thanks you by sinking *all* of it’s sharp little teeth into your thumb and you just have to stand there and take it because you’re not going to find another one of these things today.
            Also called why I quit ecology.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Also called, “This is why I’m a plant ecologist,” because it’s easier to avoid poky spines than bity lizards.

              1. paul*

                I’d sooner tangle with any native bitey lizard short of a Gila than go through a prickly pear patch.

    2. Robin B*

      I’m in a group of popular novelists who don’t (unlike me) have day jobs. And you know what? I wouldn’t ever want to rely on my writing for a steady income. Publishers change royalty structure and you can’t make your mortgage payment. A shipment of books is lost in a train wreck and author loses income. Publishers close, editors leave (and your books become orphans). You have to find your own health insurance.

      I need more stability than that.

      1. Mona Lisa*

        I have two degrees in classical music performance. It took staring down the real world and seeing my friends move into working 2-4 part-time gigs to support their musical careers that made me realize I didn’t want to juggle that many jobs and find my own health insurance. I didn’t want to be beholden to the whims of students’ parents suddenly cancelling lessons and being left without a sizable chunk of income. I found office work with a boss who was willing to be flexible about my auditions or leaving a little early to make a call-time, and that was a much better fit.

    3. ZenJen*

      Yeah, my friends who have multi-book contracts HAVE killer deadlines, which can suck the fun and creativity out of the writing. So it’s one of those “the grass is always greener on the other side” situations……. I’m relieved I don’t have that kind of writer stress!

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        No kidding. “I need to write 7,000 more words to submit my draft by next Friday” sounds like a special ring of hell.

    4. 2horseygirls*

      TNMBOIS – I am so glad someone had the courage to say it out load!

      I have tried. Really. But I am an complete and utter failure to my middle-aged female comrades. I just do not get it. I even broke down and tried *listening* to a Brene Brown book. Nope. Not feeling it. Sorry.

      And — takes a deep breath — I thought “Eat Pray Love” was completely self-indulgent hoo-hoo. Who has a year to just take off of life . . . ?!?! I read the book, and got dragged to the movie, and that is 5 hours of my life I will never get back.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Eat Pray Love drove me bonkers. I have more success with Brene Brown, precisely because she defaults towards skepticism of all the “embrace life!” nonsense; she got dragged to it kicking and screaming. I also like Gretchen Rubin, who wrote “The Happiness Project”, in part because her aim was to get more enjoyment out of the life she already had, rather than making a massive break.

      2. paul*

        our CEO is infatuated with Brene Brown.

        I don’t think she’s bad, but oh my lordy, you’d think she was the second coming. I don’t see it.

        Eat Pray Love was…well, self-indulgent is being nice. Good lord. Streaks of the noble savage BS and the fetishization of other people’s hard lives. Ugh

  10. Mimi*

    While I appreciate and totally understand Alison’s answer here, I don’t know if I’ll ever agree with it. I am very much like OP. If my work does not fulfill me intellectually and creatively, I find it very hard to keep doing it. Like dread-getting-up-in-the-morning kind of hard. And I have tried to re-frame my expectations in the way that Alison suggests, but I just can’t do it. I can’t spend 2/3 of my life on something that does not fulfill me. It’s soul crushing.

    OP, I wish you all of the luck in finding something that both sustains you financially and emotionally! I’m on the same journey and actively working towards that goal every day.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Given the choice between accepting what Alison is saying and continuing to allow your soul to be crushed, I’d think the solution was pretty clear.

      1. Mimi*

        It’s not like a switch I can turn on and off. I’ve tried to become a “work to live” sort of person, but that’s not who I am. It’s possible to find a job that fulfills me, and like I said, I’m working towards that now. I actually have a near future end in sight. Which right now is enough to keep me going till I start that job (in reference to the OP’s question, the job I’m going to start is like the OP being told she/he got a very lucrative book deal).

        So no, I don’t have to accept what Alison is saying. Re-framing your thinking is one solution, finding a job that fulfills you is another. I went for the latter when the former didn’t work.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I submit that it’s absolutely not inherent to who you are, because I used to be in exactly your, and OP’s, place. I used to believe I could simply never “settle” for a job that didn’t intellectually and creatively fulfill me all the time. But I was able to reframe. Part of that is not telling yourself “that’s not who I am” when you or someone else challenges your assumptions. You can reframe, but part of that is being open to reframing.

          Frankly, it concerns me a little that you’re investing so much hope in this next job, because I know a lot of people who are in the sorts of jobs that people aspire to because they think they’ll be 100% fulfilled if only….and while their jobs are satisfying and enjoyable, they’re not the be-all and end-all, and sometimes they’re anything but fulfilling. My writer friends still have to sit down and knock out a few thousand words a day, and sometimes they’re not feeling it. My friends who work for prestigious tech firms still deal with the usual office politics and frustrations.

        2. Not a Real Giraffe*

          But the reframing doesn’t solely have to be “turn myself from a ‘live to work’ to a ‘work to live’ person.” Your reframing could be in changing what brings you fulfillment. For me, I thought I wanted a job with a mission that drove me, something where I felt like I was making a difference. That was hard to find and worse, hard to sustain.

          So I reframed my thinking into: What am I good at? Where are my skills most useful and valuable? I now get fulfillment not from the end product of the work or a greater mission, but from applying my strengths/skills in a role (however mundane) that really needs them.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            This is a really good point; looking at the bigger picture.

            While I sometimes say that I have no variety since turning my part-time job/passion/hobby into a FT job can cause me to feel like I live 100% in the subject of my job the thing that keeps me engaged and wanting to do better is the same thing that kept me engaged in my old position – the impact of what I do and the people I can help.

            So whether I am helping kids figure out if a college is a good fit for them or if I am helping someone on a journey to living better or if I am volunteering for an organization – when I see the impact or get a thank you the rest just blends into the background.

          2. Jade*

            True. I worked in retail for 10 years. It was soul-crushing most days, and not at all my “life’s work,” but I focused on things I liked (like price changes and merchandising) and tried to avoid things I didn’t like (like cashiering) as best I could. And some days the only thing getting me out of bed for work was the thought of getting to chat with some of my coworkers. However, I admit that not every job gives you the freedom to choose to do the things you like. There were many days at that job when I was forced to do tasks I hated, and they were the days I came closest to quitting. But I held on for the hope that tomorrow would be a new day with new possibilities.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re able to arrange things in your life to find paying work that does fulfill you on those levels, then great! But if you’re someone who isn’t finding that, you can’t generally decide to just stop working … so you’re left with reframing things so that you can be okay with it / not miserable.

      1. Natalie*

        I think you can also look at it as a series of tradeoffs – maybe the need/desire for new work is strong enough that LW is willing to accept getting a new job every two years and all of the positive and negative things that might come with that. Perhaps those negatives aren’t worth it for them, and they need to be more motivated to work on their satisfaction at one job for some amount of years.

      2. Lissa*

        Yes, it’s great if somebody can find work that is really fulfilling on all those levels, but I think this advice is really important because for many people (and many people upthread have made good points about how this is often a class issue too), no matter how much they “need” it or “aren’t a work to live person”, are never going to be in a position to find that one perfect job. So…. then what?

    3. A Nonny Mousse*

      I’m with you on this. I enjoy when these types of letters come in here because it gives me another opportunity to read Alison’s response and read all the comments about reframing your expectations and to try to apply that to my life… but it just doesn’t quite work that way for me. I don’t need to be 100% THRILLED every second of every working day of my life, but I do need to be doing something that I enjoy, that is important, and that I get fulfillment from – and that can include bad days and days where I dread getting out of bed because I know something stressful is going to happen at work that day, but even in those times, if I’m doing something that ultimately does make me happy and fulfill me, I know that the occasional stress/dread is “worth it”, so to speak.

      It’s just too damn depressing to me to imagine a life where I’m unfulfilled at work every day and just going through the motions in order to get a paycheck to fund my hobbies which I don’t have much time to do anyway because I’m at work for more waking hours than I’m at home.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The thing is, it sounds like you have been able to find that! Which is great. But not everyone can. If you hadn’t been successful in finding that, you might have a different take — but you’ve been lucky enough not to need to, if that makes sense.

        1. A Nonny Mousse*

          Ha, I actually haven’t – this comment is coming to you straight from the desk of the job/career that I’m unhappy in because I’m not fulfilled by it. And I’m actively doing some soul searching to figure out what I don’t like about it and what I need instead, and therefore can find a job/new field that I can move into that will provide that fulfillment. Every time these letters come up I try to apply the advice to my own situation and think, “Well, at least I’m getting paid well to do something I’m relatively skilled in and that I went to college for, and I can afford a decent lifestyle and hobbies on the weekends”, which I fully realize is already miles better than so many people out there, and I don’t take that lightly. But just because I’m in a good place on paper doesn’t mean that I’m happy, and I think that’s where the OP and some of the commenters in this particular thread are coming from. Some people do need work to be fulfilling for them, and that’s an okay and valid way to feel.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think I’m quibbling with the idea of “need,” when people talk about needing work to be fulfilling. The vast majority of people in the world aren’t in a position to get fulfilling work; it’s really only people with a certain type of education and skill set (and often who were lucky enough to be born into a particular socioeconomic class in particular areas of the world) who are lucky enough to seriously entertain the thought. So I don’t think it can truly be thought of as a need.

            1. Yoshi*

              Exactly this. I understand that people prioritize things differently, and that having a less-fulfilling job will bother some people more than others. But to refer to a fulfilling job as a ‘need’…. You may well need it to feel happy and successful in your life, but you don’t need it *to survive*. And that is a real and important distinction. For many people – most people in the US and in the world, actually – a job is a need but job satisfaction is a luxury.

              Please understand that I’m not trivializing the importance of job satisfaction to you. We all have things that we need to be happy that we don’t need to survive, and those things are still very important even if they are technically luxuries. But I think it gets muddier when talking about job satisfaction because jobs take up so much of your time, and in many cultures are so loaded with expectations and judgments. All that extra weight makes it harder to distinguish ‘want’ from ‘need’, but for this OP (and clearly many others, based on these comments and my own experience) I think it’s a crucially important distinction.

            2. animaniactoo*

              I think though that there’s a form of need for fulfillment which is about needing to feel *useful*. That the work that you do has value, and I think that’s an achievable goal for many people in terms of feeling fulfilled by their work.

              There’s a feeling of satisfaction in doing a job well to a certain extent, and I think that’s something to look for – but I don’t think that you can discount needing some level of fulfillment in terms of feeling that your job has value. I think in those cases, the key is to look and see if you can find value in the job that you’re doing, whether it be cleaning bathrooms or writing budgets. If you can’t, it’s very easy to be demoralized by what you’re doing. Even if it is keeping you clothed, fed, and housed.

              1. animaniactoo*

                and fwiw, these also frames a lot of my mindset about what we as a society consider valuable.

                I can easily make 2-3x in a week what my husband does on average. But if you pull back and look at the bigger picture, most of the things he has done for work add more concrete value to people’s lives than what I do. But my work is “valued” more no matter how well each of us does our jobs.

            3. g*

              But who can speak to what is fulfilling? Each time I read this discussion here, I am bothered by the attitude that “no one actually wants to do this job” and the idea of what is considered “fulfilling”. I think that can be as privileged an attitude as the “do what you love” concept.

              1. Yoshi*

                I agree. I was intentionally leaving ‘fulfillment’ vague, because obviously, what is a fulfilling job to one person is a tedious slog to another. Life’s rich pageant. It’s the very notion of finding fulfillment in one’s job that I’m saying is a luxury, in the sense of being a ‘want’ or an ‘ideal’ but not a strict ‘need’. Even something as simple as feeling that your job is somehow useful: that is still a luxury. I agree that it can be a useful way of trying to find fulfillment in a job that otherwise feels like a complete waste of time and energy; in fact, I have used it myself and found it valuable. But that doesn’t change the fact that merely having the freedom to consider my job in those terms means that I am privileged in a way that billions of other people in this world aren’t. (A nauseating fact, but a fact nonetheless.)

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        You’re making a great distinction here that needs to be amplified: you can split the difference. My job is reasonably enjoyable, offers some variety, accomplishes important (if not world-changing) things, and is fulfilling enough that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my life. I don’t drudge my way though, miserably accomplishing nothing, but I’m also not constantly enervated by novelty, challenge, and new frontiers. It’s got as much BS as any job, but it’s fulfilling enough that I don’t resent having to do it so that I can afford my life.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Accidentally submitted before I concluded with: It’s fulfilling enough. And I’ve framed things such that that’s okay with me. It’s the price I pay to afford a lovely house at the foot of the mountains, good food, good beer, travel, healthcare, and other little perks and necessities.

        2. A Nonny Mousse*

          Exactly! I read an article once (that I wish I could find again) about finding your “dream job” that said something like: every single job out there is going to serve you shit sandwiches from time to time. You just have to figure out what flavor of shit sandwich you’re willing to put up with.

          So I think it’s perfectly okay and valid to want a job that is fulfilling, because the shit sandwiches there aren’t going to be as hard to stomach as the ones in a job that provides nothing to you but a paycheck.

          1. Obelia*

            There are probably a few out there but if it was “What’s your favorite flavour of shit sandwich and does it come with an olive?” then it’s Mark Manson’s excellent post “7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose”.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Mark Manson can occasionally be incredibly insightful and say things in a unique and thoughtful way, but good CHRIST can that man be an insufferable blowhard sometimes.

              1. Obelia*

                Funnily enough that same post also raises the issue of being vulnerable at work. When I read that in the OP’s letter I raised an eyebrow, but looking back at the article, there is something in there about the vulnerability of doing something where you really care about the outcome and it really sucks when it doesn’t work out. So,

                1. Obelia*

                  …so, I don’t know if any of that applies here but guess it could be part of what the life coach was getting at.

    4. Not Karen*

      Same here. While I fully admire people who can be contented in a job that’s not fulfilling, I’m not one of them. And that’s okay too.

      Mimi, one option I’m considering that may work for you is FIRE (financial independence early retirement), where you work hard at a job that may not be fulfilling in the short term and live very frugally in order to obtain financial independence early so you can spend the rest of your life not having to worry about finding work that has to financially support you.

      1. Anononon*

        But this is a very privileged position to be in. It’s not that people are content to be in less than fulfilling jobs–it’s that they often have no other choice. Either work a more menial job or don’t eat/pay rent/etc.

    5. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

      Genuine question. How do you find ‘life admin’ generally? Paying bills, laundry, cleaning, cooking, care of dependents if any. Do you find fulfilment in that, or is it demotivating?

      1. Mimi*

        Depends on the thing. I don’t like cleaning, except for laundry because that’s pretty easy. Paying bills is fine because I’m a to-do list person and enjoy crossing bills and stuff off my list. Cooking is fun. And I don’t have dependents so I don’t know there.

    6. SarahTheEntwife*

      Is there anything outside of work that does give you that kind of fulfillment? If so, would it help to frame work as the thing you have to do in order to be able to do fulfilling stuff?

      1. Mimi*

        I volunteer at a certain place, and that gave me fulfillment. And I was upset that work got in the way of volunteering as much as I wanted to and running events for the organization that happened during the work day. But in the summer I start a full time job with the place where I volunteer!

  11. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    One thought that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere yet: You might want to consider work that is more project-based, so while your job/title/role/employer may not be changing frequently, your work will be. Management consulting; event planning; any sort of freelance/gig work. I don’t know your background, so obviously don’t know what specific kind of work you may be qualified or well-suited for, but there are lots of roles that follow that same sort of pattern.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      This! I never lasted longer than a couple of years at various jobs for similar reasons. I dislike the routine of paperwork and reporting. I don’t like getting into a rut, and I get bored, and my productivity suffers.

      I finally found a company and position that I have been in for 9 years – it’s technically a “project manager” but it’s more of a “lots of one-off things for various people”. I do lots of different things, which gives me a chance to learn new stuff and interact with new people, and I’m pretty happy. (Even though the routine reporting and paperwork requirements still bore me out of my gourd and I hate doing them!)

      I’d be interested to know of the OP had this issue in school, as well. I don’t think it has anything to do with “being vulnerable”, it’s probably more about being creative and not feeling challenged at work enough.

    2. SJ*

      Yes! My old job was a disaster for many reasons, but one thing I liked about it was that because we were understaffed all the time, a lot of different projects were shuffled my way, and I did a lot of different things and it kept me from being bored. My new job is way better culture-wise, but I miss the variety of my old job.

    3. BlueShel*

      This is a good suggestion! Being a work-to-live kind of person doesn’t mean you’re also ok being bored out of your mind. If OP is anything like me, there’s still a need to feel engaged enough that 40 hours of every week don’t seem completely wasted. Finding my way into a largely project-based job has been really helpful. The work can manifest in very different forms with new and unexpected challenges, and that has kept the tedium at bay.

    4. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Someone else mentioned this upthread about consulting, but I will chime in here as well, with at least my event planning insight: At some point, even project-based work all becomes formulaic. It may be a new project or a new event, but the steps to execute are all exactly the same. It might take a little bit longer than another kind of role, but the boredom sets in eventually.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        Agreed completely. About three years ago, I moved into a project-based job where each project requires digging into an understanding very different fields in a complex industry. I’m paid well, have great bosses, and my job provides new intellectual stimulation every few months. Still, though it’s taken longer than usual, I definitely feel the boredom setting in. A lot of it’s with the “framework” of the job – the tedious administrative procedures and systems – but that’s not all of it. While each project is different, I find myself facing the same challenges and solving the same problems on nearly every project. Timelines, resource availability, vendor resistance…ugh.

        I’m not at all saying that project-based work is the same as day-to-day repetition. This is the best job I’ve ever had, by a long shot, and I’m not even close to leaving. Just saying that project-based work isn’t a complete cure for the perpetually bored.

    5. T*

      I think this is good advice. A little boredom is one thing, but I’ve had jobs that were so tedious that no amount “reframing” would have made it worth doing long term. If you can find a job that suits your personality, with learning and new challenges built in, that would be ideal.

    6. Jack of a few trades*

      Or possibly working for large companies where you have opportunities to move laterally as well as vertically. I work for a large global company with several divisions doing quite different things. If the OP has a track record of performing well and being given responsibilities, then she could move every ~3 years into a new type of role or a new area without being a “job-hopper” and retaining that goodwill.

      It’s worked for me so far – I don’t have a single career path that I’m in love with, and I like intellectual challenges and learning new skills. So I’ve done a few different roles in my company, spending ~3 years in each. It doesn’t mean that every day is a gloriously fulfilling dream (and I don’t expect it to be) but I’m not often bored.

      P.S. I learned very quickly at university that the thing I was good at and enjoyed at school did not equal a feasible career path. I was neither exceptional enough in the field nor temperamentally suited to it. It was a good wake-up call that I needed to put some eggs in different baskets!

      1. PB*

        Or, depending on where she works, a job enrichment experience. I also work in higher ed. My university has a “job enrichment” program where, with permission from both supervisors, an employee can work part time in another department for a certain period of time (usually a semester). We’ve had a couple employees from other departments work with us for four hours/week this semester, and it’s been a great experience. They’ve been able to learn new skills to help their job, and we’ve been able to get to know them better.

        It’s not an option at every work place, of course, but it’s worth looking into.

    7. HR Pro*

      I agree! And even changing companies but keeping a similar job – I find the challenge and stimulation of a new company keeps me interested for at least a year, if not two. Even if it’s very similar work – because the new company does things differently, the players are different, and often there are other differences that keep me interested. Also, for me (somewhat of an introvert), meeting and getting to know people in the new company also keeps me stimulated (in mostly a good way) for a long time.

  12. NPO Queen*

    OP, thanks for writing this, I feel this on a spiritual level. I change jobs every 2-2.5 years, and while they have gotten progressively more challenging, I do get bored knowing the same things happen every year. I’m fortunate enough to work with nonprofits where I care deeply about the mission, and that’s what keeps me going when I just wanna fall asleep at my desk.

    Also, I had an ex-coworker whose passion was acting, but she knew she couldn’t make a living on it. So she picked an administrative assistant job that covered her bills but also had a fairly set 9-5 schedule. That way, she’d have money and could do evening theatre shows. If your passion is writing, you can find more ways to dedicate your time to it. I’m not saying you should go back to being an AA, but a steady schedule might help too.

  13. JenM*

    I just want to point out that if you haven’t considered self-publishing your work, please do. You don’t need to be signed by a traditional publisher to make a comfortable living writing nowadays. Good luck!

    1. Naomi*

      I’d explore that option with caution. OP can certainly self-publish their work for personal satisfaction, and might even see some income, but the odds are low that it will be enough money to quit their job and make a living writing. Many conventionally published writers still need another source of income–a day job or a working spouse–and a self-published writer doesn’t have the resources of a publishing house behind them to promote the book and drive up sales.

      1. Candi*

        I’ve read from multiple authors over twenty years that publisher promotion does very little to successfully market books to individual readers. Their system was developed to sell to distributors and book stores, who often have their own advertising accounts. Even then, the return on marketing investment can be very low.

        To get books into individual hands takes word of mouth or the equivalent in text. Radio and bookstore appearances just don’t have the same effect as readers consuming and liking books.

  14. Snarkus Aurelius*

    No, you don’t need to be vulnerable at work. At all. Ever. Please don’t. I don’t need to hear about all your insecurities, anxieties, fears, drama, confrontations, problems with coworkers/bosses/whoever, etc. I really don’t. (Side note: I’m already dealing with that right now, and the coworker in question is driving me up the wall. If I get one more three-screen, work-related text at 11 PM…)

    What you need to do instead? Ask questions if you sincerely don’t know the answer. Ask for help if you’re legitimately overloaded with work. If you need to say no to something because you don’t know how to do it, then say that. If something goes wrong, tell someone. If something goes wrong and you can take care of it with no one knowing and no consequences, then do that. Recognize the factors that are out of your control and either deal with them or move on. If I correct you on something, fulfill that request and move on as opposed to letting it hijack your brain. Know when to talk and when to shut up. Don’t turn workplace conversations into confessionals.

    Don’t show me your “true self;” just be my coworker/boss/whoever and let’s be productive and do the best job possible at work.

    None of this, OP, has anything to do with your question and situation though.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yeah, that advice from the life coach is bothering me hard, as pop psychology often does. It’s so obviously missing the point, and so off the wall, that I can’t see it being helpful or constructive for anybody.

    2. Baska*

      I feel like my “work self” is kind of like my “dating self”, in that it’s still me, but it’s the part of me that puts my best foot forward. There are things you can be vulnerable about at work — stuff like, “I don’t understand the chocolate tempering process even though I really should by now” or “I screwed up on the Teapots R Us order and I’m really sorry” — but it’s generally not personal stuff. If you wouldn’t want to overhear it on the grapevine, you probably shouldn’t say it around the office.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, I love Brene Brown, but this advice seems kind of like b.s. in the context of OP’s letter. (Granted, the life coach may know more than us, etc., etc., but “be vulnerable” is rarely a solution to workplace boredom.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Sorry! I just realized I was unclear. I mean the life coach’s advice sounds like b.s., not Snarkus’s comment.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Well, except that her point seemed to be that there may be an underlying reason — other than boredom — that is causing the LW to change jobs frequently. That’s worth considering, if it rings true for the LW.

    4. NW Mossy*

      Brown’s advice certainly can be taken as ridiculous, but in having read some of her stuff, I took away the stuff in your second paragraph as the useful part of her premise. “Vulnerable” is a convenient shorthand for how many people feel when they have to admit they don’t know something or did something wrong, which are situations that come up often at work. I agree with you that you don’t necessarily need to share your emotions, but recognizing them internally and not allowing them to push you into ineffective behaviors is a valuable skill.

  15. Shadow*

    I say keep hopping until you find fulfilling work or until life (i.e. Bills,family, etc) get in the way and force you to settle

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      It’s not “settling” unless you had unrealistic expectations to begin with.

      1. Shadow*

        It is absolutely settling to lower her expectations. It’s not much different than settling for a job other than your childhood dream job.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          And in both cases, you were working on incomplete information or unrealistic expectations, and “settling” implies that growing up, making reasonable career decisions, and reframing your expectations so you’re not miserable is somehow a failure.

          1. jamlady*


            How many people get into environmental science are totally jaded within the first couple of years? Either you move on because it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, or you change your expectations to match reality and keep going with it. I totally get the OPs boredom issue (we all get there), but to spend your life hopping around from industry to industry seeking unrealistic fulfillment that simply doesn’t exist in any job sounds horribly unhappy to me.

            1. V*

              I like to think of it as recognizing a wide spectrum of gray that my younger, green self didn’t see, but yes, this.

          2. Shadow*

            Failing when you didn’t know that you were likely to fail is still failing. Its just becomes a failure that’s easier to accept.

            1. TL -*

              I don’t think it’s failing to realize that it’s not actually what you wanted out of life. Failing is going to Hollywood and trying to become an actor and never landing a role for 10 years without ever wanting to do anything else.
              Going to Hollywood, trying to land a role for 6 months, and realizing that you don’t actually want to spend all your time either working part-time jobs or hustling to auditions, living in a small apartment with many roommates, and starving for your career isn’t actually failing. It’s just realizing that the experience you’ll get by pursuing that goal is not the experience you want.

    2. Matilda Jefferies (formerly JMegan)*

      I was going to say something similar. In addition to making peace with the idea that work does not have to be your passion, I think there’s probably nothing wrong with job hopping for as long as you find it sustainable. It sounds like you’re getting a new job every 2-3 years – the key to me is that you’re still getting the jobs! So if that model is working for you, then go for it.

      I have at least two people in my life who have a high need for novelty rather than stability at work. They change jobs every couple of years, sometimes into completely different professions or industries. And they both seem to be pretty successful at it, in that they’re both still gainfully employed after doing this for a decade or more. You don’t *need* to stay in the same job all the time or follow a traditional career path, if that’s not where your interest lies. As long as you can keep getting hired in these different jobs of yours, there’s no reason to stop what you’re already doing.

  16. Gen*

    You mentioned creative writing as a hobby, a friend of mine recently moved into a job writing project proposals for other organisations (so it could be education one week and industrial or culinary the next) it’s extremely varied and while people do specialise there’s always an element of learning something new. They absolutely love it and enjoy the daily challenge. Perhaps looking into something that utilises your other interests and has a lot of variety rather than aiming for seniority would be better? It’s harder to get bored with routine if you look for work that doesn’t involve so much of it.

  17. Baska*

    OP, I’m younger than you but it sounds like we’ve been in similar situations. While I very much wanted an intellectually challenging job that let me work my brain and also let me make a difference in the world, I ultimately realized that the latter part was more important to me than the former. So I found a job at a registered charity that gives me lots of free time — it’s a 3/4 time job, with afternoons off during the summer and Friday afternoons off all year — and is “stimulating enough” to keep me from rattling the cages too much. And then I do the intellectually challenging stuff (including creative writing!) during my leisure time. Maybe it’s a mindset shift you need more than more job hopping?

  18. FD*

    LW, you could really be me! Obviously this path won’t work for everyone, but I have many of the same characteristics and this is what I’ve done to have more job satisfaction.

    I feel most happy when I’m attacking a problem. Once I’ve got the procedures where I want them, I tend to want to hand them off to someone else, and go fix the next thing. If I have to stay for a long time where I can’t tackle new and interesting problems, I get bored and eventually depressed (literally—before I realized what I needed I had some real issues once I’d fully mastered everything I could at my first two jobs).

    So, here’s what I did. First, I chose a place that had pretty high turnover. YMMV and I did stay too long and let them walk over me too much, but the benefit was I knew that in an environment like that, I’d be allowed to try projects that I probably wouldn’t be trusted with elsewhere. I did about two and a half years there before leaving.

    (I did do the entrepreneur thing for a little while but made some rookie mistakes and decided to stick to employment for a while.)

    Now, in my last job and in my business, I’d worked with a local firm—small, but growing. They needed someone to help them grow, including setting up systems. Because their long term focus is so much bigger than they are now, I knew there would be ongoing opportunities. They weren’t actually looking for anyone, but I was able to pitch my services to them, and was hired last August.

    Of course, there are still things I hate (right now, I have to do some of the filing and some other administrative tasks because there’s no one else), but there’s no shortage of new things to learn and set up, and there’s no prospect of running out of them anytime soon.

    So, suggestions you might consider:

    1. Consider what it is you really need, and what kind of environment. For example, if you want to have lots of new challenges, you might want to consider working with a business that’s growing, and things haven’t fully set yet. It’s easier to make a role yours when things are in flux.

    2. Consider whether you could be self-employed. You like writing—could you copywrite? Help prepare grants? Edit for others? There are probably other ideas too that I’m not thinking of. Don’t do it all at once, but see if you can earn money on the side and ramp up to full self-employment.

    3. If you decide to stay employed working for others, figure out what kind of political capital you might need to secure more of what you want. For example, I landed the projects I did in my last job because I showed that I could learn very fast on my own, and would get myself up to speed when someone dropped a complicated problem on my desk. This led to better projects (and a raise), and helped me get the experience for my current job.

    Good luck to you!

    1. KatiePie*

      Wow, you could be ME! I love creating processes, cleaning up chaos, bringing order where there was none. Then, once the machine is running soundly and I’ve had a chance to work out any last kinks, I just want to hand it over and start in on a new project. I’ve always wished there was some sort of consulting opportunity to bring order to chaos for small businesses (where I’ve witnessed the most chaos), but sadly it’s usually the small businesses that can’t afford that kind of help.

  19. Elizabeth West*

    So it might be that you should focus on being okay with the idea of work as a way to pay your bills.


    OP, the one common denominator here is you. I think you’re putting too much emphasis on how your work should fulfill you. For the vast majority of people, work is only a means to an end. It’s not the end itself.

    As a writer myself, I know that 1) I’m unlikely to make a living from writing, books especially, unless I’m REALLY lucky and 2) as an hourly employee who can’t get high-powered jobs because of an LD, most of my jobs are going to suck. So I have had to look outside them for satisfaction. Do I like spending 40 hours a week doing something I’m not thrilled about? No. Would I rather be working at my craft during that time? Yes. Does that job let me do it? Yes, because when I’m unemployed like I am now, it’s actually harder to write because I’m too worried about starving to death or ending up on the street.

    Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a good job in tech editing or writing that I actually like and can make decent money, and live in a place I want to live. Maybe I’ll get lucky and my book will have some success. I won’t know unless I try. But in the meantime, I need to take the bad (or the meh) with the good. If I have to work to live, that’s just fine. I can do that. I’m not doing it alone and neither are you.

    A trainer at my old job who taught a course on time management said to us that even though he does enjoy his job, he prioritizes his 5-8 over his 8-5. Once that 8-5 is over, his full attention then goes to his outside activities (family). That’s how he maintains not only a good attitude toward his job (i.e. not thinking about it after he’s done for the day), but he also is able to better gain fulfillment from what he does outside work. I thought this was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.

    If you truly hate your job for reasons (terrible boss, untenable conditions, etc.) then it’s fine to think about leaving but don’t expect so much from the next one, or the next. It’s totally cool if it’s not the main interest in your life; just do your best at work. If the job starts bleeding into the 5-8 time and that’s what you resent, then maybe try to find something where your day ends when it ends.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “OP, the one common denominator here is you. I think you’re putting too much emphasis on how your work should fulfill you. For the vast majority of people, work is only a means to an end. It’s not the end itself. ”

      And most people can’t even aspire to work being anything but.

  20. Callalily*

    This is my exact same problem with the exact same cause!

    I always start looking anywhere from 4-9 months into a new job… it all boils down to me seeking fulfillment from these positions, as if a job will show me my place in the universe. This mindset made me depressed and drained my energy.

    I had to start looking at everything as ‘just a job’ or ‘just a paycheck’ to avoid falling into the trap. My cushy office job seemed like a fantasy when I’d compare it to my minimum wage stint in fast food.

    I also had to stop taking myself so seriously and realize that my dreams were not tied to my job duties. I could do menial work and be able to travel the world if I wanted to! I considered myself lucky to have a well paying stable job – not everyone is able to achieve that. If something was stressing me out at work, I’d internally say “No, it is just a job, don’t worry about it.”

    Funniest thing was that my therapist didn’t even see this! She was focused on trying to find a fix for me to be happy with my job… she convinced me that I must’ve just picked the wrong field (I LOVE the core of the work) and even encouraged me to spend thousands on graphic design night classes (I’m an accountant) that I didn’t enjoy and ended up dropping out of (it was her dream to be a designer).

    1. Colorado*

      I also had to stop taking myself so seriously and realize that my dreams were not tied to my job duties.
      THIS! I love this!

  21. Mason*

    I grew up in a small, blue collar town where most of the jobs were in a factory and the rest (at the grocery store, diner etc.) were spin-off jobs that only existed because the factory was there and employed enough people to sustain the town. The only people I knew who went to college were people in the medical field (the doctor, the pharmacist etc.) and the teachers at the school. Lots of people didn’t even graduate high school, they just went to work in the factory once they were old enough.

    My dad’s cousin was the first person in our family to go to college and pursue a ‘career’ type non-blue collar job. She gave me some of the best advice I have ever had:

    Most people don’t get to work their ‘dream job’ like an astronaut or a writer, only a lucky few do. It’s not always easy to find a job in what you wanted to do when you grew up or what you are passionate about. If you can find a job that doesn’t suck out your soul and it pays enough that you can pay all your bills and necessities have enough left over for your hobbies, that’s not a bad thing and you are doing okay.

    I am the second person in my family who went to college. I’m the same as you OP, I get bored easily at work. Her advice has really helped me see the big picture and I have a job that doesn’t crush my soul that pays enough. I focus on hobbies outside of work to deal with the boredom.

    Good luck OP. I know how tough it can be dealing with boredom.

    1. BlueShel*

      THIS –> “If you can find a job that doesn’t suck out your soul and it pays enough that you can pay all your bills and necessities have enough left over for your hobbies, that’s not a bad thing and you are doing okay.” I work with a lot of college students from privileged backgrounds, and some act almost scandalized if I say this!

      1. LadyKelvin*

        To be fair, it’s not the kid’s fault that they can’t believe you are saying that. We have been brought up being told that “we can be anything we want to be”, and “never settle”, and “do what you love”, and “follow your dreams”, and then we run into the real world and want to be an astronaut or work with dolphins. There we find out that this is ridiculously hard, that only a few people can actually do it, and now we are being judged by the same people who told us to be anything we want to be for not wanting a boring job. And I say this as someone who used to work with dolphins professionally. I have since wizened up and now work in a more stable subfield of marine biology (but still cool! just not as sexy).

  22. Rocky*

    The most fun job I ever had (as in, I was legitimately excited to go to work every morning for five years) still had stupefyingly dull periods where I would do the same rote task over and over for hours. However, as others have referenced, it was more project-based, so that kept things interesting to the extent that if I got bored, something kind of different would be coming up next.

    OP, if I were reading this description of a career outside of an advice blog, I’d think you were succeeding wildly at being a “work to live” type of person.

    1. Baska*

      My mom used to say that even in your dream job, there will be parts of it you feel neutral about or outright don’t like. For her, while she LOVED being an elementary school teacher, she absolutely hated doing report cards. (It’s not just the kids who hate them!) But she loved the rest of the job enough that she was willing to do them because, y’know, every job will have aspects you don’t like.

      No job will be fulfilling and stimulating at all times. None. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what you’re doing at least some of the time and take your stimulation where you can get it.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yep. I think that the majority of us will be lucky and privileged just to find a job that’s “fulfilling enough,” let alone completely fulfilling for years on end.

  23. JB (not in Houston)*

    To echo part of Alison’s answer, there are lots of ways you could keep learning on the job. People who are at the top of their field never stop learning, never top trying to become better at what they do. So maybe you could at least delay the onset of boredom by continually trying to learn more about how to be a better manager, how to devise a more efficient system for handling routine tasks, etc. That probably won’t keep you interested forever, but it could give you something to focus on for a while.

  24. ilikeaskamanager*

    Allison gives excellent advice on this one. It’s so easy to think that everyone but you is having these awesome work experiences when the reality is that most of us get bored at work at one time or another. I just try to remember that in most cases it will pass. I just need to keep showing up and doing my best. I also have really cut back on all the extra hours I used to work and I use that time to do things that charge my batteries. I may not be moving up the corporate ladder as fast as others, but I am enjoying my life more. They aren’t going to fire me for doing a “very good job” rather than an “excellent but killing myself” job. .

  25. Doodlebug*

    I’m exactly like you OP! I changed careers multiple times after getting bored. I eventually ended up in IT and that job solved all of my needs. It was unpredictable, every day was different and there was a mountain of things to learn. IT has so many avenues, security, mail, generalist, small networks, large networks, data centers, infrastructure… it goes on and on. Maybe you just haven’t found the right field.

    Take heart, you’re not alone.

  26. Summerisle*

    Totally love the final line about it being liberating to accept that work might not provide the kind of deep fulfilment of the “never work a day in your life” variety.
    I enjoy working and I like being in the sector I’m in (marketing), but it will always come behind other things in the happiness stakes, especially family. It took me an embarrassingly long time to work out that that’s actually fine!

  27. Coldbrewinacup*

    Thank you so much for your letter, OP. You are not alone. I am struggling with the same thing myself. Alison is correct. The best thing you can do is try to find your happiness outside of work, because there isn’t one job that’s going to provide it for you. It’s like expecting your spouse to make you happy all the time– or just expecting it at all.

    You say you like creative writing. What about taking a class at your local community college? Or a writers workshop? There are resources online, too, such as Meetup, where you can find local writers to hang out with. There are many options out there to work on your creative outlets. I think this is the best thing to do and you never know what may come of it. Volunteering is also great because it takes your mind off yourself.

    Best of luck, OP. And thanks again for your letter.

  28. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    One more point: Changing jobs every few years is a reasonable solution, too. It may keep you out of some organizations, roles, or industries, so you need to be aware of those tradeoffs — but with your eyes open to those consequences (just as my eyes are open to the consequences of deciding that I am unwilling to work 60 hours a week, or for an organization that takes money from the gun lobby, or all the other various lines I’ve drawn around what jobs I’ll take), you could just give yourself permission to manage your work life in that manner.

    1. hbc*

      I agree 100%. If it’s the learning curve that’s really fulfilling, then embrace that, and change it up. Ideally, focus on jobs or companies where that curve runs longer or naturally has more variety, but if you want to assistant manage the heck out of a White Castle for one year and then be a receptionist at a small agency where you can learn all about real estate stuff the next, why not?

  29. phil*

    It takes me about 5 years. I’m a sound mixer and recording engineer-they’re different-and the creative challenges seem to peter out after about 5 years. So I go to a different part of the entertainment business. Must have worked-I had a 40 year career.

  30. Willis*

    I’d also add that even for people who do have a passion for their jobs, I know many that also get bored, frustrated, etc. with them. Overall, I like what I do, but there’s definitely parts of the job that I find boring and have to summon extra motivation to complete (…often after some procrastination). I think that’s a pretty normal thing. So, I would echo Alison’s advice to look for what parts of what you’re doing that you do like or find challenging…is that enough to build on or stick around for?

    And in addition to some job tasks being more boring than others, I’d also say that most jobs involve some sense of repetition of a process. It makes sense because that’s how you get better and more efficient at things, but it also means that after the first X number of iterations, it’s going to feel less new and exciting.

  31. LQ*

    Hate to say it but even novelists have paperwork, lots of paperwork. It’s just sort of a part of life in the world we live in where we don’t do everything on our own at a farm with no electricity and the rickets. Part of this is accept that sometimes paperwork happens, don’t focus on it. Find a way to move through it quickly.

    But I’d agree that yes, jobs get boring, it can get easy to focus on the tedious parts. And be ok with a job being boring sometimes. It doesn’t make you any different.

    I had the same job (sort of) for nearly 10 years. I was occasionally bored. (Time to stuff all the envelopes.) One of the things that makes even the boring parts of my jobs good for me is that I focus on what I do. What I do is help people. Today that might be going through and staring at 2 lists of names to make sure they are the same, but what I’m doing is protecting the data of the citizens I serve. Tomorrow it might be giving the same boring speech about how to use a printer, but what I’m doing is helping to train new people to serve the citizens efficiently, effectively, and empathetically. Those things I care about.

  32. spocklady*

    I think I saw another commenter mention this here on AAM before, and it stuck with me — I also wonder if school can be partially to blame for this effect. Like, we spend 12 – 16 (or more) years learning how to learn all the time, and then we’re turned loose into the work world, which is not like that.

    I know a lot of my friends from undergrad have occasionally struggled with boredom at work. I agree that doing what you can to re-frame for yourself what the point of work is, and what you’re achieving, can really help. One thing that helped us was to do a book club for a while, as sort of a support group for those of us who missed that intellectual stimulation that came with school. Maybe you can find another way to get at this. Good luck, OP!

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I feel like those of us born 1980-on struggle with this a lot. Life is an unending series of “the next big milestones” for 22 or 27 years, and then…..what?

      1. Jaydee*

        And they are structured milestones that are either based on age/grade in school or on meeting certain criteria. If I do X, Y, and Z I will get a good grade on the assignment. If I am one of the top 10 players, I will make the varsity team. After 8th grade, I will go to high school. When I am 16 I will get my driver’s license.

        For adult things, there isn’t a structure to the milestones. If I’m one of the top 10 employees in my department, maybe that means I’ll get a raise/promotion but maybe it doesn’t. If I do X, Y, and Z, maybe the project will be successful, but maybe it won’t. After college I will…get a job? Take a year to travel around Europe? Go to grad school? Join the Peace Corp? Enlist in the military? Will I get married when I’m 25 or 30 or 40 or never? Will I have kids? When? How many?

        There are a lot of societal and cultural expectations about what it means to be a successful adult (and as mentioned by other commenters, a lot of those are tied up in various types of privilege). But if you hang your happiness hat on any of these things working out in exactly the way you (or other people) think they “should,” you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand, if you figure out where your priorities are and structure your life so you can focus on those, you’ll probably end up being pretty satisfied with your life.

      2. ZVA*

        Yes, exactly. Someone is holding up hoops for us to jump through until our early/mid twenties (and praising/rewarding us for each jump!), and then all of a sudden… bam. No more hoops. I’m 26, I’ve been out of college for 4 years, and this was a struggle for me at first (tho I feel I’ve adjusted to it now.)

        1. E*

          I completely feel the same, school doesn’t exactly set you up to be ready for a workplace set of hoops. At 34 though, I discovered that having a baby creates a whole new set of hoops. Not always in the best of ways, but there is never a dull moment.
          I recommend that the OP find extracurricular activities that relate to their passion, whether it be art classes, writing workshops, or volunteering at local groups. Your non-work time can easily give you the fulfilled feeling you are missing.

      3. Manders*

        Exactly! I’m in that age bracket, and looking around at my peer group, we’ve all struggled with the feeling that we’re not progressing to the next milestone fast enough or that we’re backsliding if we suffer a setback. The only way to get out of that feeling is to develop hobbies outside work (but even then, sometimes the hobby can become its own set of frustrating far-off goalposts).

    2. Marillenbaum*

      That’s an excellent point. I really missed learning so much when I graduated from college and got my first 9-5 job, so I joined a book club and signed up for an online class on Scandinavian film. I started reading for pleasure more, learning to lift weights, listening to lectures on classical music (something I never took a class on in undergrad!) and volunteering at the local public radio station. That experience forced me to take a broader look at what kind of learning and challenge I wanted out of my life, which is something I really appreciate now that I’m a full-time student again.

  33. Journalism?*

    OP, have you considered some form of journalism? Like you, I have bounced around between not-for-profit and university jobs and always begin new positions with a high level of enthusiasm. Paperwork and routine crush my soul. So I often leave jobs after 2-3 years. The position that seemed like the best fit for me was when I had the opportunity to produce a news program for a small community radio station. Along with a miniscule team, I was responsible for selecting six topics to cover each day, scheduling guests, and writing a script for a 3-hour morning show. I learned so much each day and I was utterly engaged. Unfortunately, the low pay and lack of insurance were a huge problem. But if I had gone to J School, I probably could have found something reasonable. The key, I think, was that I had the chance to meet new people and learn new things every single day. Such a luxury! I’m glad I had that experience even though it was fleeting; it helped me understand my brand of flake-atude a bit better. I am very responsible about deadlines/showing up/working intense hours/producing results quickly but I really do need to learn new stuff or I start to get really itchy.

  34. Insert Name Here*

    The vulnerability advice from the life coach is…disturbing. I also work at a university and I hear “vulnerability” business encouraged all the time, to students and to employees. Can anyone help me understand how/why this has become such a thing? Is it all this Brene Brown person and her popularity, or are there other forces at play? I feel like there must be an aspect of this that’s a good idea or it wouldn’t have become such a buzzword, but I admit I struggled to find it!

    1. NW Mossy*

      I think it goes hand-in-hand with the idea of impostor syndrome, which is also having a moment right now. To me, the basic idea is that very conscientious people (of which there are many) can have such high standards for themselves that any chink in the armor (being wrong, not knowing something, etc.) feels like The Thing That Will Ensure No One Respects Me Ever Again. A lot of people relate to that feeling, and the idea behind vulnerability is that if you acknowledge that fear of failure openly, other people are a lot more likely to say “Same!” than “OMG, what a lame-o.”

  35. Hannah*

    Agree that OP’s expectations might need to be adjusted.Not being passionate and excited about your job on a daily basis is the usual way, and I’d venture to say that most people have jobs that they’d rather not go to at all if they didn’t have to. Most people find their work exists somewhere on a spectrum, one end of which is “extremely tedious” and the other end of which is “aggravating and stressful.” I know my job falls on that spectrum–exactly where depends on the day.

    OP, good for you that you have been able to move from job to job to alleviate this problem for yourself–that is a plus and a skill in and of itself. I myself have been desperately searching for a job that is somewhat outside of what I am doing now, and I’m struggling with lots of rejections that basically say, “sorry, we are only looking for people who have experience doing this exact job,” even for fairly generic positions that require a skill set that is similar to mine.

  36. INTP*

    I really identify with this – I could write a novel here about my past job experiences, but I’ll just say that I totally identify with getting bored quickly and wanting to change jobs, fields, my entire life, etc.

    OP, have you looked into freelance/contract/self-employment? If you are a strong writer there are a number of writing-related fields where freelance work is common if not the norm. I am in one of them now (I have a day job in my field for boring insurance reasons but also freelance a bit). Most people are not cut out for self-employment, but if you feel like you NEED the constant challenge of learning new ropes and are averse to feeling too secure and comfortable, it might be a good fit. It’s not that you’ll never have a boring day, but you have more flexibility without burning bridges – if you get really tired of what you are doing, and you have some money saved, you can put more of your time into marketing to find new clients, rather than quitting your job entirely, for example.

    And I know that one thing that contributes to my flightiness is that I feel in my element when I’m adapting to a new situation and I don’t quite know what I’m doing. It’s like I have an overactive brain and when I’m truly in over my head having to constantly figure out how to avoid impending doom, I’m fine, but when everything else calms down it doesn’t and just finds tiny things to make me miserably anxious about. I’m not sure how a life coach would psychoanalyze that, but it’s how I’ve always been with jobs, cities, majors in college, etc. I find my freelance work is a good outlet for that – there’s a good amount of boredom too because the money is made when you’re doing the work that you have become efficient at, but at least it’s possible to tack on a new challenge at will, like finding a new client or training myself on a new type of assignment to take. Consulting might also be a good outlet if you’re the same way, if you are a full-time consultant for a firm where you can be sent to new clients regularly. Or a job where you are essentially the person that puts out the fires – I’m not sure what the job title would be for each industry, but I’m sure these people exist, especially in finance and IT. I don’t think you’ll find The Job that never makes you dread going to work in the morning, but maybe you can target your current skills and experience to something where the day-to-day environment is more novel and exciting?

  37. amy*


    I pretty much have to learn new things all the time. Really complex, heavy-duty new things. I work as a science writer and scientific grantwriter, and I teach, but this is not the only kind of job that requires you to get up every day and be brilliant at something you’ve never seen before.

    The pay is not good. I don’t mind it, but a lot of people would, especially for the intensity of the work required.

    A little while ago, I interviewed for a job that would’ve required me to wake up and be brilliant about a much wider range of things. Stimulating, sure. In the end, though, I didn’t think I’d do as much good in the world at that job — PR, essentially — and they were pretty firm on the job being that. So I stayed where I am, and remembered that I’m allowed to have interests outside of work. I went to France a few weeks ago, where I found that although I couldn’t actually summon sentences in French anymore myself, it’s mostly still in my head. So I’m rehabbing the basics — verb conjugations, articles, etc. — and next semester I’ll take a French literature course, because one thing that’s annoyed me for years is that I really don’t have a literary French, can’t read novels, can’t express myself well.

    I’m also taking a music-theory course Eastman offers online, and the trip to Provence introduced me to a new geology, a new biome, that I know nothing about, not to mention a city with a 2500-year history and beautiful light. Also a new understanding of wine, the business of actually growing the grapes and making the wine. These are interesting, too.

    I have more books than I have time to read.

    If you’re bored, the problem is probably not the jobs.

  38. The Other Dawn*

    I think OP need to accept, as others have said, that most of the population “works to live.” It took me a very long time to accept this. I’m 42 and I’ve spent most of my working life chasing what I thought would make me feel happy, fulfilled, ready to conquer the world, and whatever other phrase you can come up with, only to feel let down after a few months into the new job or new role. I would say that it was about three years ago when I finally accepted it. My longtime employer (18+ years) shut its doors and I was faced with having to figure out what I wanted to do (I was a Jill-of-all-trades). I thought, “Wow! This is a great opportunity to figure out what I’m passionate about!” And then I realized–after getting into a job/company I hated and wasn’t the right fit, and then job searching for many months chasing all sorts of different jobs–that no matter what job I took next, I wouldn’t be passionate about it. I’d likely enjoy it and not cry in the shower every morning before going to it (did that at Awful ExJob), but I’d never jump out of bed, ready to take on all the new challenges.

    So, where am I now? I’ve been at my current job for over two years, I’m in the same industry as my longtime job, doing one of the things I’ve been doing since I started in the industry. Rather than being Jill-of-all-trades, I specialize. I don’t mind coming to work; my team is awesome; the company is awesome (pay, benefits, culture, people); some parts of my job I really enjoy, some not so much, and others suck. But I’m happy overall. And I’m OK with that.

    I think my problem with the idea of “work” is that I’m required to show up to a specific place, by a specific time, and have to be here for a somewhat-set amount of time. (I’m exempt, so it’s flexible, but it’s not like I can just show up for two hours at 10 am and leave. Oh, that would be wonderful!). I’m thinking the only way I could be passionate about “work” is where it’s completely at my whim. But if that were the case, I’d never get paid because I’d probably never show up at all. Or a job petting and snuggling with cats and kittens, but then I’d be taking them all home with me, which would pretty much eat up any paycheck I’d get.

  39. Frogs and Turtles*

    Underlining also the idea that you should just put aside the idea that your 9-5 is somehow going to fulfill your soul.

    I am also a creative writer who feels basically crushed by regular 9-5 work. I also have kids who I want to spend time with. AND I am the primary breadwinner in my family. (Try writing a novel under those circumstances. Which I am, actually, doing. Slowly. As well as a couple of nonfiction book proposals. And while sending a short story around for possible publication.)

    About 10 years ago, however, I made the fantastic discovery that part-time professional jobs with full benefits exist — mainly at hospitals and universities. And that in some situations, these PT jobs pay as much as (moderately paying) FT jobs. They can take a long time to find — my current job, which is my 2nd PT professional job, took almost 2 years to find: as a grant writer/administrator for dept at a big university in a major metro area. But I make almost $40K working 18 hours a week, for an organization with a really righteous mission that I am proud to be associated with. (My coworkers are absolutely fantastic.) I have my own office that I also use as a place to write when I need to get away from kids and all the cafes are closed. I get like 3 weeks of vacation a year, and they put the equivalent of 10% of my salary in a retirement account. (I add another 20%.) I also have a very active freelance editing life that takes up a lot of my writing time, for sure, and which is still necessary to pay the bills — but I can drop it at any time, and I also can do it anywhere or in the middle of the night. (There I have also learned to focus on particular areas related to medicine and science, which pay the best; my hourly rate is almost four times what it was 10 years ago, so again, I do not have to work as much to make the same money.) I could also move to FT pretty easily now if I had to, with all my experience. I also know I’d be worth a pretty decent FT salary.

    Yes, even with this I end up searching for jobs elsewhere…but it would have to be better than this for me to leave, and I know that the chances of that are very, very, very slim.

    By the way a great way to stay connected with the writing world is to go to a conference now and then, or — even better — a residency. A few do offer 1 or 2 weeks rather than the 3-12 months many others require (which is obviously impossible for someone with a job or family). I do both of these now, and it is like a giant artistic multivitamin every time. Yeah, it usually costs some money, but I swear each time I do one it adds another 2 years to my life.

    I’m not going to say this was easy — I am almost 50 years old and I have worked for pretty much 25 years to get myself in this position. I could probably have done it earlier if I had been smarter about it though (spent too many years being an independent bookstore clerk, a job I LOVED but which had the downside of paying minimum wage and no benefits). And obviously if I wanted to live a fancy lifestyle I would have gone a different path. But if you are fine with a moderate lifestyle, and if time is more important to you than money, then you could do this too.

  40. Artemesia*

    When there is repeated behavior, it is you not the jobs so you need to work on how you relate to work rather than look for new work at least immediately. I am somewhat the same way and so was lucky to be in jobs where I could change the work I do every couple of years to keep it fresh; not all jobs are like this but I would think the one you have now might be. Think about ways to create projects or challenges that are different and to focus on those things rather than the inevitable mundane aspects of all jobs. I’d work hard to make that work and then when you make your next move focus on finding a job that has constant new projects and challenges integral to it and focus on those. All jobs have their tedious components, that is why they call it work. Many jobs also have the opportunity for continuously new challenges.

    Your life coach is IMHO dead wrong. A job is not therapy and making it about personal disclosure and vulnerability is dysfunctional. Since ‘life coach’ requires no qualifications except a meddlesome character, I’d be very wary of the advice I was getting unless you have a lot of evidence this person has helped other people transform their lives. Her advice might be useful in a relationship but sounds like she is clueless about actual jobs and actual work which may be why she has embraced the kind of work she does.

  41. ZenJen*

    FYI, I look at my job as THE THING THAT HELPS ME LIVE THE LIFE I WANT: my identity/energy isn’t tied up in my job. I benefit from my job and can pay my bills and afford nice things and to travel. I have awesome family and friends around me, too. I’m happy and enjoy life every day. In my spare time, I’m also a published fiction writer AND I run a writers group–THIS is where I am fulfilled in my life!
    OP needs to look at their life overall (and I’d question the life coach–do you really need to throw money at someone else’s idea of YOUR LIFE???) and decide what their life goals are and what would fulfill their emotional happiness on a daily basis. Make your own decisions, and be honest with yourself!

  42. JeanB*

    I have been working full time for 35+ years and I get bored at every one of my jobs. I’ll come in all excited, find lots of problems, fix the problems, get everything running well … and then I’m bored. The longest I’ve ever stayed at a job was 4.5 years. My preference would be to be a consultant for A/R and A/P – come in, get everything cleared up, set up systems, and then move on. But I do not have the ability to market myself and get new clients so that’s out. Oh well, only another 12 years to retirement.

    1. KatiePie*

      Oh my gosh, you are me. Your dream job is basically mine as well. I love getting accounting processes cleaned up and organized, then I get bored and want to move on.

  43. S.*

    I am really really similar to you. I tend to get bored in all my jobs by about 18 months in, and haven’t really ever stayed somewhere more than two years. I am also going to suggest a mindset shift, but a completely different one: it’s ok to switch jobs a lot! I know that is against a lot of traditional ‘don’t be a job hopper’ advice, but I think it might be more helpful to you to embrace that you need new challenges a lot than to try to expect less from your job. It doesn’t sound like your frequent changes are hurting your career – you are in a management position with an opportunity to become a high level individual contributor. If you’re able to stay happy and fulfilled by changing jobs every few years, and you continue to have those opportunities become available, and you’re able to meet your financial obligations, then where is the harm? Why does this need to change?

    I used to feel awful about my inability to choose one thing and just stick to it, but then a therapist recommended a book by Barbara Sher called ‘Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love’. It was honestly a life-changing read. I realized that there isn’t anything wrong with me and what I need from life. Another book by her that helped my mom a lot, but I havne’t read it yet is “I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.”

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “I know that is against a lot of traditional ‘don’t be a job hopper’ advice,”

      Which exists for a reason.

      1. S.*

        Well, the reason seems to be that it could hurt your career, but it clearly isn’t hurting this person’s career. They just feel bad about it.

        1. Squeeble*

          Yep, and they’re not hopping every few months or anything extreme like that. Staying in a job for just a few years is perfectly fine, regardless of whether you’re happy or not.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          It’s not clear at all that it isn’t hurting their career, though. The lack of sustained experience at any given position and general lack of engagement probably makes them a significantly weaker candidate for any given job, and they’re certainly not building up much of a reputation or professional capital.

          1. gwal*

            Buuuut not everyone’s goal is to build up a reputation or professional capital, or to always being applying for jobs at the tip-top of the range of their capabilities. I think this is a balancing-priorities issue…

            1. Natalie*

              Right. In other words, maybe it is hurting this person’s career but they don’t mind, or the career harm is worth it to them.

            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              That’s an entirely different question. “Are you willing to suffer some career damage to be highly mobile” is different from “does being highly mobile cause career damage.” My statement addresses the latter.

  44. Kate*

    I am extremely lucky that I *am* passionate about my job- I even left once and came back to it because I found I couldn’t quite let it go. And it’s a job where the pace is high and the work is always different.

    You know what? It still has chunks of time and types of work that are boring as all heck. It’s part and parcel of having the other parts of the job be interesting.

  45. Viola Dace*

    Oh, this is so timely. My son just left his very good corporate gig (benefits, 401k, etc) to work full time at what had been his side gig. It’s a super trendy thing that a lot of millenials are into. He has a passion for it, but I see that they use people who are passionate. He is taking a huge pay cut and they don’t provide health insurance. His GF also *cough* coincidentally just left a good job to pursue her dream career. This is a privileged mindset for sure. They both believe it’s imperative to pursue their dreams and practicality be damned.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I have noticed that after a few years, reality comes home to roost, in these cases. They’re happy fulfilling their passion for 6 months or so, until they realize that they can’t buy a house or a new car or afford to repair the car they’ve got, and the passion seems to cool a bit.

    2. Not Karen*

      Is he still able to support himself? If so then I don’t see how it’s not practical.

  46. The Quill*

    Normally I’m a ghost at AAM, albeit a daily reader (it’s a fun site!), but I wanted to weigh in here. I have the elusive “dream job” as a full-time novelist. At this point I’ve supported myself as a writer, and only a writer, for almost a decade. Insofar as any writer who isn’t a millionaire can say, I believe I’ll be able to keep doing this for years to come. I’m tremendously grateful and wouldn’t change it for anything.


    If you have problems with repetition making you bored, you’d have one hell of an issue with being a novelist.

    You edit your books, and edit them again, and edit them AGAIN. You spent years devoted to one story even when your imagination badly wants to skip along to the next one. If you’re lucky enough to get public appearances, you will answer the exact same questions so many times you will be unable to believe it. There is a LOT of monotony and repetition in the job.

    Let me be clear: I am not complaining. I love what I do and I accept the monotonous stuff as part of the whole. But I would say this to the OP: if you’re daydreaming about novel-writing as this endlessly fascinating and variable profession…it isn’t. Like any other paid work, it has its burdens and boredom. In fact, you might want to look at cultivating your patience with such things at your current job as a way of acquiring skills you absolutely will need if you do ever fulfill your dream.

    And good luck with your writing!

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I’ve heard the same from every single writer I know.

    2. ZVA*

      In fact, you might want to look at cultivating your patience with such things at your current job as a way of acquiring skills you absolutely will need if you do ever fulfill your dream.

      +1 million to this. Thanks for your perspective!

  47. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Was anyone else miffed by the “aggressive white males” reference in regards to an MBA? I didn’t find that relevant to or necessary in addressing the issue at-hand. It’s fine to agree that said position was not a cultural fit, but please don’t discriminate or stereotype.

    Bigger picture: I think OP needs to change perspective and become a little realistic, to piggy-back off Allison’s point that the majority of us aren’t over-zealous about how we spend our working days. No one has their life “figured out” if you think about it. We don’t know what fate has in store for us. I speak from experience here. I jumped various jobs in the past and dismissed them with plenty of labels. I, too, love creative writing. I looked into an MFA and I even took extra-curricular courses. Possible careers are few and far between, in all honesty. So I learned to keep it as a passion, explore opportunities to publish, and compartmentalize that part off from anything career-related.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      As a white male, I certainly wasn’t miffed by that. A lot of MBA programs have lately adopted this weird atmosphere where everybody’s gonna be this hot-shit entrepreneur and found a startup whose revenues will be measurable as percentages of global GDP within half a decade and disrupt markets and install a slide from the boardroom to the executive garage and WOO you’re gonna RULE and we’re gonna teach you HOW. And that’s an atmosphere that does tend to attract and retain aggressive white males.

    2. ZVA*

      OP said that working in finance (after getting her MBA) she found that the culture was “great for aggressive white males but not so good for others.” She’s saying aggressive white men thrived in that culture whereas she did not. That doesn’t sound like a stereotype to me—that sounds like the facts as she saw them.

  48. I@W*

    Have you considered contracting or consulting? I really can’t work long-term as a full-time employee for a regular company because I get bored easily. I spent the bulk of my career contracting and freelancing, and I’m currently working at a consulting firm working on different projects for different clients. (Many consulting firms are virtual so your’re working from home, which may or may not be appealing to you.) These jobs typically pay better, but there’s less stability. A freelance or contract will have an end, and is not always steady. So even if you’re in a crummy contract, at least there’s an end date. If the work dries up for the consulting firm, they’re lean and mean, so you can expect lay offs, etc. Consulting often requires more than 40 hours per week, but overall I find that I save time with no commute and not spend time getting gussied up to look professional.

  49. Pam*


    You’ve been a social worker, a university recruiter, and other university positions. Have you looked at academic advising? Working with students is (I find) a good way to keep from being bored, and being able to assist them to learn and grow makes me happy. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done with the pay.

  50. MBA Candidate - Go Cougs!*

    Just a quick one off question; I’m finishing up my MBA at Carson College of Business and I’m planning on going into finance after I graduate and hoping to have great success in that industry. I’m not white or male, but I am ambitious. What advantages do white males have in the finance industry that the rest of us don’t?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Alison asks that we keep comment threads on topic to the question asked. But that would be a great question for the open thread on Friday!

  51. Dan*

    It’s funny… IMHO, for pretty much all of the job’s OP has had, they seem to be legitimate reasons to not like a job. The troubling thing is the series of two year jobs, which will probably catch up with him for awhile.

    Realistically, OP does need to figure out what he can actually tolerate, and pick a job and stick with it. Is excess paperwork more tolerable than travel?

    1. fposte*

      I think that there are probably legitimate reasons to dislike *every* job, though. Even cuddling puppies involves a lot of shoveling out kennels.

  52. Mmmmmk*

    I’m wondering if part of the problem isn’t the job itself but who you’re working for and how they are helping to shape and push you forward in your career? I’ve found that makes ALL the difference. Maybe start paying closer attention to who inspires you and see if you can find a way to work for them or someone like them?

  53. hbc*

    Okay, big asterisk on this one given the pop psychology aspect, but: If you read the information about “Input” when you google StrengthsFinder, does that resonate? If so, we’re pretty alike, and I think your writing outlet isn’t really going to scratch the collecting/learning itch you’ve got.

    I have to have something in my routine where I’m learning or working towards completing something, probably more than one thing. New jobs give an overload of this, but it’s better for me to have some of it on the outside. Could be learning a new language in 10 minute increments, cooking your way through a cookbook, reading every Man-Booker Prize winner, getting the next martial arts belt, or just getting to the next level of Candy Crush.

    It may not make you happy to do rote work for years, but it might stave off the time when you’re itching to drop the job for the next challenge.

  54. Natalie*

    Just a few things that have helped me as someone who gets bored at work A LOT. Take them or leave them as needed.

    1. I take a lot of breaks for other things. I happen to work in an environment where this is acceptable, and I make sure that I’m very productive overall. It just happens to work well for me to work at 100% pace for 40 minutes, and then take a 20 minute break, wash/rinse/repeat, rather than working at a sustainable pace for 8 hours continuously.

    2. During rote tasks I listen to podcasts.

    3. Outside of work, I’m picking up new challenges. And I mean things that are genuinely challenging to me, not just new things that I suspect I will be good at. I have had a tendency to only apply myself to topics where I was pretty sure I would do well, but the problem is that those things are easy to learn so you burn through them quickly.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I used to listen to audiobooks when I was photo processing. When it’s more involved than “clean up scratches/dust from scanning”, I’d listen to music (and still do now that I’m pretty much completely on the design side).

    2. LQ*

      I really like #3. It’s pretty easy to be like, I’m a great teapot handle maker but I want a new challenge so I’m going to work on spouts. At work that’s good, but in your personal life? Strive to do something you think you could really really fail at. And work hard. Really hard at it. Even something you think you might not like or is really different from you.

      I take up a new sport every 5 years. I’m not a good sports person, I don’t really enjoy it all that much. But it is better to try something new and really stretch that part of my brain/body. It helps to be uncomfortable a little. To be the worst person in the room. I took tennis lessons and had zero idea about anything. But I learned a lot and I worked hard.

  55. Mimmy*

    Oh god, I don’t think it’s coincidental that this post is appearing right now – I just started a new job a couple weeks ago and I’m already struggling with similar feelings to the OP’s. I’m not sure if it’s boredom, fear of boredom, or something else.

    I’m trying to reframe my thinking and possibly even come up with a way to fulfill my passions outside of my job, but right now I’m stuck. I agree with Mimi above – it’s hard to just shut it off and switch to a “work to live” perspective. I have been pursuing these interests over the past few years but now I can’t find the time. In fact, I want to come up with something different. I work 4 days a week, but will be dropping to 3 days a week in July (long story), so I will probably have some more breathing room then, but I’m worried I won’t last that long.

  56. animaniactoo*

    If this helps any… from the standpoint of a person with a creative job:

    I design kids’ products for a living, usually licensed ones with household brand names like Disney, Nickelodeon, Mattel, Sanrio, and so on.

    Just about everybody finds this fascinating and the usual refrain I hear is “That must be so interesting!”. Yes. Yes, it usually is. BUT. It is also composed of a whole bunch of *boring* parts too. So yes, I enjoy my job most days. But other days…

    —Well, this style guide they gave me to work with looks like the last 6 ones I’ve done for Property line I’m in charge of. So it just feels like I’m regurgitating something. This isn’t all that new. It’s just another take on something I’ve already done 3 times now. Boring.

    —Hmmm… looks like I haven’t gotten approval back from the licensor on item I submitted 2 weeks ago. Time to go track down what’s going on with it. Boring.

    —Oh. There’s a bit of downtime. Sigh. I guess I’ll go save all those photos in the right format and submit them for final product approval. Boring. Necessary, but boring.

    —Huh. The paperwork on my desk is getting really piled up. I guess I better file it. Boring. But at least my desk will be clean again.

    —It’s been well over a week since I’ve had anything new to work on, all this stuff is boring because I’ve already been working with it all for more than a month.

    —I do not the see the point in comparative shopping/looking for inspiration AGAIN today (when I have downtime again) when our major competitors haven’t changed in 6 years, and I’ve seen these same items on the market for at least a decade. Okay, there’s newer stuff and minor companies to look at, but I’ve pretty much seen all of that in the last year too! Ugh. Mind-numbingly boring.

    –Argh. This is the 19th* damn revision of this, how do we not have the tech down on this yet?

    (Breaking this into two posts so it’s not just a wall of text…)

    1. animaniactoo*

      Generally, my way of dealing with boredom now is to look around for a challenge I can solve that will make my work or others easier.

      A couple of years ago, I created packaging templates for all our standard items. The packaging manager is very happy, and so are my co-workers who no longer have to work off old pieces which may be out of date in terms of legal info. I moved on. I created product templates for all our standard and standardish items. Since then, I look for ways to refine those and make the better. One round I added mirror images for all the 3D composition bases so that everything flows better. Another round I went through to see if I could simplify the templates and make them easier to use.

      At the moment, I’m kind of over designing new product structures, but I’m sure I’ll get re-inspired at some point.

      Right now, I’m actually waiting for downtime again, to get back to what I’d started the last time: Checking out course videos on the programs I already use. Because there have been so many updates to them, and stuff I never used, that while I already know a lot, hey I learned a few cool new things when I started before that make some of the boring/frustrating parts easier.

      And in the meantime, at least if I rotate the boring bits, they don’t feel like the *same* boring stuff all the time. Day-to-day variety helps.

      *Okay, I reality, it’s rare to go past 2 or 3 and pretty much never past 4. But because we sometimes do things bass backwards it feels like the 19th repetition because it’s just unnecessary and I’m tired of redoing work because we didn’t take 5 extra minutes to get it right before I started on it.

  57. Fronzel Neekburm*

    One thing that stuck out to me, is where you mention that your passion is creative writing. There are jobs available where you can use that without writing novels. You can teach at a program, you can write freelance, you can submit content, you do advertising, a social media director… look these up, dude!

  58. phedre*

    I love my job (nonprofit fundraising) and there is a lot that’s different day-to-day, but there are still things that are boring and awful. That’s just the nature of the working world! For every time I get to do things I really enjoy and are exciting, there are plenty of times where there’s paperwork to do, boring database stuff, and other stuff I HATE. Currently I’m creating new policies and procedures for fundraising because nothing is documented. It’s so boring! But it needs to be done.

    So my point of saying all of this is to reiterate what commenters above have said – every job has tedious things and it may just be that your expectations are off. It’s also possible they aren’t the right jobs, but given what you said about your pattern of dissatisfaction, you may want to take a look at reframing your perspective.

    A commenter above noted that she views work as the thing that helps her do what she loves in her spare time. It helps her afford to travel and have hobbies and live a really fulfilling life outside of work. Any chance you can view work in that lens?

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Yes. There is a lot that I love and find fulfilling about my job, and it does vary a LOT, but there are times (sometimes even periods of several months) when I feel bogged down in the tedious or repetitive things.

      I’m wondering if OP might be working for larger companies where each person’s work is a clear slice of the overall pie. Like, if you work in HR for a university, you probably aren’t going to be teaching classes or organizing sporting events. In smaller organizations, on the other hand, people tend to do a greater variety of tasks because there aren’t enough people for everyone to have a discrete role. I’m sure that’s not always the case, but maybe thinking in that direction would help.

      Other commenters have noted that doing things outside of work can meet the need for variety and learning. It’s completely okay to switch to a new volunteer role every few years, whereas that’s a tough pattern with jobs. There are plenty of volunteer roles out there where there’s a lot to learn.

      1. phedre*

        Yeah, I think you are totally right that about smaller vs. larger organizations. I’m a Development & Marketing department of one in an established nonprofit that has never done fundraising before, and I like it because I do everything. There is always variety and a new project though I also have to do all the tedious stuff. But being in a small department is great because when I get tired of grant writing there’s an event to plan, or a major donor to show a new program to, or a marketing campaign to plan, or a newsletter to write. If I was at a larger nonprofit, there would be teams of fundraisers with very specific roles (1 person who does events, 1 who does gift reconciliation and database stuff, 1 who does major giving, 1 who does grants, etc.) and I’d probably get bored of doing the same thing all the time.

        So maybe the OP would be more fulfilled in a smaller organization where they would have more variety in tasks?

  59. Horse Lover*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, so forgive me if this has been mentioned, but OP have you read about “multipotentialites” aka Scanner aka Renaissance Person (aka a whole bunch of other names)? I don’t know if the “having many varied interests you want to pursue” part relates to you or not but it really resonated with me when I found it. Just google the word or the site puttylike and see if you see yourself in it. (having many interests, wanting to do it all, moving from job to job, etc)

    I agree with Alison, I think there are so many people/students out there (myself included) who were told to follow your dreams when realistically many of us should’ve been learning things to help pay the bills and follow your dreams on the side. For me, learning how to be content with a job is the hardest part, I struggle with everyday. But, I’ve found a job I’m comfortable with that has good pay and benefits and I pursue my other interests outside of work. I’m part of my local writer’s group. I do some star gazing and learn about astronomy at our local science museum. I always look up to see what sort of activities the local libraries/museums/Parks and Rec are hosting. There are so many things to learn and do out there! You just have to look them up.

  60. BRR*

    I think there are some great suggestions. One thing I didn’t see but might have missed is how you’re looking at the jobs you’re applying to. I’m not seeing a lot of background as to why you took the jobs you did. If you’re not already, really look at the job and imagine what it entails. The good and the bad. As multiple readers have said regarding writing, there are many boring parts to that as well. And I think it’s surprising for many people when they turn their hobby into their career.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I have actually purposely *not* turned my hobby into a career because I think I would grow to hate it if I had to do it day in and day out, in volume, rather than enjoying doing it and playing with it when I feel like it.

  61. oranges & lemons*

    I wonder if this is a manifestation of a larger pattern–for those of us in the fortunate position not have to worry much about getting our basic needs met, and not dealing with other major life crises, there seems to be a drive to be constantly engaged and living life to the fullest–a low tolerance for periods of downtime, boredom, dissatisfaction.

  62. HR Pro*

    I’d also suggest you look into hobbies that can intellectually stimulate you. I have a bunch of hobbies that I find very intellectually stimulating – at some point I realized I just needed more than I could ever get from work. So for example, I play strategy board games (like Risk, but for grown-ups and not based on military domination), I do Sudoku and other puzzles (I participate in competitions and I time myself to improve my speed), I’m in 2 book clubs, and I do family history/genealogy. There are techniques/methods to learn for genealogy, and the field is evolving with better digital records and a lot of advances in DNA. So I can go to conferences, lectures, podcasts, etc. If I wanted to, I could complete an almost-academic-level course of study to get certified.

    Other examples: teaching yourself to code (program computers), taking an H&R Block tax prep course, teaching yourself PhotoShop. (Hmm, a lot of my examples are numbers-based… I’m sure there are other ideas that aren’t numbers-based.)

    Anyway, the point is – think about whether there are activities you could do outside of work to help satisfy your intellectual curiosity and dislike of boredom.

  63. Professional Merchandiser*

    Yes, I’ve heard the “find the work you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” spiel, but fortunately, that didn’t surface until I was old enough to know better. My generation got more the “find a good company that pays well and work there until you retire with a good pension.” I did that; but HATED the work. But you just don’t quit that kind of job. (See my generation…)

    When our local office closed and I was able to leave with a deferred pension, I was all over it. I kind of fell into the type of work I do now, and for the longest time I felt like I had won the lottery I was so happy with it. But…we got sent to another company and I got assigned away from the work I loved, and now…I’m just killing time till retirement. I may look for another company who does what I used to love, but it’s too late for me to start trying to find my “dream job.”

    If this sounds like I’m bitter, far from it, I’m just realistic. And I’m not miserable, just not in love with my work anymore.

  64. CDR*

    This was me for almost my entire life up until I started working at my current employer. I hate being stagnant and not learning anything new. I have never worked at a job longer than 5 years, with most being right around 3 and I am close to 50 years old.

    What has changed for me is that I work for a very large company now where I have a lot of autonomy in my role supporting a region of the US. I get pulled into special projects that align with my skills and have worked hard to keep developing in my role. The great thing about working for a large company is that you never know everything and change happens all of the time. I work as a Human Resources Manager and I joke that I am getting my PhD in our company’s policies and benefits. I write newsletters, am seen as the expert in a variety of areas and try to keep things fresh. There are ways for me to become engaged outside of my role if I wish. This is such a great company that I want to retire from here, so that is extra motivation to get through the boring periods.

    I also do a lot of self learning. I am taking courses at a university (related to my career) and have outside interests (not related to my career). I am constantly studying and writing–in both areas.

    But the biggest thing that I see in myself that is different from others is that I am VERY self-driven. The opportunities don’t come to me, I seek them out. I could just go along and do what is required by my job, but I want to be seen as an expert and credible. (Heck, I was talking to a fellow today about the difference between cash and accrual accounting, hoping to explain the amount reported on his 1099 vs what he invoiced–this is not my role, but I know these things.) So my advice to you is to seek out the opportunities. Hang in there and get past that point in time where you are ready to jump ship.

  65. Casuan*

    OP, it seems you’re in a rut & I think it will help if you can work on doing a quantum shift in your thinking. Please know that I’m not trying to minimise what you’ve said. All of this is easier said than done. It might not “cure” the boredom, however it will give you another angle from which to view your work life.

    The shift is this: Stop thinking you will get &or always be bored with all of your jobs. That’s self-defeating before you even begin. From your letter it seems you’re anticipating boredom from a job you don’t yet even know about.
    analogy: We’ve all heard “You’re going to have Professor Snape next term? He’s the worst!” Hence, we start out biased against that professor.

    Anticipation is your enemy here.

    Try to focus more on results rather than the process. Process matters, of course, although when one can know “I need to get this off of my Task List.”

    As for being more vulnerable— Try this!
    Although probably my definition of “vulnerable” [in the work context] is different than that of your life coach.

    Be vulnerable by learning things from your staff. The cool thing is that in the process of doing this you’ll also be helping them with their professional development because the best way to learn is to teach. Ask how they compiled certain data or why they did a certain thing a certain way. Ask how they think they might improve a tedious rote assignment. Ask what method they prefer on something & why. Ask why something is done a certain way & if the task needs to be updated. “We’ve always done it that way” is never a good reason to continue doing it that way.

    You can use the same tactic with paperwork, whenever feasible [ie: not confidential]. Identify employees who want to advance & let them shadow you whenever feasible. This can be quite handy for paperwork, too. Show what needs to be done & why & ask them to complete it, then review their work with them.
    note: If this is indeed feasible, be careful not to show favouritism.

    You might be surprised at what you can learn; there might be concepts you can use to be a more effective manager.

    Can staff [manager & staff] within your department cross-train? Or with other departments?

    I realise not all of these suggestions could work as it depends on the work culture. If you’re truly bored & can’t get out of the job, try to make it as fun as you can for yourself. No one will know that in your thoughts you’re slaying the dragon with every swipe of the pen or push of the key.

    May your future be more exciting!!

    1. fposte*

      I wondered if that was a therapist-speak way of describing a problem I have actually seen (though it doesn’t match the OP’s stated history). Some people are very quick starters who enjoy getting praise for that learning curve, but then they flatten out when it comes time to take a job deeper and stick their necks out.

  66. Twitchy novelty lover*

    I’m not trying to diagnose you, OP, but have you ever considered whether you might have ADHD? People with ADHD (I can attest from personal experience) really crave novelty and abhor tedium. We’ve very excited about a new challenge and likely to hare off after the next interesting thing. You might consider reading more about it. I also really like the ADHD Experts podcast. There’s one episode, #114, called “Are you sure doc?” that was life changing for me. Although it’s about the ways that people with ADHD are misdiagnosed, it really does a great job of describing ADHD symptoms in very useful detail.

    Regardless of whether you have ADHD (and I’m seriously not trying to diagnose you) you might find that tips for people with ADHD are helpful for you, or that reading about the novelty-craving aspect of ADHD makes you feel less alone in this issue. As someone diagnosed at nearly 50 I really appreciate listening to stories of others with my same issues, and would appreciate them regardless of whether we shared a diagnosis.

    At any rate, you have my sympathy.

    1. Marisol*

      Also my shrink recommends a book by John Ratey as a diagnostic tool. Can’t remember the title but it’s something obvious. There’s a big old checklist of symptoms, including some subtle ones.

  67. Czhorat*

    I love writing as well, and have the capacity to get bored easily. One thing I started doing years ago is blogging about my industry [commercial AV]. It’s gone from a personal blog read by tens of people to some minor notoriety within the industry once my blog was picked up by the editor of a trade site who found me interesting. It isn’t exactly creative writing, but is a way to bring my personal interest and professional life a tiny bit closer.

    Perhaps there’s some out of the box direction like that you can take,.

  68. Katy*

    I wonder if OP shouldn’t look at his work setting rather than his job. Maybe working in a smaller org, as opposed to a big university, would provide more opportunity to have a job that changes a lot day to day. I love working at smaller organizations where you can play different roles and be “entrepreneurial” about programs. Of course you may also have to do some things that are below your skill level but that’s the trade off.

  69. JS*

    Honestly, go into digital advertising as a sales executive, particularly in the entertainment/gaming/TV field. Its an area that is constantly changing and evolving, so you need to stay on top of whats going on to be successful, you are in sales so you can’t ever slump or break to meet goals, also the perks and expense accounts they have are phenomenal. I work on the account management side and my seller to me and the clients jet skiing and then to a $2000 dinner and I got paid to go as part of work. Another time we rented out cabanas and got VIP tickets at Lollapalooza. It’s really the good life LOL. Sure there are temperamental clients and sales contracts etc, but most of your job is building relationships and seeking out new business. You are always on the hunt so if you will never be bored in that respect. (It can be very stressful! My sellers had 10-15 million dollar quotas to hit yearly).

  70. Marisol*

    OP, you haven’t actually articulated a problem. You have described a behavior–job-hopping–that is often characterized as a problem. But if you’re paying your bills, contributing to your retirement, and meeting your life obligations generally like a responsible adult, and if changing careers is what makes you happy, then I say go for it.

    You may pay the price of not advancing in a given field–that is the only downside I can think of to frequent career changes. But it sounds like it might be worth it for you to get the novelty you crave.

    If I were your life coach, before I gave any advice for how to fix the behavior, I would first establish why it was a problem in the first place. Based on what you write, I don’t get the sense that it is.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I do think it has the potential to become a problem over time if it continues. There’s going to be a point where someone has so many career changes that good employers aren’t as likely to take them seriously as a candidate.

      1. Marisol*

        So opportunities would dry up over time if she continued to switch jobs/careers. That makes sense.

      2. Marisol*

        Ok, so working under the assumption that the behavior is a problem, I wonder if the OP is doing her due diligence before making a career switch. Perhaps before she makes another move, she should spend more time researching the nitty-gritty realities of the job. There’s a life coach I follow, Michael Neill, who likens choosing a career path to dating. You want to flirt with a job first–don’t marry it before you know what you are getting into.

        Other considerations 1) would it help if the OP increased her tolerance for boredom? 2) would it help to develop greater self-awareness regarding the kinds of tasks she likes? Sometimes people are confused about what they actually enjoy.

  71. RB*

    I love these conversations. I’m not fulfilled but I have the intellectual awareness that my work is valuable to the agency and helps my department run smoothly. If it paid poorly or didn’t offer benefits, that would be another matter, but I’m good in that regard and the boss is decent. I’m grateful for those things.

  72. GraceT*

    I had this exact same problem until I got into healthcare. I work in physical therapy and I never have a boring day. My patients keep me on my toes (most of them have comorbidities you have to keep in mind) and I get to be extremely creative in my treatments. A geriatric patient today told me she was really bored at the nursing home. She mentioned she liked dancing, so I incorporated ballroom dancing into our treatment to work on her dynamic balance. I’ve never done that before!
    I work 4 PRN jobs in 3 different settings (hospital, nursing homes, outpatient), which gives me full time hours, but I get full control of my schedule. I do have to buy my own insurance, but PRN employees make significantly more an hour than full time employees, so it’s a great trade-off!
    There’s a lot of writing involved, documenting your treatments, but documentation is a skill in itself so being good at writing already helps!

    1. GraceT*

      Also, health care is a field that is ever evolving and there really is something new to learn every day. It requires you to get continuing education to keep your license, but to become really good at your profession you really need to do more education anyway.

  73. MissDisplaced*

    Just curious, but if you love creative writing, why didn’t you try a career in a more creative field such as advertising, marketing, communications or PR?
    It’s not all roses of course, but it does require writing and lots of new and creative challenges.

    1. The Pretty One*

      OP here. Because, ironically, I become too territorial and too much of a perfectionist around creative work. That’s why I do it “for fun.”

  74. The Pretty One*

    OP here. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This is the first time anyone has said this to me. Work can be a means to an end, long-term. Everyone else has just said a variation of: find your dream job no matter what! I really going to process this, as well as all the generous comments here- the vision of Indiana Jones with paperwork is priceless!!

  75. Deathstar*

    I actually wonder if the crux is in what OP describes as her first job: she was a social worker and really good at it, and in this case, there would be much more variation and situations to respond to daily, which, while it may lead to burnout, would have been more interesting. And then something about this next job being a bit more intellectually engaging also indicates that she wants to give more of herself/himself in an engaging and meaningful way.

    OP enjoyed social work, but i imagine, that it was the “passion” factor that led her to go all in, but that leads to burnout. His/her current positions, while stable, does not provide much to engage her in a way meaningful to her (although, I will tell you that there ARE people for whom paperwork and bureacracy is the meaning of their life, their “42”, but this may not be yours)

    I am fortunate to have a job i find meaningful, but yes, the passion can lead me to burn out, the equivalent of the first commentor’s “pipetting” and the paperwork drives me to distraction.

    So i think the key is to find that balance between “passion” and “routine”. One can say, I take a boring job for the money, and keep my attention and life for projects that engage me (volunteering; writing, creative work, after hours; this is me in boring periods at work). even if OP went back to a role that she/he would find personally meaningful: One cannot sustain living at the fullest of intensities without having the pauses between the musical notes.

    Just a few cents, hope it helps!

  76. Laura*

    I haven’t read every comment, but I noticed about myself that every 6 months to a year or even maybe 2, I lose all my enthusiasm and hate everything about my life and wish I had never been born. At a certain point that turns around, usually I find something new to think about, I get tons of energy start talking to people again and doing things and have tons of accomplishments.

    I often found I would quit everything I was doing during the slump and get started on all new things when I got out of it. But it’s been a few decades and I realize it isn’t my job or my relationship, it’s just me. And if I can hold on through the slump, I can feel better about the job or the relationship again. That has been helpful to realize.

  77. The Pretty One*

    OP again. And. . .reading further, it means a lot to know I am not alone. I wish I could send you all chocolates/ wine/ pick-your-poison. It has felt like I am the only one with this problem and it’s great to hear from folks who are like me in spirit.

  78. Jade*

    One thing that might help is asking yourself what is the one thing/top few things that would make you most content at a job (not even asking for happiness here)? This could relate to setting, culture, field, etc., in addition to the specific nature of the work. For example, I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed jobs where I had independence to come up with my own tasks to keep me busy. I’ve also been most content at jobs where I am able to work alone a good chunk of the time. Nothing else matters so much so long as those two things are fulfilled. Can you think of something like this that you can focus on in your job or next job?

    Someone on another site made a comment on a jobs thread that has stuck with me to this day. The OP was a lost young person asking for help finding their path in life. The commenter said, basically, “Your job does not equal your life’s purpose. You pick a job, decide what you do and do not like about it, and then try to make sure your next job has more of the former and less of the latter. Eventually you end up at a job that has a ratio you can live with.” That comment changed the whole way I think about job searching.

  79. Hollis*

    I agree that “do what you love” is generally unrealistic, overly simplistic, and potentially dangerous and exploitative. However, since OP knows what they like (learning lots of new stuff), and since, obviously, different jobs do vary with regard to learning new stuff, I would recommend possibly looking into:

    1) Corporate training (though it also exists in the public and nonprofit sectors). I’ve worked with the trainers at my organization, and they had to learn a ton of new stuff in a relatively small amount of time. Then, even after they went through the first round of learning, things kept changing, new decisions were made, the product they were training people to use went through upgrades and modifications, etc., so they kept having to learn new things on an ongoing basis. Granted, there is a lot of repetition — they had to give the same presentation many times over — but they said that the audience had so many different and unexpected questions that they were kept on their toes and still confronted with challenges even during the thirtieth time they gave the same presentation.


    2) Computer programming. Again, this certainly has its repetitive and tedious elements as well, but I also keep hearing that programmers have to constantly learn new things because the industry is fast-moving, different programming languages go in and out of style, etc.

  80. Poppy Bossyboots*

    Hi OP! Long-time reader, first-time commenter coming out of the woodwork for a fellow creative writer.

    One thing I noticed–you’re a creative, but the jobs you’re working aren’t in creative fields. Granted there’s always paperwork and boredom in everything, but if it’s possible to switch to a more generally creative career, where you get a chance to *make* something, that might boost your job satisfaction.

    If you want that field to specifically be creative writing…

    1) Are you trying to be traditionally published? (Apologies if you already are!) You’re right that it’s not a great way to make a living, but the whole querying process may be involving (and difficult, and heartbreaking) enough to preoccupy you and keep you from “stalling out” at work.

    2) Have you considered self-publishing? E-books are a booming market. It’s not automatic “make a living” money, especially not at first, and to do it right you need to cover a lot of bases: genre research, market research, good cover art, sales, etc. Again, this is a lengthy and difficult process, but one which you may find hugely satisfying (and possibly lucrative!).

    3) It’s hard to make money writing traditionally-published novels, but these days it’s not at all hard to make money writing in general. I write animated explainer video scripts, game narratives, video game cut scenes, comic scripts, outlines for other novelists, and Tarot readings, in addition to my own novels. It adds up to quite a decent “salary.” I have a friend who quit her job, moved to a country with a lower cost of living, and supports herself by ghostwriting for indie e-book publishing companies. It’s not easy, and it can take several years to get your freelance writing career off the ground, but it’s very doable.

    Anyway, hope this is helpful!

  81. Linda*

    I get bored really quickly as well. I recently had a confirmed ADHD dx…and it all fit into place!

  82. boop the first*

    I wonder if this is a creative person thing? I hated every job I’ve had, though it hasn’t been many (I stay too long) and they are definitely bottom rung jobs that society considers worthless. But even when they’re “okay” I’m still miserable, because I’m always dreaming of that alternate timeline in which I am another sort of person who can actually make his way as a visual artist. Compared to the dream, every unrelated job just feels oppressive because they cost so much time and life, and you can’t participate in creative ventures/events when you have an employer dictating your schedule for you.

  83. JeanLouiseFinch*

    (1) Go to law school; (2) Get a job doing appeals, preferably in a multi-jurisdictional practice. When you do appeals, it means that you are not working on the same case for years and years and usually, the underlying issues and/or facts vary widely. It also means that you will need to constantly research to find out how each legal question must be argued and what the different states’ approach to these issues are. Also, on the more nitpicky side, you need to figure out what the appellate procedural rules are for different states. Trust me, you will never feel like you are simply doing the same task over and over. If you still get bored, volunteer to do death penalty appeals.

  84. BeckyLynn*

    LW, this is exactly me. The advice above is great, but I wouldn’t discount the idea that you can find something more fulfilling. For me, it was a move from admin/desk work to teaching with some admin (I run a program at a small private high school). What works so well about my current job is that it’s an all-hands-on-deck environment and the kids are always growing and changing – I’m moving around more, my schedule is varied, and the challenges are new every day.

    I was concerned as an introvert that this job would deplete my energy for side projects (like you, I write), but despite working longer hours now than I ever have before, I’ve actually had much more creative energy – I just finished my first novel! Best of luck, LW – I hope you can find something that really engages the best parts of you.

  85. Bookworm*


    I don’t think I’ve ever written on this site before but I just wanted to thank you. This is also something I’ve been struggling with and have been coming to accept that I just need to find a job that pays the bills and lets me do other things like take classes or other outside activities. I see myself in a lot of the responses: I really enjoy learning but hit a plateau at some point in my jobs because while I like routine the repetition gets old.

    This letter and responses have given me much to think about. Thanks and I wish you well.

  86. Nikki*

    If you love to write, I would focus on your writing. Pour your energy into your writing and let that be the thing that fulfills you. Your paying job does not have to be what fulfills you, and you are lucky to have something that you are passionate about, even if that is not how you make a living. I am also a writer with a kind of boring day job, but as long as your day job doesn’t make you miserable, it can actually be good to have a less demanding job so that you have the energy to focus on your writing, as Alison mentioned. One of the main reasons I chose the field that I am in is not that it fulfills me, but that it is non-draining to me, it leaves me plenty of time and energy to focus on my writing. My long-term goal is to be a published author, and I see my day job as a way to support myself in the meantime. It’s okay to be fulfilled by something other than your paying job. Focus on your writing if that is what makes you happy.

  87. Candi*

    On self publishing, Smashwords (doesn’t handle under $2000 Amazon sales, though) and D2D (does do all level Amazon sales) are both available resources in exchange for a fee/percentage.

    When you do the math, a reduced percentage off each sold book is more profitable in the long run then the publisher advance/royalty system, considered how bizarre and Byzantine their accounting systems concerning royalties can be. And it’ll be worse if you miss any copyright licensing monopolies (aka rights grabs) in the contract -including in the boilerplate.

    You do you when it comes to your work, whatever it takes.

    And in the age of the net, you don’t need an agent.

  88. R*

    I have to disagree with ask a manger. I think your life coach is onto something there. Being vulnerable at work, over time, can be instrumental in building a long lasting foundation. Just think about it. Then again it could be an excuse to push along and stay at a mundane job. I know personally I would rather do that with people that I like and can build some type of relationship with.

  89. Gree*

    “This looks promising because I can use my brain a bit more and learn a new system.”

    I could have written this sentence. In fact I said it many times in my life.
    Also I usually am only interested in my jobs in the first 6 months and then it gets boring pretty fast.

    I am over 30 and have just been diagnosed with adult adhd.

Comments are closed.