are all jobs bad?

A reader writes:

Are all jobs… bad? Because right now I’m looking around and feeling very hopeless about the idea of having a job that checks all the boxes: 1) pays well (or just a living wage), 2) isn’t totally toxic and/or managed by total clowns, 3) allows you to have decent work-life balance, and 4) isn’t totally racist and/or isn’t actively making the world an actively worse place. 

Our prospects just feel… bleak. A few examples of what I’m seeing/hearing from friends:  

Tech: pays well, but is morally bankrupt
Startups: often managed by people who purport to have high-minded visions or progressive values, but then it inevitably comes out that they are abusing their employees and are run by a low-key cult leader
Media: under the influence of self-important clowns, is basically crumbling (these things are related, I think)
Law: pays well, but the hours seem truly miserable
Nonprofits: often chaotic and not necessarily good to employees, despite the fact that they are supposed to be good??? 

And the thing is, even if you find a good role, or manager, or company, it kind of feels like you’ve got, at best, 2–3 years before a re-org or shareholder meeting upends the whole thing and you’re either taking a pay cut, getting laid off, or being managed by someone who probably should not be a manager. And even if another job might be marginally better in one way, it’s hard to want to make the leap to something new after you’ve been burned so many times. In those cases, it often feels like the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. 

As you can probably tell, my peers and I are feeling very pessimistic about the state of things, especially after the events of 2020 exposed just how messed up and fragile our systems in the U.S. are, and how many businesses are willing to throw their employees under the bus for the sake of profits. So: Are there any good jobs? Or are we simply doomed? 

Well, first: You’re not wrong to feel this way. The system we’re in—where in order to feed and house yourself and access health care, you have to do work you might hate or that feels like a moral compromise—can be soul-crushing. You have a lot of company in feeling that way.

That said, there are good jobs. There are rarely perfect jobs, but there are good jobs.

Part of the problem, though, is that in order to get to those good jobs, you often have to climb up a ladder of bad jobs (to get the experience that makes you attractive to the better jobs).

And it can be hard to identify good jobs from the outside! A job that looks like interesting work with a supportive boss can end up being something else entirely once you’re working there. The opposite is also true: A job that looks like nothing special when you’re applying can turn out to be a place you happily stay for years.

And of course, how one person defines a good job can be different from how someone else defines it. For example, I spent years in nonprofits and, despite encountering a ton of dysfunction, I loved most of the jobs because I felt like my work was making the world a better place—and at the time, that was enough for me. (I’m not sure it still would be enough for me now; our definitions of “good” change as we change.)

But you’re right that there aren’t loads of good jobs just out there waiting for people. Lots of jobs have some or all of the problems you described, and it can take some luck to avoid those. Doing rigorous due diligence before accepting a job can help—especially talking to people who have worked there and can give you the inside scoop—but it’s not foolproof; you still might end up unhappy with the job, possibly because the people you talked to cared more or less about some things than you do, or a new manager comes in right after you start, or so forth.

Often the best thing to do is to figure out what you, personally, can live with. Maybe you can tolerate a bit of management dysfunction if the work is interesting and your co-workers are decent people, as long as the organization isn’t actively doing harm in the world. Maybe you’ve learned that management dysfunction gets under your skin in a way you can’t ignore, but you’re OK with somewhat boring work in exchange for competent leadership and stability. Maybe you don’t care about any of that and just want a decent commute, reasonable pay, and no calls on your off hours. All those combinations exist; you just need to be frank with yourself about what trade-offs you’re willing to live with.

But also, so much of this is wrapped up in ideas about what role work should play in our lives. Many of us were taught to identify ourselves with our careers, hit specific professional goals on specific timelines, seek specific kinds of rewards from our employers, and find emotional fulfillment from all of that—as well as to feel we’ve failed if it doesn’t play out that way.

Sometimes the answer is to drop those expectations entirely and let work just be work—just the place you go to get a paycheck. That’s what work is for much of the world. It feels contradictory to say that you can find happiness at work by dropping any expectation of happiness there, but sometimes separating yourself emotionally from your job can increase your quality of life pretty dramatically.

That said… this is all about making do in a system that frankly sucks. It sucks that so many people need to put up with abuse or moral compromises or plain old crappy working conditions in order to support themselves. It sucks that who gets to run organizations and decide how they’ll operate is tied up in deep-rooted issues of power and privilege. It sucks that we live in a culture that equates working long hours with virtue, and where jobs that are harmful to other people often pay higher wages. You’re not wrong to see it for what it is. In fact, there can be liberation in seeing it for what it is, if that helps you be more clear-eyed about what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

Originally published at Vice.

{ 513 comments… read them below }

  1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    To one degree or another, yes. That’s why we get paid to do them…

    But not all jobs are wretched. Some are definitely less bad than others.

    1. Ashley*

      I agree. I admit my coworkers aren’t as progressive as I would like but they pay well and treat me well. It is trying to find a happy medium. Sometimes a crap company is worth it for a few years for the money. Sometimes a lower paying job is with it for the work life balance.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        All jobs are awful IF you’re the kind of person who makes sweeping, judgmental comments about life. But if you look at individual jobs and people, they’re not so bad.

        Starting your own business is a good way for you to see what kind of employer and job creator YOU will be. How generous are YOU? How progressive are YOUR policies? Suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.
        What do you do if a staffer steals office supplies — YOUR supplies? Or calls in sick but then you see them out having fun? Read some letters at this site to see what employees can do that you won’t like.

    2. Veronica*

      I’ve never had a job that was terrible or really toxic. Some were not as interesting as others. Most of my friends have had good jobs with decent pay and good working conditions (nicer restaurants, teaching, engineering, manufacturing). The ones that haven’t were focused in a few industries including churches (clergy), start-up tech companies, and restaurants/entertainment.
      The manager and coworkers really matter. One of the questions I asked when interviewing was how long people had been with the company. Lots of turnover is generally a bad sign.

      1. purplehawke*

        “including churches (clergy)”
        Oof. About to start my first call, and holy cats, there are a lot of crappy church environments out there–particularly in the wake of COVID, where at least in my denomination, clergy have often been in the position of advocating for safety precautions that congregations don’t want to take.
        Same issue as nonprofits generally: believing in the cause is not enough to make a working environment bearable. Gotta keep reminding myself that there’s nothing inherently beautiful about burning out for God.

      2. Joan Rivers*

        What I’ve had, often, are OPPORTUNITIES. Some “jobs” have been that chance to grow, get promoted, learn.

    3. OhNo*

      Agreed. And the fact that you are usually making some kind of tradeoff when starting a job is why trying to get everything you want or need in life out of just your job is a huge pothole for many people.

      I think it can help to figure out which of the things you want you can get outside of work, so you know in advance which tradeoff you’re willing to make. For example, I can compromise on “horrible boss” because I know I can get support and a sympathetic ear outside of work, so dealing with a bad boss isn’t going to bother me as much. But I can’t compromise on “pays a living wage”, because I don’t have a side hustle or anything to fill that gap outside of work.

    4. TWW*

      I suspect if you’re someone with OP’s mindset, then all jobs actually are wretched. There will always be something negative to focus on.

      For that matter, life in general is wretched. Even when I’m not working, I’m constantly having to compromise my morals, do thinks I’d rather not, and deal with people I don’t like.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        +1. You have to have reasonable expectations of what work *is,* by its definition.

        Even if you generally like your work and your colleagues and they pay you well enough, the fact is that you’re not spending your time the way you would prefer if you didn’t have to work.

        Then, it’s far from a given that your work will be consistently wonderful (and never include ANY irritating parts), every colleague you’ll ever have is exactly who you would have picked, and the money will always be ideal.

        There will be work you don’t want to do, work you disagree with, people you disagree with, annoying administrative and organizational tasks, unskilled managers, poor organizational structures, coworkers you just don’t like, racism, sexism, classism, harassment, mean people, cliques, people dealing with mental illness and substance abuse, lazy people, bosses/colleagues who think no one should ever take a day off, uncomfortable offices, bad commutes, unreasonable goals and workloads, and much more. Any ONE of these can make someone leave a job … and that’s all before you even get to the money. You don’t even have to go into an office, or have a 9-5-type job, or work for others, to have to deal with some cross-section of the rough parts.

        That’s work. You’re doing very well to generally like your work and your colleagues in a place where they pay you well enough.

      2. Stitching Away*

        Wanting a job where you are not being abused, treated in a way that breaks the law, and will be able to look yourself in the mirror the next day is not focusing on the negative.

        People who think wanting this is indicative of a problem with the OP’s mindset are demonstrating how warped our culture has become about working. Yes, jobs are likely never going to be fun. But they should pay a living wage, not give you a mental health disorder, and not break the law.

        1. Infrequent_Commenter*

          No, what’s indicative of a warped mindset is the incredibly broad brush strokes. For example, the implication that all tech companies are immoral.

          To me the OP reads similar to the early 20s crisis I and most of my friends had when making the transition from college to work. Is This What Life Is? Yup. Yup, it’s not all fun. Yup, work kinda sucks. But unless one has an extremely rigid and narrow mind, it is very normal to find work that doesn’t suck much or is even somewhat enjoyable.

          1. Wintermute*

            Exactly, I have worked in tech for… 12 years now and I’ve never been asked to do anything unethical or illegal. My workplaces have had their own varying degrees of dysfunction internally but ethics wasn’t one of them.

    5. Elizabeth I*

      One thing that has helped me is to consider that jobs exist because companies, which are made up of humans, need help with a HUMAN problem.

      I used to think working in a cubicle to make a big meaningless corporation more money would “kill my soul”. But you know what? Corporations are made up of people, and those people hire me because they think they need help solving a problem (e.g. an underperforming team that needs to be turned around), and when I get in there and actually start tackling the problem, it’s often a HUMAN problem not a money problem. How do you help a team of people succeed? That’s inherently a human scale problem.

      Also – I work in IT and there are loads of decent, normal IT companies out there providing real, valuable services to other humans – so please don’t disparage an entire industry just because there are a few bad apples!

      I’ve helped a team build a website that provide customers with easier-to-understand information about their health insurance policies, with special accessibility features for those with disabilities (sure our health care system is broken, but that doesn’t mean we should leave people to drown in confusion about their health insurance while we work on fixing it!).

      I’ve helped a polymer manufacturing company that pivoted to making PPE gear when the pandemic hit to create a new consumer-facing site so they could get their much-needed products into the hands of consumers (did this created more waste because of some non-recyclable materials? Yes, it probably wasn’t great for the environment. But it also was temporary – and it helped save lives. We should solve the long term problem, but meanwhile we do need to survive).

      I’ve helped a company update their financial software so that it complies with new regulatory requirements – so that customers could find accurate financial information in the software (is our global financial system broken? Yes, and we should definitely fix it! But meanwhile, consumers still need to be able to manage their finances accurately and in compliance with legal regulations).

      None of this is evil or bad – IT provides real services to real people. Yes, we have major systemic problems. But within the systems are real people, who need help with everyday tasks that are part of their lives.

      I suspect it might help to change your scale from “the world is on fire!” to “these specific people in front of me need my help”. I mean, I definitely agree that the world is on fire, but I can’t do anything to solve that massive of a problem. But if I zoom in to the problems right in front of me, that’s something I can make a real impact on. And as I solve those human problems in front of me, I can treat my fellow humans with deep respect and kindness – in a way that radiates out and impacts them as individuals and the culture of the company I work for. Never underestimate the power of many people doing small things that add up to cultural change.

    6. Liz*

      My dad used to say “There are two kinds of jobs: those where you do work people can’t do for themselves, and jobs people pay you to do because they don’t want to do the work themselves”. He always encouraged us to learn skills and get jobs doing things others can’t do for themselves. The pay is better because if money gets tight people will just do the jobs they didn’t want to do but the same doesn’t happen with the can’t do jobs. You have to make yourself valuable if you want good jobs. You also have to meet a need in order to get paid. I work in social work and tell my students that they will have to “Pick the bad that you can live with every day”. All social work jobs have hard parts and sadness otherwise you wouldn’t need a social worker to help. The poster and their friends are looking for work that will meet their personal needs instead of looking for why people would pay you.

      1. BeenThere*

        I’m keeping that two kinds of job with me when I move onto my next role. You’ve nailed exactly the issue with my current job, there’s a huge difference between writing software for people who can’t code and writing software for other developers. The closest I’ve come to conveying it is explaining that a writing software for other software engineers is like having another doctor as a patient.

        If you get bait and switched between the two kinds of jobs it leads to lots of unhappiness.

  2. PT*

    I’m looking for a job where I’m allowed to drink water and use the restroom as needed. It’s pretty bleak.

      1. Tbubui*

        Welcome to retail. Or food service. Can’t have a water bottle at the register because it “looks bad”. And you have to ask permission to use the restroom because you need coverage. Can’t have a till down for 5 minutes, after all.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            Yep. I can hold my bladder for six hours. My current coworkers find that an amazing superpower.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Yup. Family member got kidney stones one year, and I’m convinced this nonsense played a role.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                In France it’s called the “midwives’ disease” because they just never get time to pee

        1. lemon*

          I had an office job that was run by a manager who acted like a petty tyrant who would lock the bathrooms as punishment for bad behavior (like leaving dishes in the sink). And if you took too many water breaks, she’d start calling you and asking you what you were working on. I had to imagine that I was working for Paris Gellar when she ran the Yale Daily News just to make it through the day without crying.

        2. Fricketyfrack*

          Don’t forget call centers, where everything you do is timed to the second, including the bathroom breaks! And if someone doesn’t like the number of seconds it takes you to pee, you might just get written up.

          1. em arzhur*

            actual mood :’) dont forget bathroom breaks are normally taken out of your break allotment, meaning if you have a medical condition that requires unpredictable bathroom pitstops, you uh… don’t get proper breaks

            (as an aside, if anyone knows of a good hex or blood rite that’ll get me out of callcentres and into another job, let me know! )

        3. Phil*

          I did retail when I was in college. The chain I worked for had a bad habit of rostering the bare minimum of staff (which actually worked in my favour, less employees meant more shifts). Often they couldn’t roster a lunch cover shift so allowed us to close the store for half an hour. And also close to take care of basic biological needs as they arose. The expectation was, if course, to wait for the store to be empty and not rush customers out, but I’m amazed not all retail will grant at least this.

          From memory we were also forbidden from having water bottles at the register, but they didn’t mind us keeping them in the cupboard under the checkout.

          1. TardyTardis*

            I remember the rush during the worst of tax season–ten hour days with pizza gobbled in the restroom. Yes, we were supposed to take breaks, and our boss really tried to make sure of it, but days like that really did happen anyway.

        4. Quiet Liberal*

          Yep. Former bank teller, here. Staffing was so thin that we couldn’t leave the window to go pee until the next shift got there. And, drinks at the teller window didn’t look professional.

          1. a reader*

            I used to be a bank teller as well. Still remember the day Corporate sent trucks out to all their branch locations to collect all the tellers’ chairs because they decided sitting looked unprofessional.

            1. BeenThere*

              I was a bank teller to save monkey to go to university. When they took the chairs myself and my co-teller gave ourselves alternate rest breaks where we’d sit out the back for 5-10 minutes. We called them our smoke breaks and no one objected fortunately, we were a small branch with a sane manager.

          2. My boss rocks*

            Really late to the party, but when I was the teller’s supervisor at my branch they had clear instructions to never hold their bladder or skip lunch, just make sure there are always three tellers working (I had a 4 people team)

        5. Cle*

          I feel like someone’s gotta say something for all the nurses, nurses aides, EMTs, patient transporters, etc. out there… because they’re not going to say anything because they don’t get time to pee, much less read blogs.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      That was my bar for my first job out of retail — I just wanted to go to the bathroom as needed.

    2. Can Man*

      I did have one job where that was kinda the case, but it was actually legit (cleanroom environment, so it took awhile to get out of the lab to where you could have water or use the restroom). Even so, you could go whenever you found convenient, and had both water and facilities literally right outside the clean area.

  3. Keymaster of Gozer*

    It helps to just, as Alison says, consider a job to be just a job and not an entire lifestyle/plan for life – whatever gets you a paycheque.

    There’s also similarities to dating – after a few complete rear ends you may feel like there’s very few (or none) decent people out there and get disillusioned from the whole thing.

    The trick is to manage your expectations – decide what’s an absolute deal breaker and what you’d disapprove of but could deal with enduring. Like when I switched careers into IT I knew I’d have to start at the bottom – and endure stuff that these days, having worked up the ranks, I’d tell them to eff off for.

    1. nozenfordaddy*

      My supervisor is always asking me if I’m happy and I’m like.. I’m not miserable the majority of the time. Let’s call that a win. I don’t think he understands the part where its just my job, not my life.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, there are some people for whom their job is their life. If I’m honest, I feel rather sorry for them, because they’re the ones who commit suicide when they’re out of a job because their life suddenly feels completely meaningless. I’m glad I don’t work with anyone like that.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Quote from a job interview I was in once, the manager: “I’m not UNhappy, I guess….”

    2. q*

      but with dating, it’s normal to take a break and not see anyone or only pursue casual options after bad relationships (or potentially some rough dates) – most people don’t have the option to voluntarily take months off of work or to meet their needs through one off gigs here and there

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I was aiming more toward the mental adjustment to cope with the disappointment inherent in life, I didn’t mean to advocate not getting a job at all.

  4. Sasha Blause*

    I mean, yeah, kinda. That’s why they call it work. If you were supposed to enjoy it, they’d call it play and stop giving you money.

    1. Della*

      Yes. I found it helpful to stop thinking of my job as the main source of satisfaction and accomplishment in my life and instead reframe “having a job” as a practical way for me to earn money so I can gain a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in my personal life. Once I started taking this pragmatic approach and reminding myself that I’m being paid to deal with the annoyances of work, it became easier for me to put up with those annoyances during work and not let them stress me out when I’m not working.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Well, yes and no. Ideally, the dynamics should go something like, a business delivers products or services that help make this world a better place, making money along the way; we the employees put in work (not all of it enjoyable and all of it likely in the “I’d rather be doing something else” category) to help deliver those products/services and improve the business’s bottom line; the business pays us for our time and labor. In reality I’ve been shocked to find out, over the course of my career, how many businesses (large ones are especially guilty of that) would happily choose a direction to run themselves into the ground, or would not produce anything useful, or would pay their employees good money to do meaningless busywork or nothing at all. And these are the ones that are not actively evil. These are the good ones!

    3. Aquawoman*

      I have always struggled to understand this viewpoint. What about the word work means inherently unenjoyable? Work has a goal and requires (physical or mental) effort–neither of those are unenjoyable to me. I like goals and I like using my brain, I find that rewarding. Sometimes it’s not that fun, sometimes it’s a lot of fun, but I certainly overall enjoy it.

      1. Spotted Kitty*

        For me, it’s the idea that “work” is something I *have* to do in order to survive. Whether that’s an office job to get a paycheck, or tending to a garden or livestock to get food, or cleaning my house so that I don’t get bugs, etc. etc, it’s something I must do. I typically don’t enjoy doing things that I *have* to do because there’s no choice involved. If I had my choice I’d be independently wealthy and sleep 14 hours a day.

        1. Julia*

          I think it’s a question of framing. You can frame it as an obligation or as a choice. You always do have some choice, unless you’re a slave.

          I could quit my job and work for myself, for example, hang out my own shingle, or move to the country and start a farm, or live on assistance and bunk on my friends’ couches, or be homeless and beg, or just pick a completely different industry like construction or commercial fishing where I’m outside all day. There are a variety of reasons all of those options are unappealing to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m forced to do what I do now. I chose my profession because I thought it would suit me and made sense for my circumstances in life.

          I wouldn’t want to sleep all day because I’d feel depressed without a job. I just need something structured to occupy my time. Of course not everyone is like that; some people really would prefer not to do anything, and they do stuff because they like buying stuff. But we all do have some choice.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            Much as I hate my job, it’s the best option compared to everything you mentioned above. So it’s a choice.

        2. MassMatt*

          This is a pretty common attitude but it really isn’t helpful, as in, it won’t increase your happiness. Even wealthy people that fit this definition are not (despite being the envy of many) happy because their lives lack meaning.

          Your sense of self-worth and purpose doesn’t HAVE to come from your job, especially not exclusively, but it helps. LW sounds young, it’s sad to see such cynicism in young people but I think jobs at entry level may exacerbate the feeling that there are no good jobs and all employers suck.

          But this is foolish, and not helpful, this kind of thinking leads to despair. You need to figure out what you are good at, what you want to do, and how best to make a living at it. Yes, it will still be a job, as in even the best job has aspects that are dull, but it can be a source of real satisfaction. If you only consider the negatives, nothing will satisfy.

          And if you are really convinced employers are all incompetent clowns and/or amoral jackals, why not start your own business and show everyone how it should be done?

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Because unless you are wealthy/come from a wealthy family, this isn’t easy to do. Bill Gates came from a wealthy, upper class family. Jeff Bezos relied on his family and friends to start Amazon. Most business will fail, many never start because it’s not cheap to do.

            1. MassMatt*

              …so all business are run by incompetents and/or amoral jerks, and it’s impossible to start a business unless you come from a wealthy family? Well, enjoy the life of despair and hopelessness your outlook set up for yourself.

              This is absurd, not all businesses are run by amoral idiots, and thousands of average or even poor people start their own businesses every day. In my own job history I’ve run into a few idiots and jerks, but they certainly were not in the majority. And a walk down any commercial street will reveal a host of restaurants, insurance and real estate agencies, shops, and so on, all started by some ordinary Joe or Jane. They most certainly were not started by people who were already rich. No one said starting a business was easy (I’ve done it, it isn’t) but it’s foolish to think anything really important will be easy.

              Your job/career/business is what you make it, you can either make the best of it or complain that there are no good jobs anywhere and no alternative but to suffer horribly. IMO that’s no way to live.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                I didn’t say all. Many ordinary Joes and Janes starting a business will lose out. My small town proves it every day. Opening a restaurant is hard and you better have the $ to do so. Where do you think this money comes from? Having a wealthy background to draw from helps a ton! How many cashiers from WalMart do you see starting a business with no other income save their job? How many McDonald employees? Can they? Sure! Is the deck stacked against them? Absolutely.

                1. Mannequin*

                  I was poor and working part time retail $7/hour when I started a small business. With my own money & resources, not loans or family help. Not all businesses have a huge overhead or require lots of money to start.

                2. A Feast of Fools*

                  I co-own a home services business that does things like pressure washing, gutter cleaning, and window cleaning. We started from literally nothing (my home computer and his ability to climb a ladder to wash windows using ~$50 in supplies) and have grown the business to where we (the two owners) now not only nicely support ourselves but also five employees.

                  We both worked at a big-box home improvement store when we started the business (so, comparable to your Walmart cashiers, because I *was* a cashier). We never once used debt beyond maybe $1000-$2000 on a credit card in the early days. And we both come from painfully poor families.

                  P.S. Customers can be worse than the most toxic boss you can imagine. So, owning your own business isn’t always the Perfect Bliss people imagine it to be.

              2. comityoferrors*

                You’re pulling the amoral classification out of your behind and riding it hard, considering no one else said that.

                Also, to be real with you: when I walk down the commercial streets in my town, I don’t see a host of shops started by an ordinary Joe or Jane. I see a bunch of shops that are part of ENORMOUS corporate conglomerates. There are a few shops that are independent, but increasingly, the small “mom and pop” shops are being bought out or outcompeted by large companies. You need money to start a business in my area – a LOT of money, usually – and that is inaccessible for a large and ever-growing part of the population.

                I am glad you can have such a positive relationship to your work because that clearly improves your quality of life. At the same time, I don’t think feeling some amount of outrage about how workers in general are treated in our country is so bad. The answer to “work is shitty for lots of people” shouldn’t be “well why don’t you start your own business then,” as if everyone who doesn’t own a business is open game for exploitation. Lots and lots of people are in jobs that don’t pay what the role is worth, don’t offer much in terms of benefits (if they offer any at all), give minimal time off, reduce the job to its most tedious parts to avoid training or developing employees, and generally remove any incentive a person has to care about their job. Sure, not everywhere does that, and congrats to anyone who isn’t in that type of role. But most of the people I know are there. If they became Pollyanna-ish about being screwed over by a business, I would seriously worry for their well-being — it doesn’t make logical sense to be happy about those circumstances.

                1. allathian*

                  Certainly true, but lots of service businesses don’t need a presence in the high street, so the overhead is a lot smaller. Think window cleaners, plumbers, etc.

                  Of course, to be a plumber you need the skills and aptitude to do the work, but electricians and plumbers make good money without an exorbitantly expensive college education.

            2. TardyTardis*

              And people don’t dare leave their health plans. Yes, they are portable in theory, but when you don’t actually have a job, individual plans means you don’t have enough to eat for a lot of people.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          But… I do enjoy gardening and cooking. And even cleaning and reorganizing the house.

          I used to *love* my work, but one tends to lose the passion after doing the same thing for (mumble) years. I certainly don’t hate it. Some days, I really enjoy it. And I’d be wide awake after 7 hours at the most.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I don’t always love work of any kind, but I do get a lot of satisfaction out of it. And lying around doing nothing actually gets pretty boring, it turns out. Even during peak Covid last year, I was working from home but didn’t have much to do and it got old pretty quickly… I found myself cleaning and organizing just to give myself something to do. Sleeping 14 hrs a day seems like a sign something is wrong.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, this. I think that it’s a sign of maturity to realize that enjoyment and satisfaction aren’t necessarily the same thing, just like happiness and contentment aren’t.

              I don’t always enjoy my job very much, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment most days when I switch off my work computer, and my job satisfaction is generally pretty high. There have been times in the past, even in this job, when I haven’t felt much job satisfaction, but that’s pretty much always due to stress.

              It helps that I work for a basically functional workplace with leadership that really cares about the employees as something other than simply a resource to be exploited. My job is important to me and I want to do my best, but it’s certainly not the only significant part of my life.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I don’t mind working hard, and in fact I often enjoy it. But what I really hate is working stupid. What burns me out is poor project management –unnecessary rush work or re-work, or seeing work thrown away.

          3. A Feast of Fools*


            I have tried to do “fun” things and found myself not enjoying them as much as I do cleaning, organizing, mowing the lawn, trimming hedges, gardening, or analyzing a massive dataset and finding answers (or questions!) in it that are meaningful to the publicly-traded company I work for.*

            I find that I feel better about life and myself when I can stand back and point to something I’ve accomplished.

            * [I also co-own a small business (see my comment above) but it doesn’t provide me the brain stimulation that I need. The back office and marketing stuff I do for it are pretty much autopilot things at this point.]

      2. Liz T*

        Yeah, and plenty of work is unpaid, so it’s really not as clever a retort as people think it is.

    4. Well...*

      This attitude skips over the mass delusion we’ve all been drenched in our whole lives: that the system we’re in is great and lets you live your dreams.

      Instead we’re forced to work to survive, and the system is wildly unfair. Admitting that means calling the system itself into question. People aren’t avoiding that truth because they don’t realize something simple, they avoid it because it sucks.

    5. Stitching Away*

      This is missing the point. When parents punish a child, it’s not enjoyable for the child. But there is a difference between healthy punishments and abusive ones. The same is true for jobs.

  5. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    Ugh all the jobs in my sector are bad ( high caseload, low resources, bad training, etc) but I still strive. Not sure about future plans though.

  6. ThatGirl*

    I’ve had relatively good luck, through sheer chance, for my last few jobs. Every company has its dysfunctions, but working for bigger companies that don’t actively make the world a worse place has paid off relatively well. I now work for a company that’s very close to my home, with very solid work-life balance, good pay, reasonable leadership and that makes products that actually help the world. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do for now.

  7. Aphrodite*

    “Sometimes the answer is to drop those expectations entirely and let work just be work—just the place you go to get a paycheck.”

    Boy, oh boy, ain’t this the truth. And I am much happier for having come to this conclusion some years ago.

    1. Bucky Barnes*

      I’m still trying to get this to sink in. I like my job ok but I don’t love it. I’m trying to adjust my thinking but it’s tough. I went to school for journalism… but I work in finance. Not where I thought I’d be when I graduated almost 20 years ago.

      I do have a little resin statue on my desk that says “I work hard so my cat can live a better life.” :)

    2. Lacey*

      Yup. I love the kind of work I do so it’s easy to get super invested, but it’s not particularly helpful to be super invested.

      I do think it’s easier to remember that when you work in a healthy environment, but it’s even more important to remember in the unhealthy ones.

    3. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is the way I am trying to live now. In my field, it is very easy to get attached to the mission and to the idea of helping people, but over the years I am finding some folks will take as much help as you are willing to give and still expect more, and also that it is very easy to get sucked into a lot of projects and tasks, especially when you are working with people who want to minimize the effort they make.

      My workplace isn’t bad. I like my colleagues. I like most of the students. The pay and benefits are decent, as is the PTO. I’m trying to focus on making my life a work to live situation, not a live to work one. I want to do a good job, but I could easily fall into the trap of centering my whole world around this, and I have, and that needs to change.

      It’s a challenge though because, at least in the US, I think we are really fed this mindset of work is supposed to be fulfilling and something to base your identity on. Not to mention, between the hours we put in and the commute time… it does end up being a large part of our time, so it would be so easy in a way if it could be a foundation of your identity, but for me… that’s no way to live.

    4. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      I had crap jobs in my 20s, but they were JOBS, not life. I guess my expectations were that as long as I had a paycheck, it was okay. I’d had a year or two without a paycheck, and that really did suck. Later, when I started applying for jobs that sounded interesting, and got hired for a few of them, I was pretty thrilled. Of course there were issues at each place, but I liked the work I did, I made enough money to survive, and I made some life-long friends. Expecting absolute perfection (in just about anything) always seems unrealistic and setting up yourself for misery. Nobody and nothing would pass that particular sniff test, including me and the LW.

      1. Anonforthisone*

        Also very true! I think it is key to realize that every situation is not going to have everything. Right now, my job has a longer commute (and I can’t move closer for a bunch of reasons that are important to me). With working from home a lot this past year, I have started to dream about a job that lets me work from home all the time, or most of the time, so I can get some time in my life back.

        However, I also have good benefits, good colleagues, a decent salary, and not bad work at this job. Is it possible I will find a job that has all that and lets me work from home? Possibly. I will certainly keep my eyes open for it and see what I can do with this role regarding being permanently hybrid, but I know that the likelihood is that I will have things as good as I have them PLUS working from home… not going to be easy to find.

    5. Tali*

      Absolutely! My job is boring and it sucks that I have to work for a living at all. But it pays enough that I can live a lifestyle I love.

      I was told all my life to find my “passion” and it still is tough when I remember that I will never work in my “passion”. I will never go to work and have it not feel like work. But if I get everything else valuable that a job can provide–a career path, money to live, coworkers to chat to and learn from, opportunities to travel and so on–then I can get “passion” elsewhere. And that is fine.

      1. allathian*

        That’s great. I guess I’m glad that I somehow escaped the brainwashing about “finding my passion”, but I’m a gen X-er and I think it’s something that millennials got told a lot more than I did.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, though I admit that as time goes on, it hurts more and more that I have to waste my life doing THIS instead of things I care about. But that’s how life goes, and what I like is useless.

    6. Overit*

      Work is not just work, however. Work varies depending upon how well you are paid and how well you are treated.

      Having had several abusive bosses, all I can say is that no one should have to lower their expectations to, “Well, at least at this job I don’t get called names, screamed at or have to clean up poopy diapers thrown at me by grown adults.”

  8. Justin*

    Varying degrees of it, basically, but I suppose if we, as Alison says, didn’t get told that our careers were our lives and our identities to some extent, it might be easier to deal with, even working conditions aside.

    1. Lacey*

      Yeah. I mean, people have always had to do work they didn’t necessarily love in order to survive. That’s not unique to our time and place. But the idea of your work as being what fulfills you and makes your a complete person is a newer one.

  9. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Tech = morally bankrupt is a ridiculous oversimplification and stereotyping of an industry that, depending on how you define it, is a huge portion of the economy.

    Does “tech” include “maintain the PCs and networks for the school district”? Or for a local manufacturer, restaurant chain, etc?

    In fact, your distillation of all of those categories is stereotyped and oversimplified.

    I think you need to take a step back from this. Talk to people who’ve been in the workforce for 5 or 10 years, in differing capacities, and get some information about what they do, and what they have done since they started.

    1. Justin*

      It being a huge portion of the economy does not by any stretch make it good!

      Anyway, there are custodians who work for Facebook, and that is honorable work, but that doesn’t make Facebook ethical.

      But of course it’s simplified, it’s a pithy and sort of humorous sentence.

      1. Xantar*

        I think the point Alton Brown’s Evil Twin was making is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of companies that could be classified as “tech” and there’s no way you could find an adjective that applies to all of them.

      2. Colette*

        What about making 911 work? Or building voice recognition software so that people who can’t type can communicate? Or solving climate problems? There are certainly tech companies that are harming people or who have built cultures that exclude people – but there are also a lot of tech companies doing good things.

        1. LQ*

          I think the problem comes in when you say that making 911 work is evil because cops are racist so anything that supports cops is racist. And voice recognition is racist because it’s still kind of shitty at getting accents right so we can’t work there. And places solving climate problems are either educational (in which case you have all the problems with the education system to lean on) or nonprofit (which we’ve already learned is out with the bathwater) or one of the companies who now or in the past created climate problems (which obv evil).

          The problem is you have to let some things go and if you’re unwilling to let anything go then you’re always going to say all jobs are evil and toxic.

          Ok. But the OP still wrote an email on a computer that was made with child labor and so should stop doing that too.

          Sorry but life is about compromises. (not entirely sure why i’m responding to you because I agree with you that there are good things happening)

          1. Anonymiss*

            Or you have to realize that those problems are only going to get fixed if humans get in there and fix it.

            I’m not saying anyone should do what they find morally offensive, but if people who don’t care about the world and people don’t work at tech companies (or banks, etc.), then those things will continue to be terrible. You can help fix the voice recognition problems, or you can work to try to change how people educate others about climate change, or work in a role where you help nonprofits run better.

      3. anonymath*

        If you’re going to follow this way of thinking, though, you must go back to subsistence farming or nomadism. Anything that requires transportation in a vehicle using an engine participates in the destruction of our ecosystem; anything requiring a cell phone requires mining rare earth metals; participating at all in the US’s capitalist system requires accommodation with an unfair system that has real problems. And if you go for the subsistence farming route, as a friend of mine did, you’re still confronted with uncomfortable realities: he’d been vegetarian or vegan before trying to live off the land, but that’s not possible when living off the land in our region if you’re avoiding buying imported foods. The amount of work required to can enough calories for winter is extraordinary and you simply can’t get the protein from local sources unless you eat animals or fish. And if you farm to feed your family, you must face weeding, pruning, and protecting your crops from insects and animals very seriously. One quickly realizes that every decision in life requires a shifting mix of accommodations and compromises. So it goes with work.

        As I grew older and realized some of these things, I realized I was not willing to hand over tech and finance only to self-interested immoral people (how’s that for judgemental?). I realized that insisting on ideological purity for myself was not only a lie (academia also has elements of evil) and it also ceded incredibly impactful parts of the playing field to people who I don’t trust. Do I want to be in the game, understanding the dangers of co-optation but maybe making a difference, or do I want to sit on the sidelines and let other people shape all of tech in ways that I don’t like? If I don’t even bother to show up, what’s the point of complaining at some point?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Reminds me of The Good Place, where as soon as economies were interconnected to any degree someone somewhere in the manufacturing chain was being immoral and we were all doomed.

        1. MassMatt*

          I know people who live or grew up in rural farming and ranching communities and all of them laughed at the trend of people trying to “simplify their lives” or “quit the rat race and just farm”.

          people that glamorize farming and ranching as being an ideal are extremely naive about how much endless intense physical work it takes. And thinking of it as “simple” (as many do) is really insulting to the knowledge and experience it takes to survive.

          Subsistence farming… ugh, I can’t even begin. There are hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers in the world. Go spend a week with any of them and see if that’s how you want to live.

          1. Lora*


            My family on dad’s side is Old Order Mennonite and Amish.

            Pros: Average workweek is actually about 30 hours per week. When there’s a busy season it’s more like 12-14 hour days, but busy seasons are relatively short. There are plenty of not-busy seasons that are more like 20 hours per week. There’s a reasonable variety of tasks, you do lots of different things depending on time of year. You do get taught a trade of some sort, or an older relative gifts you 200 acres from their farm. You will be clothed and fed (hope you like organ meat and pickles) and have a roof over your head until the day you decide you don’t want to be Amish anymore. If you like horses, they got horses for you to ride. You are more or less your own boss, deciding what to grow, make and sell.

            Cons: Farm work has to be done every day, no matter if you’re sick or it’s dark out or it’s chilly or whatever. You’re coughing your lungs up from pneumonia? Too bad, put on an extra sweater and drag yourself out to the milking barn and get to work. It also has to be done *when* it has to be done, so if the weather is nice that means you’re out picking vegetables, shoveling manure or working on fence repairs, not going to the beach for fun. You have time to do nothing mostly when the weather is too terrible to be outside. The work itself is physically very demanding – I have a lot of friends who thought it would be cute for them to “learn farming” and “help” on my little hobby farm, and they get tired and bored within 20 minutes of a 4-hour task. My very best helper is a friend who does Crossfit and weight training, as she’s the only one strong enough to do the heavy lifting with me. Heck, even when it’s a simple task that doesn’t take much strength, they struggle to focus on it: it’s pretty boring to spread manure for a day. It doesn’t pay much at all, in fact the only reason my relatives have a roof over their heads is because their land was inherited instead of bought and they have a tax exemption. Marketing and sales of the farm produce is also part of the job description, so you better really like people and know how to connect with them at least once in a while.

      4. MassMatt*

        “It being a huge portion of the economy does not by any stretch make it good!”

        No, but the larger the portion, the more likely it is to resemble the world at large. A single business, especially a small one, can tend to an extreme (both good and bad). The more businesses and people are involved, the less special and more average it’s likely to be. Tech businesses are diverse, they have brilliant selfless people and dumb jerks, and most are somewhere in between.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I am a bit reminded of people who face what seems a simple problem, and catastrophize all the ways any solution would no doubt go bad. Thus leaving them with no choice but to stick with their status quo.

    2. Jennifer*

      I agree, this summary of entire segments and industries is coming from a very biased perspective. It isn’t funny or helpful.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yup. I work in media and I have for 20 years. Some companies are great, some are terrible. My current one? It’s not perfect but it’s very good, and we do have initiatives that break new ground and directly address important domestic and global issues.

        I’ve fended off “the media is the devil” for my entire career and it just isn’t true. Have I worked for megalomaniac blowhards? I have. Do I think they represent all of media? Not at all.

        1. glitter writer*

          Likewise. I’ve had significant experience in nonprofit media and as far as I’m concerned those are jobs that can absolutely change the world for the better.

        2. Black Horse Dancing*

          I think one major issue most media companies or people in media sidestep or ignore is the world’s largest media companies are owned by a tiny handful of people–so they can easily warp the world’s viewpoint. There are, I think, SIX corporations/media giants that control 90% of the world’s media. Six! Is the media the ‘devil’? No. Do they do a good/outstanding job–probably not as they are owned lock, stock, and barrel by those six corporations and their boards.

      2. Beth*

        It sounds a lot like the kind of things my brain tries to make me believe when I’m having a depressive episode. My brain can be a real asshole sometimes.

    3. Washi*

      Yeah, my husband works in tech in medical devices. Is creating new medical tech and selling it for a profit the most altruistic thing one can think of? No. Would I call it”morally bankrupt”? Also no.

      Anything that pays a living wage will probably have you working within the larger capitalist system and is therefore always imperfect. The trick is to identify your personal values and do the best you can to live up to them, whatever that means to you.

      1. EchoGirl*

        Similarly, my husband works for a company that supplies manufacturers. I’m sure they’re not moral angels (few companies are), but his company was very involved in supplying equipment for manufacturers trying to ramp up production of PPE and ventilators for COVID (and later vaccines as well), so I certainly wouldn’t call them morally bankrupt either.

    4. Pippa K*

      It’s understandably tempting to make broad generalisations when we’re trying to draw conclusions about such a big issue as “are jobs inevitably bad” but yeah, a little more nuance might brighten the outlook a bit. I know of a tech company that is a great place to work (worthwhile projects, truly takes diversity and inclusion seriously, good benefits, etc) and law jobs that pay ok and have reasonable not-BigLaw hours. It’s also the case that people can have very different experiences with the same employer, depending on their department or whether they face discrimination or just where they are in life or their personal preferences.

    5. Beth*

      I mean, yes, we could nitpick at any one of these and find that it’s an oversimplification. But I don’t think going “not all tech jobs!” is actually going to help OP here. They’re absolutely right that if you’re looking for a job that pays well AND has good work-life balance AND is well-managed AND is not going to ping any of your ethical concerns, all in one, you’re going to have a long search.

      1. KHB*

        There’s a big difference, though, between a long search and an impossible search. You don’t need all tech jobs (or all jobs in any other sector) to meet your criteria – you just need to find one that does, and persuade them to hire you.

        1. Liz T*

          Yeah, but the problem is that EVERYONE needs a job. So while OP only needs to find one that does, the assumption is still that almost everyone is going to have a bad job. That’s the larger point.

          1. KHB*

            It’s a separate point. OP’s letter is very clearly talking about her and her friends’ personal situations, so that’s what I was responding to.

            Yes, everyone needs a job, and some people are going to be stuck doing miserable jobs, because there are miserable jobs that need to be done. There are things that we, as a society, can do to make those jobs less miserable (a stronger labor movement, a tax structure that lessens the power of sociopathic billionaires, etc.) But you don’t have to wait until we achieve those things before securing a good job for yourself.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        The reaction I had to the very judgmental oversimplification was that it seemed to be aimed scattershot at multiple different industries and comes across like a knee jerk reaction to why All Work Ever is bad because any given job might fit one of those negative criteria. I get the feeling that the LW and their friends are more concerned about being seen as ‘selling out’ than they are about really understanding what it takes to work in some of those industries and the very large range of reasons why lots and lots of people choose to do so.

        It reminds me of the LWs who write in to say that they absolutely positively hate small talk and refuse to do whatever minor social niceties people expect (like say “good morning” when someone says it to them), because why should they compromise their real self in all that fakeness.

      3. HQetc*

        I don’t totally agree that it’s not helpful to the OP. They explicitly asked if their perception of the issue (tech jobs = morally bankrupt) is correct, and people are telling them the answer is no, it’s not correct. So, basically, the answer to their question is “not all tech jobs!” and that’s important because it means they are writing off an entire industry as not for them because of the required moral compromise and as a consequence, are not looking at the big pot of tech jobs that maybe don’t pay FAANG (or whatever acronym we are on now) but pay a least a living wage and don’t come with quite the same set of tradeoffs.

      4. Anonymiss*

        Of course it’s helpful. The OP has stereotypes about entire industries that are affecting her morale and discouraging them from applying to jobs in those areas. People dispelling those myths may unblock them from being able to find a job in this economy.

    6. fiona the baby hippo*

      The letter reads like someone who went to an elite college and sees their friends entering fields that are largely designed to chew up + spit out underpaid young labor. (I’d argue that even in tech and big law entry-level positions, while well-paying for a 22-25 yr old, could be considered poorly compensated for how much more they make their company/hours required to work). I would argue that if you want a ‘high-prestige’ job in one of these fields it’s almost always going to come with a quality of life trade-off, but even with just 10 years job experience, I’m willing to cede a lot of clout for work-life balance.

      1. different seudonym*


        This letter is at once privileged and provincial in the extreme. The “jobs” listed are upper-middle-class shibboleths, not actually defined sectors of the economy. But fiona is correct, the LW is also right to be suspicious; such workplaces do treat new hires as disposable.

        Wish I could give LW better advice than “read Marx for a few years.”

      2. Felwinter*

        Exactly. Law = long, long hours. Yes, but only in private practice where you can make a ton of money. You can work a standard 9-5 with one hour lunch as a lawyer at a government agency (SEC, for example), but you won’t make nearly as much money. Or you can work as a secretary at a law firm and work 40 hours a week with very little to no overtime expected, but I’m guessing letter writer is privileged enough to not even consider secretary as a job.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          You just have to understand at at SEC you can do great work and be totally ignored when a Madoff shows up. (SEC totally dropped the ball on that!)

        2. Anonymiss*

          There’s also corporate law, like being an in-house lawyer for a large corporation. Some of them may work long hours but others don’t.

      3. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Companies that hire a lot of recent grads are often bad places to work. It’s often because they can’t afford to pay for experienced people (or choose not to). Worst-case scenario, it’s a wildly dysfunctional environment where experienced people will push back, and they’ve learned that new grads will put up with abuse. I can definitely see how a young person who’s worked for a few bad companies, and knows lots of peers in the same situation, can conclude that all workplaces look like a Dilbert cartoon.

        1. WhenIsRetirement?*

          Oh my gosh, we work in the same place! We even send out announcements welcoming the class of 2021. Most of them are sales trainees who won’t make it the final cut. I’m older than a lot of people and often get asked, “Is this appropriate?” and invariably my answer is no.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        Right. Honestly I think that the OP could mainly benefit from just, like… learning about more jobs? I get that this is of course a simplified list, but it really strikes me as the sort of simplified list you might come up with if you were perhaps a fairly privileged young person discovering that the high-prestige white-collar jobs you grew up assuming you would go into actually aren’t that great. And yeah, a lot of them aren’t, but instead of falling into this whole existential crisis about it it might be more productive to expand their view of what can be a “good job”.

    7. lyonite*

      Yes to this, plus lol at “tech is evil, but law is fine, except you have to work too hard.”

      Honestly, less spitballing with your friends and more research into what jobs are actually out there would go a long way here.

    8. Purt's Peas*

      Pretty sure that when OP says “tech” they’re talking about software & engineering companies, not the various IT departments that can be found throughout the economy.

      Also, as someone who does work in tech, I don’t think it’s much of an oversimplification. There are exceptions of organizations that will do value-neutral, altruistic, or on-balance ‘good’ work. There are a few organizations that trade on people’s thirst for convenience to exploit low-wage workers, build inexcusable profits, and exert extraordinary control over the fabric of our economy and culture. Then there are more examples of organizations that do, on balance, more harm than good even though most individuals might be working to do more good than harm; and most organizations make money from all the rest of the organizations.

      Working for an evil company doesn’t make you a bad person, any more than working for a “good” company makes you a good one. And the web of influence & perverse effect is so complicated that you can’t sit there and count all the moral beans; it doesn’t work. You just have to make the assumption that these large-scale capitalist organizations and products are probably, well, “bad.” That’s a fair assumption.

      1. Mimi*

        I limited my last search to tech companies (or other companies needing that sort of work) that I judged to be value-neutral-or-better (to cursory research, and then I’d dig deeper if they actually got back to me) and I still had plenty of jobs to apply to. I admittedly live in an area with plenty of options, but while I had to wade through numerous postings from GalacTech, there WERE other jobs out there, and I wasn’t even looking at all the job boards commonly in use here.

      2. Software Dev*

        Wow this is such a weird pov. I work for a company (that pays well and has good work life balance) that makes—software to manage information for schools. I imagine most of the tech industry is like this, small companies making niche software for a specific purpose. They may not be as pervasive as google/amazon etc but I know more people working for companies like mine than working for those giants. This is like “all lawyers are evil”.

        If you go into software development you will have tons of types of companies to work for (like if you go into law there are many different kinds of law).

        1. Chinook*

          Exactly – you can work in one of these “evil” sectors and still be doing good. Heck, I worked for an “evil pipeline” but in the one department whose goal it was too keep it good. We even had an unlimited budget and manpower from TPTB to keep the oil in the pipe because a) it was bad business to lose clients’ products b) it was bad for the environment and c) it is bad PR. I know it was unlimited because I was the one creating the open PO’s and processing the invoices.

          I worked with people who openly admitted that they would be the whistleblowers if the company messed up and caused damage (it was a joking threat but I was one of them so I know t least I meant it). Our bosses actively worked with First Nations’ involved (to the point of helping them create tribal owned businesses that were guaranteed contracts with us) long before it was required by regulations because it was the right thing to do.

          If any of the people I worked with followed the OP’s logic, we would have turned our back on this company and they would have potentially been left with people who didn’t care enough to make these changes. Even if everyone stopped working there in protest, the infrastructure still existed and, at the very least, would need to be removed or capped in a responsible manner, which would take years and some interesting engineering to meet modern environmental standards, so someone would still have to work there.

          Those of us who chose to be there did so, not just for the pay cheque, but because we knew that, by being at the table, we could keep an eye on TPTB and have some say in keeping them from causing more harm. In fact, the number one reason I accepted the job (I was offered it through an agency) was because I did my due diligence and checked with locals who knew their work and reputation.

          Blanket statements like the OP’s, while well-founded in their reality and lived frustration, do a disservice to those who are trying their darnest to keep the world from going to the darkside. Good people need to hold their nose and shovel the garbage out (though it is not a job for everyone). Yes, it means you may get covered in muck, but at least there will be less muck in the long run.

      3. Tau*

        Eh, I disagre. I’ve managed to spend my entire career as a software developer so far working on projects I’d say were morally positive (ex: medical software). It’s just that, well, it’ll limit your job search. You might be forced to switch tech stacks. You might not be able to work with the most modern technologies or on cool greenfield projects. You might have to live in a place that has a large tech sector so that you have enough jobs to choose from, and/or move around. Etc. etc. etc. But the jobs are out there; “tech = morally bankrupt” is an overgeneralization that will not help OP.

      4. HQetc*

        “Pretty sure that when OP says “tech” they’re talking about software & engineering companies, not the various IT departments that can be found throughout the economy.”

        I think that’s sort of the problem. Like, the OP has a narrow view, one that seems like (and I am speculating/extrapolating here so apologies if I am way off base, OP) it might come from similarly-situated friends who thus probably have similarly narrow views, and maybe also media coverage? Which (for tech, at least, I can’t speak to the others) is also a rather narrow view (not inaccurate, just incomplete, I’m not trying to be all “don’t trust the media, man” here). Then they’re assuming that narrow view is the whole picture (I’m not faulting them for that, it’s hard to know what you don’t know), and thus despairing that there aren’t more options. But there are more options!
        I think that thinking of “tech” as just software engineering jobs at traditional tech companies is blinding them to the diversity of jobs in the sector, some of which sound like they’d be a much better fit. IT in health care! Tech advocacy! Tech training at retirement homes! Options abound! As I said above, most of those won’t pay FAANG money, but a lot of them will be living to comfortable wage, decent work-life balance, not what I’d call immoral (though I think that’s subjective), etc.

      5. TechWorker*

        I disagree too. If the argument is ‘all large companies are exploitative in some way’ then I’d be like ‘well duh capitalism’ & whilst there’s some high profile tech companies that are notably bad, I don’t think tech overall is any worse than well, any profit making company. Yes, there are a whole bunch of tech jobs I don’t even apply to because they feel morally sketchy – but there are also other places to work!

      6. Anonymiss*

        I also work in tech, one of those companies people stereotypically think of when they think of tech, and “morally bankrupt” is a stretch. Morals are subjective and everyone has a different threshold of comfort, but bankrupt would suggest the absence of all morals, and that’s not my experience.

        Besides, organizations that “trade on people’s thirst for convenience to exploit low-wage workers” wasn’t invented by tech companies. Hello, Wal-Mart? Fast food? It’s unfortunately pervasive, a byproduct of a capitalist society. You still have to eat in a capitalist society – especially if you want the energy to join social movements that are going to allow you to change things over time.

    9. MissGirl*

      I work in tech and for-profit providing analytics and technology to hospital systems. I’m actively improving patient care but apparently morally bankrupt according to you.

      I’ve also worked at companies creating and selling a product so I guess that’s consumerism too. I loved our product and was proud to create it even if it wasn’t a necessity. I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people in the last twenty years. I’ve also grown to be passionate about each job even though I started out just needing work.

      I worked in plumbing warehouses, publishing houses, and now tech healthcare. None of those were the dream but all were good places. Maybe the problem isn’t the job. Your career is what you make it.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The objects that most delighted me were not necessities. They were things that did something better in a way I hadn’t pictured being changeable.

        Thinking of my mini whisk and high-quality socks.

    10. Magenta Sky*

      I also not that all the categories listed are the kind you need a college degree for. There are a *lot* of other kinds of jobs, many of which pay very well (building trades are hiring like crazy right now, and many pay pretty well during training). Bad bosses exist in all kind of companies, but so do good jobs.

      I’ve done IT work for the same regional retail chain for nearly 30 years, and have no expectation of retiring from anywhere else. Retail will never pay especially well, but good companies pay better than bad, and if you stick with it as a career*, the pay gets pretty decent as you move up the ranks.

      *And that’s the other side of the issue. A lot of people want to walk into a senior position with great benefits and flexible hours and lots of perks as an entry level job. And life doesn’t work that way. You start at the bottom, with low pay, crappy benefits (compared to what you want, anyway) and perks like a $5 gift card from Starbucks instead of a ski vacation in Aspen. And you keep at it, prove yourself, and move up. That’s how being a grown up works.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        But for most of us…there’s no better job at the end of that rainbow. The ladders been pulled up.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        Plenty of privileged people can ‘ walk into a senior position with great benefits and flexible hours and lots of perks’. Think any Walton family member has to start at the bottom? Easiest way to have a great/easy well paying job or not work? Be born to wealth. And many people start at the bottom and never leave it because hard work rarely pays off for many. You need good luck, (a lot of it), a number of breaks, often the right connections and be the right sex/color/political party, etc.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          None of which has anything to do with the question at hand. You want a good career? You start at the bottom and work your way up. To expect anything different involves a sense of entitlement that will be your biggest obstacles to success.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            You completely blanked the point. Many people do this (work hard) and never move up. There is no “if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded!” That’s complete BS. Ask the people who did this and lost their pensions because the companies refused to honor them. Or who worked their butts off and their company moves overseas. Or who get busted like the meatpacking in the early 1980s? You can do everything you said and get no where. You need luck, breaks, and connections.

    11. Aquawoman*

      I think that’s why I had a little bit of a curmudgeonly old woman reaction to this letter, which is weird because I agree with everything Alison said, I think the system in the US especially sucks, capitalism considers us all “resources” first instead of humans first, etc. So, there are some real legitimate shortcomings to the system. But all that said, the combination of wanting everything and expecting things to suck is kind of guaranteeing a bad outcome.

      Also, I’m in law, there are plenty of us with decent hours, as long as you think high-5 or low-6 figures is enough pay and don’t need high six figures.

      1. AskJeeves*

        Agreed. I get LW’s frustration, but I wonder how much they have actually looked into jobs in these industries, rather than relying on headlines or general assumptions. Not every lawyer is in BigLaw. Not every lawyer even works at a law firm, by a long shot. So where is LW getting their information? They’ll have more success if they take a step back and assess their skills and interests compared to actual jobs available.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Yeah, there’s something to be said for having a more…balanced understanding of career paths beyond the high prestige/high visibility tropes that show up in headlines, but I think that takes exposure that’s not oriented around job recruitment and reading thinkpieces.

          A lot of the people I grew up around and went to school with were children of what I’ll call the modest professional class. Their parents might have been laywers, but in-house council at some obscure manufacturing company rather than in BigLaw. The doctor and dentist parents were mostly well-respected GPs operating out of a faded strip mall somewhere rather than renowned specialists. The software engineers worked for insurance or consumer goods companies rather than somewhere hot and FAANG-esque. Many of them had parents or relatives who were professionals in the public sector. All are well-compensated but mostly unglamorous jobs that no one really talks about.

          All of this is to say that we had a pretty good understanding of what white-collar life looks like outside of that very specific prestige-seeking bubble, so even when we mostly ended up at universities that pushed the glamourous side of professional careers, most of us knew that there was a world outside of that. If LW’s first major exposure to some white-collar careers was through college recruiting, I wonder if that explains why they may not have that wider perspective.

    12. Quinalla*

      I do think this list may be causing some unnecessary difficulties for the OP. I think the overall sentiment of the letter is understandable and the response is spot on, but I do worry that if these oversimplifications are more than just a joke – and unfortunately we often joke about things we believe more deeply than we realize – I do think a step back is in order. There are a LOT more jobs out there than these and even within some of these industries that get stereotyped as evil (law, tech, etc.) there is a world of difference from one company to another. I do think there is good reason to be feeling down about this nonsense, it does mostly suck for the vast majority of people that have to work to live, most don’t have soul crushing jobs, but even good jobs most certainly have some kind of drawback, but there is a difference between good, bad and toxic and nuances in between those too.

    13. Susana*

      Same with universal denouncement of media. I work in media, head boss isn’t a “clown,” and doesn’t have much of an impact, if any, on my day to day job. I’m treated well, compensated fairly and have wonderful colleagues. Not all problems are endemic to any industry.

    14. Lynn Whitehat*

      Come join us in the security sector! Tech wages, and we are making the world a better place by preventing and detecting intrusions and hacking. I really like where I work. They take diversity and inclusion seriously. At the beginning of the pandemic, they changed the rules about which issues get escalated how quickly. New rule: anything in the health care industry goes straight to the top of our list, regardless of the severity of the incident or whether they were our bigger customers. We could not heal the sick or produce a vaccine, but at least we could protect the people who were doing that work from ransomware attacks.

    15. ENFP in Texas*

      Thank you. The broad overgeneralizations made it difficult for me to take the letter seriously and come up with meaningful feedback.

    16. Esmeralda*

      I’d cut the OP some slack. This sounds like someone who is super discouraged. I don’t think they’re saying these things AT anyone.

    17. Lady Meyneth*

      This. I’ll confess my feathers were ruffled. But ignoring my biased first reaction, I’ve had a few amazing jobs in Tech, and in no way had to compromise my moral principles to do them. Maybe that’s a flaw in my character, who knows, but I find it hard to believe there’s not a single tech company doing good in the world right now. I’m sure the same could also be said for OP’s arguments on startups, media and non-profits (Yeah, law does seem to always have miserable hours).

      I’m also confused as to why OP is considering work in such completely opposite industries. Don’t most people decide roughly what they wanted to do, and then look for the best company they can find in which to do it? It feels odd to be looking for pros and cons in tech, law and media at the same time.

    18. AskJeeves*

      I think the comments focusing on tech are a red herring. This isn’t about whether tech is good or evil.

      The LW is generalizing several large industries and making sweeping judgments that may apply to some (or even many!) jobs, but certainly not all. While I really sympathize with LW’s feelings, this perspective is setting them up for failure. Yes, lots of jobs suck. Yes, every industry has problems. But that doesn’t mean there is no decent job to be found anywhere, or that you have to write off an entire industry based on a stereotype. Alison’s advice was good – think about what you need, what you want, what you can live with, and go from there.

    19. Indigo a la mode*

      I feel the same way. Nearly every company is to some degree a tech company, especially after this past year. There are companies like Facebook that are kind of evil, and there are companies like Amazon that systematically bleed their employees dry (even the tech ones – not just warehouse), and there are lots and lots of companies that use tech to make the world better. Tech isn’t an evil industry. Like any tool, lots of people use it properly and some people use it maliciously.

  10. mcfizzle*

    A few years ago my normally wonderful workplace was turned upside-down by a toxic, horrific coworker. I very nearly quit, then remembered that I shouldn’t be pushed out of a job I really like by a newbie jerk. So I chose to stand up and fight for the culture I wanted (back). It was a really painful 18 months until toxic ass was let go, but I cannot find words for how validating it was to fight for what I wanted and actually get it, rather than walk away.
    I’ve now been at the job 13 years this month, and still love it. The fight was worth it, and I’ve grown tremendously.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should actively work for what you want, rather than try to “fall” into something good and hope for no changes in leadership, etc.

    1. GrooveBat*

      I had kind of the opposite experience. After ten years of pretty much living and breathing a job I was passionate about, an ill-considered reorg pushed me into a new role that made me miserable. I survived and eventually ended up in a better position, but that experience definitely colored the way I think about and approach work now. It’s become much more of a “this is how I get my paycheck” mentality for me, and, honestly, I feel healthier and more balanced as a result.

    2. Zephy*

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should actively work for what you want, rather than try to “fall” into something good and hope for no changes in leadership, etc.

      You aren’t wrong, but the trick is getting to the 10+ years mark within a given company so you have the capital to do the kind of thing you did, and that’s…well, less helpful to the LW, to put it mildly. “Already be 10 years into your career” isn’t really actionable advice for someone looking for morally-tolerable work now.

      1. mcfizzle*

        If it helps, it was about at the 5 year mark – I wasn’t very clear. And it was only 1 toxic coworker, and so I really do understand that if the overall culture is bad, one lowly person won’t be able to fix it. The LW just seemed so negative that I wanted to plant a seed of hope. And to consider being more active rather than passive.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I’ve been on both ends — not willing to put up with a bad job for any amount of time and willing to push back and tough it out to get back what I loved about my job. In both cases, I had to do a really calculated assessment of my employer overall, the Problem, the job market and likelihood of finding a different environment, and my investment in my particular job/employer.

      There’s no standard formula for that either — it’s always going to be personal and subject to change. I’ve worked a well-paying job that had few institutional or management problems and been really unhappy and unfulfilled; and I’ve worked a lower-paid job, with many issues, but had a more fulfilling experience because I’ve not only enjoyed the actual work I do, but also the overall purpose and mission of the job.

      1. mcfizzle*

        That’s a great point I wasn’t articulating – my actions were very much a calculated gamble, and one I had to understand I might lose, as well as really hurt my reputation in my industry. I weighed multiple factors (retirement, commute, benefits, etc) and decided it was worth fighting as there were just so many downsides to not trying.

    4. Tracy*

      I also had a toxic coworker that created a hostile work environment. That was a very long four years. I could see that they wouldn’t stick around, one way or another, so I waited it out.

      They were so thrilled at the prospect of potentially being my boss (they were slated to take over my old boss’ position when retirement time arrived) that they would frequently mention that to my boss. My boss brought it up once when we had a 1:1 as it seemed funny to them and I very seriously told them that if this person was ever my boss, I would quit. (I was ready to, very much so.) My boss was shocked, although I don’t know if it was at my frank answer or that I said that I’d quit.

      I could sense that former toxic coworker didn’t seem to be a good fit with the culture at my employer. I used to mention to them that it wasn’t uncommon for Corporate (probably with the local Executive team input) to decide, for some reason or another, that a person was not a good fit anymore and they would be walked out with very little or no notice. They didn’t believe me and swore that it would never happen to them, they had never been fired and it wasn’t about to happy any time soon, they were totally sure. Well, it did finally happen and I think they got the shock of their life. I’m not sure it taught them any humility, but we were not fond enough of each other to keep in touch.

      My life and job are so much better without them (and also my old boss, who retired relatively recently). So my long winded post boils down to this: Coworkers make a major difference in job satisfaction.

      1. Tracy*

        Oh and I also just celebrated 15 years at my job over the weekend. It is not only satisfying to know I’ve managed to ride through the ups and downs, but the work environment has improved so much. Also have the added benefits of maxing out my vacation and higher than usual pay, so that really helps a lot. It can really be worth ‘sticking it out’.

        Every six months, something big changes. I’ve never given up the idea that it could be me as the one being walked out so I’m grateful for what I have.

        1. mcfizzle*

          Congrats on 15 years! That really is an accomplishment. I agree that coworkers / boss make all the difference, and that by sticking it out, I kept my great benefits, etc. I spend the majority of my waking hours at work, so my personal line is that it has to be somewhere pleasant. We’ve been incredibly careful in interviewing and hiring since toxic left. Honestly, studying body language has helped immensely to see when a candidate is way, way too relaxed or using macho posturing, etc.

  11. Newbie*

    Really relate to this question! especially as someone who is just starting their career in progressive politics it’s alarming to hear of how racist, anti-union, and just generally dysfunctional supposedly “good places”/employers actually are.

    1. Justin*

      And will use their perception as being “good” to avoid examining their oppressive behavior.

      1. anonymath*

        And this is why concrete measurable change is so important. I no longer trust the rhetoric of any company or non-profit. What are the actual results for the actual humans involved and not involved?

    2. Black Horse Dancing*

      You see a lot of anti union even here on this board which shocked and saddened me.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Unfortunately, I think that’s because at least some of us have seen some unions seemingly work overtime to be agents of oppression toward some of their own members.

        Unions are people, and just as some people suck, so do some unions.

  12. Goldenrod*

    I’ve wondered this myself, sooooo many times.

    I do know 2 people who have healthy work environments….so that’s encouraging. I feel like I have experienced so many toxic workplaces, that I started feeling like that is more common. And maybe it is. BUT I think there is some hope for eventually finding a healthy workplace!

    Unfortunately, to some extent, I think it’s luck of the draw, because it’s hard to know ahead of time what the job is actually going to be like.

    I feel you!

    1. Nicotene*

      I can’t tell if it’s actually harder now to find a reasonable-boundary job that pays all the bills, or not. It seems like everyone I know has a job that really pushes the work-life balance hard – some for good money, some for crappy money – but then I think, that’s probably my bubble bias.

      Also I grew up in the Midwest and you used to be able to get work in manufacturing that would support a family on one income (without a degree!) and I don’t think they were getting 8PM texts about TPS reports or working all weekend – but that was probably a rarefied sliver of society too back then too, and was that really only during the economic boom of the 50s? Probably a lot more people struggled and we only hear about the elites, and I don’t think we have it harder than people in the industrial revolution or the dark ages did (probably?).

      Long way to say – I don’t know.

  13. DarthVelma*

    I notice the LW completely left out working in government. I spent a decade at an agency that worked with at-risk teens. And I’ve spent the last decade working for an agency that helps infants and toddlers with developmental delays. I don’t work directly with the kiddoes, but I still get enormous satisfaction from knowing my work benefits my fellow citizens. The pay is pretty good. The benefits are pretty good. Pretty much everyone I work with is there because they want to help and serve others. And there’s the comfort of knowing I can’t be fired on a whim without due process.

    Yes, you can still have toxic managers and work environments in government – I’ve been there. And not every type of government agency has a “helper” culture. But a lot do. It’s a sector worth considering.

    1. Enneagram*

      I’d also recommend higher education – things can move at a slow pace, be political, etc., but many universities have generous leave, pension plans, educational benefits, etc.

      1. Gene Parmesan*

        I second this, I work in higher education and I love my job. The work is fun, challenging, and interesting; pay and benefits are decent; and most of my coworkers are excellent.

    2. RemotelyCommenting*

      I work in government contracting, and I second this. Do I get paid as much as the private sector? No. But am I designed ad websites to suck the humanity and dollars out of people? Also no.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, my partner works in tech for a local government. He did work a lot of hours yesterday helping make sure the emergency backup computers were working for the summer fire season as two small forest fires had broken out. He got his overtime pay, but more importantly was genuinely doing something that would serve his community and he came home happy.

      The only problem with government is that when someone is toxic, firing them can be nigh impossible. However, I agree, it can be genuinely rewarding work.

      1. Junior Dev*

        Do you mind talking about what he had to do to get that job? I’ve talked to several people recently who’ve expressed interest in government jobs involving software development or IT.

    4. Joielle*

      I was also coming down here to say work for the government! The money isn’t amazing but it’s certainly well above a living wage, and benefits are great. Of course you could still have a toxic boss but that could happen anywhere. And personally, I do find it very meaningful to work for the citizens of my state.

    5. fish*

      Yet another for government! There’s such a variety of jobs in government that you could really do anything you want. And in local government especially you can really see the immediate payoff from your work.

    6. Drago Cucina*

      There’s that sweet spot too of being a contractor in a government position. My small contracting company knows that without having great employees and treating them well they don’t have a business. They aren’t selling widgets, they are contracting out skills. While there are things I don’t get (hey, federal agency just declared a half day off before the holiday for all civil servants). I also don’t have to get caught up in internal kingdom building.

    7. Charlotte Lucas*

      Agreed! My first job was in local government. The pay was terrible, but I got paid holidays, they followed state child labor laws, I provided a useful service, & I was treated like a person.

      I work in government now, & I love it. Not everyone is great, but overall, I work with some of the most dedicated, competent people I’ve ever met, get great benefits, & am paid more than at the private company I used to work at. (Known locally for paying low wages.)

    8. anon for this*

      One more +1 to this. I’m a scientist doing research on nuclear fuel recycling at a government lab. Obviously this is a pretty niche field, but I do feel like I’m making the world a better place through my job — making nuclear energy better for us and the planet is something that benefits everyone as we move away from carbon based fuel sources! And because of the coverage we need for our jobs, we’re pretty locked into a 9-5ish work day (in the lab, at least. I do occasionally do work in the evenings but that’s rare and not at all expected). So I highly recommend looking into roles at government labs — even if you aren’t a scientist, they also need people outside of STEM to keep everything running!

    9. Frankie Bergstein*

      I could have written the OPs letter before my current stint in government with excellent pay and stellar management.

    10. MissMaple*

      To add to the rest of the chorus, I work in government and while there’s a lot of bureaucracy, I get to be an engineer helping the environment with good benefits and decent pay. Our facilities are decent if not top notch and they’ve handled the pandemic remarkably well. Our agency always ranks really well in the work/life balance surveys and my coworkers are for the most part awesome. That is to say, I’ve had 4 or 5 jobs before this, but I’ve been here for 4.5 years and I’m not going anywhere unless someone makes me :)

    11. It’s just a name*

      I’m in my 21st year as a federal government employee and really recommended it. The work is interesting and meaningful. The pay isn’t what I’d make in private law practice but the benefits are good, my work-life balance is great, and I work with great people. I’ve moved offices a few times and encountered a few toxic co-workers over the years, but I have landed in a role that I love. I am retiring next year at age 60 with a pension, social security, and a nice TSP balance. My husband has been with the government for 30+ years and he’s retiring at age 56 years, 2 months.

    12. Jaybeetee*

      I am a silly servant, and without revealing too much about my specific work, I do feel like I’m doing something positive and worthwhile. It doesn’t pay as well as tech or law, but I do manage to keep a roof over my head, a car parked out front, and a retirement plan. And at least in my corner of the universe, there’s an emphasis on work-life balance. I’m never contacted outside of working hours, and back when I was in a physical workspace, I was all but chased out if I tried to work late.

      Government has its own drawbacks, but overall I find it a pretty satisfying career.

    13. Richard*

      Also a good reminder that that there are many fields and jobs out there that you may have no idea about as a teenager or young adult. It’s good to talk to a lot of adults with different backgrounds and jobs to learn about what’s really out there and what might be a good fit.

    14. NotAnotherManager!*

      My spouse works for a large federal agency in IT. It doesn’t pay as much as private sectors, but it’s got much better work/life balance, flexibility, and benefits (including a pension). It’s also not a evil empire – they do helpful work that is available to the general public to consume. His managers are not always stellar but they can’t fire him on a dime either.

      (I’m sure my employer would be considered part of the evil empire. The hours/expectations are intense but very well paid. We have crappy clients, neutral clients, clients who do amazing things, and a very robust community service program. I work with mostly great people and the occasional jackass, and my bosses have been amazing. Nothing’s perfect, but I like it and it pays the bills.)

    15. Rena*

      Another vote for government. I love the science I get to do in my non-regulatory agency. The pay is low but the work life balance is amazing, and I never have to worry about job stability. Of course there are some downsides and you can have bad managers or employees anywhere, but we have a lot of very happy very long time employees.

    16. QuinleyThorne*

      +1 to working for the state! I’ve been in my current position at a state regulatory agency for 4 and a half years, and I love it, not for the work itself, but for all the advantages it comes with. We get holidays, skeleton crew days, overtime is basically forbidden (never did I think I’d have a job where I’d overhear a supervisor chewing someone out for working too much overtime, and DEMANDING that they IMMEDIATELY…use the overtime accrued as days off instead), excellent benefits, pay is stable AND publicly posted, so what everyone makes isn’t a dirty secret. While some agencies and divisions are busier/have a different culture than others, I have a work/life balance I never thought I’d have before. Also while government bureaucracy is something of a punchline and can be a pain, it also ensures that any and every organization has 1) and org. chart so you know who reports to who at any given time, and 2) processes that are extensively documented, so there’s a chain of accountability that goes all the way up for when something goes sideways. Also with civil servants in the public sector, these agencies are providing a necessary service that only they can provide to the public, so there’s no competition, and so the agencies aren’t run like businesses. It seems like a very “duh” thing, but (assuming it’s being run correctly) it has a tremendous impact on how the agency is run.

  14. ArtK*

    Wow! Black-and-white thinking and some very nasty generalizations. No wonder the LW is depressed. It’s important to remember that what we see here is more often the bad stuff. We don’t get that many “my work life is fantastic, yay!” posts so it skews the impression.

    BTW, the broad-brush generalizations can be pretty offensive. I’m in tech and I’d like to think that I’m not morally bankrupt and that I’m not working for that kind of organization. Those jobs and organizations certainly exist and I had to spend some extra effort to avoid them.

    1. Amykins*

      As someone who is also in tech, I just want to point out that I think the LW wasn’t painting tech as being morally bankrupt industry-wide, but rather mentioning the specific experiences of their own friends (i.e. it sounds like they have a friend who works in tech and is paid well but has moral/ethical qualms about the specific industry, like maybe they work for companies working on military tech, or they work for one of the companies that’s selling users personal info – something like that).

      1. No Tribble At All*

        The problem with tech, imo, is it’s almost impossible to (a) get funding without being tied back to something Evil or (b) create something that has no Evil applications. Ethics in engineering starts with “I verify this bridge is strong enough” and goes all the way up to “should we develop AIs?”

        I’m in aerospace specifically, and it’s impossible to avoid things coming from/going to the military/”national defense”. Anything that commercial space industry does well will be bought by and used by the military. All those satellite constellations that will provide cheap internet to the masses? Huge deals with the military, because they also want cheap high-speed internet from anywhere. It’s where the dollars are. Plus, the consolidation of contractors (eg Northrup Grumman buying ATK which bought Orbital Sciences) means it’s hard to work for a company that doesn’t also, in some way, make weapons. Even in academia, most of your money will come from grants from DARPA or the Air Force.

        And even if you strike out on your own, it’s hard to guarantee your creation won’t be used for something Evil. Look at the Apple airtags — hooray, you’ll never lose your keys again, but if someone surreptitiously puts an airtag in your purse, they can stalk your position in realtime. You create a more private, secure messaging app to protect your users from governments and from ad sellers? It gets used by people planning an insurrection. You build backdoors in your app so you can track down people making threats? It gets abused by someone rounding up political opponents.

        I love going to events at my college and speaking with current students, and more and more frequently they’ve been asking how to find ethical jobs in the space industry. It’s a real concern, and I understand the OP’s frustration with tech in general. That said, there is no moral purity anywhere, which the OP will have to internalize. There’s a reason humans can have cognitive dissonance; otherwise you’ll be paralyzed with fear and indecision trying to find the most righteous thing to do.

        1. Casey*

          Well written! I just switched from working in very government-adjacent aerospace to working for a launch provider, which feels a bit more “morally neutral” to me (though people will have vastly different opinions on whether more access to space is good from a moral/ethical standpoint). There are definitely some cool ways to use the tech for good but also ways for the government at large to exploit any tech for their own goals.

        2. Drago Cucina*

          Well said. It’s rarely a one way with tech. Space research has produced findings that can help people suffering from cardiovascular disorders, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and balance problems to name just a few. I’m pretty sure that Tim Berners-Lee didn’t predicted Tik-Tok.

          It’s like when someone says, “Yay! Electric cars!” and I ask about strip mining and child labor. Nothing is pure.

        3. Amykins*

          I currently work for a company that does web development primarily for healthcare-related sites. Sites that, while having marketing purposes, also serve the function to help potential patients, doctors, etc get really important and sometimes lifesaving information. Before that, I did web development for a university – again, some of which was based in things like fundraising, but overall dedicated to helping faculty/departments facilitate their higher learning goals.

          While I’d never argue that one particular job can necessarily be morally pure especially in a capitalist society (even in the non-profit space there are always some kinds of compromises), there are PLENTY that I’d argue are net-positive.

      2. ArtK*

        The LW made a blanket statement. “Tech: pays well but morally bankrupt.” There was no nuance in that. No “some are good, some are bad.” I was responding directly to that pointing out that it was a nasty and offensive generalization. If they have experience with “well paid/morally bankrupt”, then they should say that, but to generalize from there is absolutely wrong.

        1. Anon Lawyer*

          They said it was what they were hearing from their friends in those jobs. Come on, you don’t need to be offended by a recent grad trying to figure out the truth of what they’re hearing.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            Yeah….I’ve pretty much heard same from my friend who worked in the tech industry. And she’s worked at most of the big famous employers.

    2. introverted af*

      It is a very broad brush to paint with, but I think it’s just as important to recognize that those kind of broad generalizations aren’t about any one person individually.

      1. Reba*

        Yes! Of course these are generalizations, it’s a 300 word letter.

        The LW isn’t saying, “every single person who works for a tech company has made a deal with the devil” she is saying, “my friends are having these disillusioning experiences in the work world, I’m discouraged” and seeking other perspectives.

        1. EchoGirl*

          Fair, but I think the point people are trying to make is that OP doesn’t have to reject the entire field as a possibility out of hand.

    3. hellohello*

      I’ve worked in tech for the vast majority of my career and even places that are doing neutral to good work have had serious issues with basing decisions on profit/chasing the shiny new thing/getting a greater market share or viewership than what is actually good for their employees and the world. Honestly, I’ve yet to work for a for-profit organization that doesn’t allow the promise of profit to change their moral calculus, and that’s especially worrying with tech because of the way it increasingly has an increasingly outsized impact on the world and people’s lives.

    4. Sue*

      I don’t know any of my family or friends who has had a terrible job. We all work in law, government, tech, nonprofits, medicine, higher ed, forestry, real estate and many other careers. I don’t really understand the cynicism. Of course there are bad companies, bad situations, poor fits but honestly, I read AAM to hear about the awful situations. I have never heard about them in my real life. There are many many good jobs that pay fairly and don’t suck the life out of you. I’m afraid the negative attitude will prove self fulfilling.

    5. Bree*

      The LW admitted to being pessimistic and seems aware they’re making generalizations and being tongue in cheek. I don’t think nit-picking those things is helpful.

      1. ArtK*

        And I don’t think that posting something with nasty generalizations all over the place is at all useful as a request for information or advice. I got no tongue-in-cheek feel from this. Not about my industry and not about any of the others.

      2. Firecat*

        I see the pessimist part but not the tongue in check or discussion on generalities. Did they comment somewhere?

    6. fposte*

      It might be the other way around–that the OP is depressed and therefore skews to black and white thinking. Hopefully the comments section will nudge them away from reductive thinking and give them some food for thought.

      1. Tau*

        This is my thought. I’m honestly concerned for OP rather than offended, because this seems like a) a worldview that’s not pleasant to have and doesn’t say good things about your overall mental state, b) a recipe for a self-fulfilling prophecy (because if all jobs suck, why quit this bad one/go to the effort of weeding out bad ones when you’re interviewing?)

    7. Junior Dev*

      moreso than being offensive to others, it can be self-destructive. I work in tech. I felt really horrible about myself for a long time, but every time I would try to look at different industries I’d run into the same sorts of concerns and feel completely stuck. It took developing a more nuanced view of the ethics of my work, and to think positively about the sorts of things I wanted to accomplish rather than panicking about all the evil stuff I was supposedly complicit in, to improve my mental health to the point where I could move to a job I’m actually proud of.

      I feel like all the comments claiming that people are being defensive around tech are kind of a red herring from this point–that moral judgements OP makes about others are also judgements they’ll be making on themselves as well, if it turns out that the best job for them is at one of these “evil” places. I have no idea if they have anything diagnosable going on but for me, seeing the worst in everything about my life has been a major part of my depression, and has made it impossible for me to make positive changes.

  15. Katefish*

    Just chiming in that not all legal jobs have terrible hours, although they all have some overtime. Depends a lot on the area of law and type of firm/practice. I work in bankruptcy, and the trustees’ offices, court staff, and U.S. attorneys get all federal holidays off. I’m in private practice, so our holidays are less generous, but my last firm was 50-55 hours a week pre-pandemic, and my current hours are about 40-45 hours a week, depending. There are busier times, and “lawyer” is not a 40 hours fixed every week type of job, but you don’t need to be miserable. I’ve also had good management at both of my most recent firms.

    1. Def anon for this*

      Yeah, I do bankruptcy as well (on the creditor’s side), and my hours average 40 hours a week. It’s nowhere near biglaw salary, but it’s extremely livable, and I’m comfortable.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I think most people who are not lawyers think BigLaw when they hear law, and BigLaw is famous for its brutal hours. I think that’s also why many people assume all lawyers make a lot of money.

    3. AnonFed*

      I’m a government attorney and I work maybe 45 hours a week. I don’t make Biglaw money but I am happy with my salary and work/life balance.

      1. Public Sector Manager*

        I’m a state government attorney and my office has some weeks with 40 hours a week, and other weeks where we work a lot of additional hours. But we’re kind of the outlier for state service. I have friends who are attorneys for other state agencies and they are strictly Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week.

        I’ve got amazing health care, a really good pension (not as awesome as some of the local governments, but more than what 95% of other Americans get), and I get to work with some truly wonderful people! Definitely not Big Law money, but when I do retire, I’ll never have to worry about a paycheck ever again, which makes it all worth it.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I have a relative who’s a paralegal in a large city. The hours are reasonable, & the pay is decent. Not all legal professions are as lawyers.

    5. publicallysparrow*

      I work as professional staff in BigLaw and have super normal hours and above-average (but not great) benefits. I average about 2.5hrs of OT per week across the entire year, 5 weeks PTO, and additional paid holidays.

      I think what most people forget is that legal work is not a synonym for trial work. There are so many practice groups outside of litigation where crazy, brutal hours are definitely not normal or expected.

  16. Viki*

    It’s a balancing act. I need money to live, job gives me money. What are my non-negotiables to get that money, the things I will die on this hill, quit on this spot? What are my annoyances and what are my wants?
    Where in the ven diagram do I have no non-negotiables, and more perks than annoyances?

    As someone who generally very much enjoys her work, there are still things that annoy me about my job. My work-life balance is skewed-part of it is my own fault (WFH has made it harder for me to leave work), part of it is the culture. There are things I like, the actual work. And things that I hate (the frustrating management of we agree this is an issue, but we don’t know if we can fix it, though we’ve proven the ROI is worth it).

    But at the end of the day, the job gives me money which lets me do things I really enjoy. Which is what I want.

    1. Firecat*

      Your point about non negotiable is excellent and hopefully not lost in all the economic structure back and forth.

  17. MI Dawn*

    This is great advice from Alison.

    I’ve had good jobs, great jobs, lousy jobs, and jobs I will never return to, even if I’m broke and homeless. I’ve worked for my current employer for over 20 years and while I entered with a degree and experience, I’ve been able to move around and learn more and gain experience in things I never even considered. But, with this employer, I had managers that I will never work for again (literally – if a reorg ever puts me under them, I will leave, no matter what – my mental and physical health are more important than this company) and managers I would follow anywhere. So, even in your dream job, it can be a mixed bag.

    Take what jobs you can, learn from them, and move upwards, sideways or downwards if needed, to keep learning. I’ve actually taken jobs with lower pay than my then current in order to learn from the area. Even with advance degrees and license, if I had to, I’ll jump ship and start at the bottom.

  18. SnowWhiteClaw*

    I kind of don’t think there are! I have an MS & BS in STEM and have been working for 15 years. I do cancer research at a university now and make about as much as a janitor or Target cashier.

    I qualify for low-income housing and get most of my food from the food bank. I have no money to travel and forget about saving.

    1. DEJ*

      There is a giant gap at universities between the well-paid upper administration and the peons making peanuts.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I was adjunct faculty for a while in the late 90s. I made more when I moved to a different part of the country & worked as a CSR for an insurance company.

    2. AJ*

      I have a similar career path as you and made good money. So within any field there are many paths and salary levels.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        And I think that’s what bugs me so much about this Letter Writer’s POV. There are so many iterations of every field! One of my best friends is a neuroscientist doing very important work, he makes a good living and has established a great career. He has younger colleagues who make less at different labs. My experience in my area of media is not the same as someone who focuses on a different area. A lot of it is relative and there are so many variables.

    3. Generic Name*

      That really sucks. Just so you know, there are private sector jobs that use those credentials and pay a living wage, and you don’t have to sell your soul. (I help improve transportation and develop renewable energy in my area in an environmentally responsible way)

    4. Quint*

      I genuinely don’t understand how this can be true. I live in a US city, have the same degrees, and also worked at a university. My starting salary (before I got my MS) was in the range of $34k. That was over a decade ago. The threshold for low income housing in my city is currently $25k. So, I’m wondering where you live that this job pays so little.

      1. SnowWhiteClaw*

        I live in the Denver metro area and make 35K. So the problem is that housing costs have risen dramatically, and the salary is the same as yours was 10 years ago.

        This is 50% AMI, which qualifies you for some forms of low income housing. My take home pay is around 2000 per month. It’s tough to find even a bedroom to rent for 800 a month here.

        1. MassMatt*

          Wow, $35k with 2 degrees (in STEM!) and 15 years of experience is terrible. I hope you love what you do, and/or are in an odd niche where the pay is so terrible.

          1. SnowWhiteClaw*

            I do cancer research. I think it’s really important work, but it’s also important for me to eat.

        2. Mannequin*

          That’s insane. My husband drives a forklift in a warehouse and makes more than $35k (plus fabulous benefits because Union.)

  19. badatnames*

    I’m in nonprofits, I’ve been in my job for 12 years and I wouldn’t leave it for any foreseeable reason. There are definitely sometimes annoying things about it – I spent several years outraged at how they assigned a sort of crappy task in a way that impacted me but not my peers in a different program. But that changed and was admittedly, even at the time, a tiny part of my work. I had a project that never clicked and I had to keep plugging away at it until the grant ended, which was both personally frustrating to be unsuccessful and felt like an indictment of the nonprofit complex that can’t pivot a grant midway through to something completely different. But, in general, my employer has been a careful steward of my career. After the failed project, we looked at what went wrong and what parts of it were not in my skillset and made sure I never had to do work like that again. I’ve spent 10 years hoping for an expansion of a training I created, which was supported but never transformative, and now it looks like I might become a lead of all of our training work, with that as the centerpiece. I feel like I get paid because even though I do interesting, rewarding work that I value, some days I’d much rather hang around the garden and read. The paycheck is what takes this from 10 hours of weekly volunteering to a job that I go to even when not inspired. I worked at a number of places before this, not for particularly long times, but it gave me a sense of what I valued in a workspace and the longer I’ve been here, the more clarity I have on what I value about this work. Figure out what you want and value through trial and error if necessary, and use that to guide you.

  20. Justin*

    The people in these comments who are Staunch Defenders of Tech Morality, tech will be okay despite what the LW said.

    1. Della*

      I don’t think anyone is defending tech or any other sector, just pointing out that OP’s descriptions are an oversimplification of those sectors Thinking in that kind of oversimplified way is not useful and is actually part of the reason OP is so disillusioned.

      1. MissGirl*

        Yes, I have a great tech job but others don’t. Some nonprofits are hugely mismanaged and others aren’t. If the OP comes at this with such a wide paintbrush, I can understand why they hate their work. They’re not going to try to find the good if they believe all are bad. Or they’re going to accept the bad because they won’t believe better is out there.

        I’m not offended by their descriptions but concerned.

        1. Non-Profit Techie*

          You just said sooooooo much more succinctly what I was trying to say below. Brevity is not my strength, nor, I suspect, shall it every be, however long my days on this green earth shall number ere I shuffle off this mortal coil to which I do so tightly cling.

      2. Bree*

        The LW seems perfectly aware they’re making simplifications (partially for comedic effect), and we all generalize every day. It’s not inherently bad to observe or think about patterns in your experiences and the experiences of your peers.

        1. Tau*

          But the whole reason the LW wrote in is because they believe in those generalizations to the point where they’re asking whether good jobs even exist! Going “nope, this generalization isn’t accurate” isn’t nitpicking, it’s crucial to get them to a better mindset.

      1. Nanani*

        Have you read some of the “not MY tech job” replies? Now that’s hostile. LW does not deserve it.

        1. Firecat*

          Sooo OP deserves for everyone to say. Yep jobs suck and aren’t going to change. Sell your soul now noob?

          That’s helpful how? It’s also inaccurate.

          1. Reba*

            This is a strawman (straw-commenter) — the whole point is that it’s not a black-and-white scenario, and Alison’s answer explored the potential tradeoffs among lots of factors that everyone has to try to weigh.

        2. Chairman of the Bored*

          When somebody explicitly asks “do examples of X exist?” it is not hostile to respond with “Yes, here is a specific instance of the existence of the X you were asking about.”

          1. EchoGirl*

            Yeah, I similarly read most of those comments as “actually, it is possible to find a good job in this sector, don’t limit your job search by writing off the entire field”. I don’t see hostility or even really defensiveness, just people trying to demonstrate that good jobs do exist, including in the fields that OP seemed to be dismissing.

    2. Purt's Peas*

      Is the staunch defense better or worse than the troll below in the comments who loves their defense job? Not sure!!! Lol

      Anyway it is a little startling to see. I made certain choices and sacrifices to work in a tech company with a much lower impact–negative and positive–than the silicon giants but I’m still very aware that my work is a tool that facilitates capitalism. Even when I worked for a prima facie “good” tech company, I was aware that it…wasn’t.

      Also I don’t think that anyone has ever claimed that the “evil” tech companies are filled to the brim with moustache-twirlers. The point of looking at this broadly, as a system, is that we see how an organization can be filled mostly to the brim with ethical people trying to do their best and still end up as an unethical company.

      1. Reba*

        well put re: systemic perspective!

        I thought Alison would link to her earlier essays on the myth of the dream job. People do often identify strongly with their industry/role, for better or worse, and I think that’s definitely coming out in the comments here.

    3. Non-Profit Techie*

      So, as maybe one of those defenders you speak of (and for the record, I am a person with a marketable tech background who specifically chose to take significantly lower (but still very livable) pay to go into the work of trying to make tech less bad, via non-profit advocacy (at a very functional non-profit)), I’m not defending tech because I think the OP might have made Jeff Bezos have a sad. I am “defending” tech because the OP is specifically trying to find jobs that pay well but aren’t morally bankrupt* and assuming that no such jobs exist in tech, and I think that’s incorrect, and that that viewpoint is hindering them maybe finding a tech job they like and feel good about. It probably won’t be at Google or FB (though I think there are people who do good work inside those places, though I know many of them struggle with this issue) if they are not comfortable with that level of “moral bankruptcy,” but maybe working with a rural ISP co-op seeking to bring internet access to underserved communities, or with organizations that build privacy tools for dissident activists in repressive regimes. Those are “tech jobs” and by not acknowledging them, we write those people out of the story and undervalue their work, which makes it harder for them to advocate for wages that rival the rest of the industry, which then exacerbates all the issues OP is talking about.

      *Which is hard to define, given the whole “no ethical consumption under capitalism” thing, which is I think the other thing people are balking at. OP doesn’t seem to have examined where their personal line is but rather seems to have assumed that there is a clear dichotomy between morally good and morally bad jobs, and people are asking them to reexamine that _as part of the process of finding a job that they can live with_ which is precisely what they asked about.

    4. 1.0*

      +100, honestly!

      Tech is such a weird industry to be in. I love my job, and I think my company is pretty morally neutral, but I also think so much of how this industry works inherently trends towards evil. My company is fine within tech, but the industry as a whole is dangerous. It’s a hard line to walk!

      The best I’ve got, OP, is to try and work somewhere value neutral that treats you like a person, and to actively work for a better world elsewhere – my cushy tech job dollars go to bail funds, mutual aid, causes I support, and my cushy tech job vacation time goes to volunteering and organizing as best I can.

  21. JM in DC*

    This is similar to what I was going to say, sounds very stereotyped. I am in the government, so non-profit I guess? Yes, not perfect, but I am proud of my work and agency’s mission, and lucky that we have been pretty immune to any president’s political leanings, etc. Our leadership has been fantastic, especially since the pandemic started.
    So, I don’t agree with the LW.

    1. Georgia*

      I was going to post pretty much this exact same thing! I’m a very happy federal government employee.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yep! Love my government job where I do really rewarding and challenging work and then am home for dinner every night (I work from home now but you know what I mean). I love it the same on Monday as I do on Friday. I used to think work would always suck until I found my path.

    3. Anonymous Koala*

      Gov is by far the best place I’ve ever worked. My boss, upper leadership, and colleagues have all restored my faith in work/life balance.

  22. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    I mean, this isn’t meant to sound glib, but humans are gonna human. We contain multitudes of perspectives and ideas and ideals. We come to workplaces with biases and foibles, and with things we care and don’t care about. When you smash them together into a system that is more broadly an issue than the individual workplaces, the shit flows downward.

    There are broken workplaces and shitty cultures, but I think the biggest problem (in the USA at least) is that they’re within a broken system. You pick the devil you can deal with and if you have energy left to give, you try and enact change.

  23. SaffyTaffy*

    I have a good job, for what it’s worth. I’ve been here for 6 years and just turned 37. I had well over a dozen jobs before this one, and a few were decent-to-good at least for a short time. Most were difficult to bear. I lucked into this last one, too, so I can’t say that those dozen jobs in any way “prepared” me for finally having a good job.
    All I can say is this: If we unionize, protest, and demand better, we will eventually have it again. If you can’t commit to a lifetime of activism then just do one small thing this week.

  24. TiredMama*

    You take what you need from the job – paycheck, information, knowledge, training opportunities – and then move up and on. Every job is going to have a downside because every human has a downside and humans make the companies work.

  25. Chairman of the Bored*

    Yes, there are jobs out there that are well-paid, have reasonable hours and a good working environment, and represent a net positive for the world/humanity.

    I mentor 2x younger people who are design engineers in the solar energy industry.
    -They make high-5 or low-6 figures per year plus good benefits
    -They work about 8 hours a day, split between the lab, field, and office
    -They seem to like their jobs and working environment overall; they have typical gripes about management decisions/policies etc but nothing too terrible or upsetting
    -The work they’re doing is helping to move away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable power sources, which I regard as being “good” for the world overall

  26. NYC lawyer*

    LW has identified *industries*, not *jobs*. A job within any industry may be great or terrible. A receptionist at a law firm may work standard 9-5 hours and have a low stress job while the lawyers at that same firm work terrible hours and have high stress lives. I think it is very important to disaggregate the job from the industry whenever possible – some industries are better to be in – in general – and some are not, but you need to take each job for itself and make a determination about whether that job is “good”.

    1. Carol*

      Yeah, this is another big thing–what are you doing day in/day out, regardless of field? Does it make you or someone else feel satisfied, or give them something they needed? Regardless of industry there are huge ranges of work content and job expectations and you can find great jobs and bad jobs everywhere.

    2. Def anon for this*

      Yeah, and even within the industry, it’s going to vary. Essentially, I do debt collection work, though it’s much more specialized and involved then the debt collection paper mills many think of. However, my firm is generally good. We have an atmosphere of respect and consideration for the borrowers, and we’re highly conscious of the rules and regulations of what we do. So, if one can get around the general fact of what we do (and I fully understand why many could not), it’s a decent place to work.

    3. Cooper*

      And tech is *every* industry. It’s not just the companies that you think of with tech; almost everyone has an IT department, at the very least, and frankly, most companies have in-house developers for their websites and servers.

      I work in the, let’s say, Llama Selling Industry, but I’m still working in tech, because llama selling involves some complicated data, and every llama seller wants their own product for handling that data.

    4. Koala dreams*

      That struck me too. It’s difficult enough to find a good job at a good company, but wanting the entire industry to be good with no bad apples is setting a really high bar.

    5. Julie*

      As a staff member in law, I’ve actually found that working with some types of attorneys is by nature going to end badly for me. I can’t work anywhere in trial/litigation law outside of government because the adversarial nature of those attorneys seems to bleed into the office culture. I’ve just seen far too much abuse of my colleagues by lawyers who assume every single conversation is a battle or that they can sexually harass staff because they’re paid the $1 million and the rest of us are just overhead. I’ve switched companies but the only way I can avoid this is by working with transactional attorneys. So sometimes, it can be an industry and not just a job.

  27. meyer lemon*

    Under capitalism, is there such a thing as work where you’re not either being oppressed or contributing to someone else’s oppression (or both)? I’m not sure it’s possible, and that bothers me a lot too.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      No ethical spending under capitalism, no ethical labor under capitalism. We all gotta make the calculus that lets us sleep at night.

    2. Olive Hornby*

      Agree – but like with consumption, you have to draw the line somewhere. I draw it as not working on explicitly harmful projects (I work in media), even recognizing that my non-harmful projects are to some degree giving cover for harms elsewhere. Sometimes these lines are totally arbitrary (shopping at Target but not Amazon); at a certain point, you just have to be ok with that, or at least find the balance between self-awareness and letting go that keeps you functioning and able to pursue your values outside work. An obsessive search for purity will ultimately make that harder, not easier. If OP does have an interest in law, they might get something out of the book Usual Cruelty. (Also, work to make your job/industry better by unionizing/engaging in political action like the Fight for 15.)

    3. Carol*

      I increasingly hold this view the more I learn about global economics, etc. and I feel very conflicted. So many inequitable systems to look back on through history, too, where conditions for the majority were even worse. Yeah, we have to kind of strike our own deals with our consciences to have work to survive (and hopefully do some kind of good in some way).

    4. Nanani*

      You are correct. However, we all have to survive within this system in order to have the energy to change it.
      Don’t beat yourself up for finding a way to pay the bills in the meantime.

    5. Chairman of the Bored*

      I think it is, at least from a direct impact perspective.

      Example: My brother in law is the owner and only employee of a landscaping company. His clients pay him a good rate to do work that he generally enjoys; inasmuch as he likes working outdoors and making order out of chaos. In fact, he does this very same type of work at his own house for fun.

      I don’t see who is being oppressed in this very capitalist situation; unless you define “oppressed” as “voluntarily exchanging labor for money”.

      1. Birch*

        When people say this it means tracing the whole chain or network of processes and draws people’s attention to parts of the chain that are often ignored. For example, people will order T shirts to support Pride, not realizing the T shirts are made in the same factories that produce for fast fashion brands with unethical labor practices. Even in your example of landscaping, where are the materials coming from? Landscaping companies have been responsible for introducing nonnative species that have wreaked havoc on native ecology. Is there peat involved? Are the clients living on stolen indigenous land? This is what people mean when they say there is no purely ethical existence. Choosing to ignore the far reaching effects doesn’t mean they disappear.

        1. Chairman of the Bored*

          If you define “contributing to oppression” that broadly then it seems that the issue is less one of “working under capitalism” then “existing in the world at all”.

          Within this framework, is it possible to use electricity without contributing to oppression?

          1. Nanani*

            Strawman. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. That doesn’t mean “so stop existing.” It means acknowledge reality AND work on fixing it. Which does mean participating in the system, but you don’t get to point at other people in the system and say they’re hypocrites for wanting to change it.

            It’s a recognition that the system really does suck and there is no way to remain ideologically pure while surviving in it.

            1. Chairman of the Bored*

              My question is more whether the “under capitalism” is even the fundamental issue here.

              In other words, is there such thing as “ethical consumption” under any other system?

    6. Analyst Editor*

      What exactly do you all want that isn’t capitalism? It’s so trendy to say “oh I hate capitalism” but what do people envision as the alternative?
      What’s the endgame, some kind of AI-run utopia, or an agrarian society with a reduced population, or worker-owned cooperatives? Centrally planned economies?
      This isn’t the place, but seriously when you say “I hate capitalism” what do you even mean and what do you want, and how much does what you want actually accord with the reality of scarce resources and human nature?

      1. Nanani*

        Socialism. Not USSR death march, but real socialism. High tax, high service. Social safety nets for EVERYONE not tied to how much profit you made. Guaranteed basic income. Guaranteed housing. Labour that is actually necessary is compensated well. Everyone gets ample vacation time. ETC. ETC.

        No catastrophic paranoia about AIs and reduced population necessary. The models exist, we need to cut out the greed (multinationals that dodge taxes and regulations for instance).

        1. Della*

          This is highly idealistic. You can’t just “cut out the greed.” Humans are naturally greedy and competitive with each other. There’s a reason why socialism has never been successful in the real world. Capitalism sucks too, but socialism isn’t the answer.

          1. Anoni*

            I don’t think humans are “naturally” anything, except mammals. There are a LOT of societies where greed and competition are unusual. Claiming that all humans are greedy and competitive is an easy way to dismiss any other options. How do you know socialism isn’t the answer since so few places have actually tried it?

            1. Spearmint*

              Right but I doubt the LW is at risk of ever going hungry. They’re a professional worker, which eland they’re fairly privileged in the grand scheme of things.

        2. RemotelyCommenting*

          And to be clear, this is currently in existence and working great for real citizens in Europe. We want something that is tried and proven to work better for citizens. In case anyone comments saying that socialism leads to dictatorships or worse living conditions.

          1. Kelle*

            Europe is very capitalist. It’s not as free market as the US, but it definitely isn’t socialist either. As a European, I can tell you that European social safety nets have plenty holes and do not provide all the stuff that Nanani mentioned in their comment. Europe really isn’t the utopia that some Americans make it out to be.

            1. Nicotene*

              Ok it’s not your fault but it’s funny that usually there’s a bunch of people chiming into comment on any letter involving US leave and insurance policies (and gun stuff) (and education) pointing out that our system is barbaric and other countries have it soooo much better.

              1. green beans*

                And that’s true, but it’s way more nuanced than it seems – if you dig into the different European or European-like systems, you’ll find they have a lot of the same issues the USA does, just expressed in very different ways. Look up Black British maternal death rates compared to white British women (and compare that to the American racial gap.) Or the maternal death rates for indigenous Australian women versus white ones (or pretty much any other race/ethnicity.)

                The USA is both extraordinarily transparent and vocal about our issues (in a way most other countries aren’t.) Our system is also fairly different than others, and it has benefits and flaws that the others don’t – our tertiary educational system is extraordinarily good, for example, and we are a primary global driver, if not the global driver, of healthcare advances and innovations. Those come at significant cost (but so do other systems.)

                1. Kelle*

                  Americans seem more willing to look critically at their own country and openly discuss what needs to change. Racial inequality is a good example of that and Europe could learn a lot from the racial discourse that has been happening in the US recently.

                  You’re right that there are some advantages to the way the US does things. There’s a reason why most of the best universities and the most innovative tech companies in the world are in the US. There are trade offs to each system, but that nuance usually gets lost in the “Europe good, US bad” oversimplification that I see here and other places on the internet.

            2. Nanani*

              Not American, thanks.
              The point was to clarify that socialism means things in the real world SUCH AS social safety nets, and not gulags like a lot of people leap to.

              1. Della*

                There is a lot more to socialism than just social safety nets. And every government that has implemented socialism has participated in some sort of state sponsored violence against its citizens such as gulags, so it really isn’t a big leap for people to make.

                1. Anoni*

                  And yet, Americans don’t see what is actively happening within its borders as state sanctioned violence, and it is. And when you say “every government,” could you give an example?

                2. Beth*

                  There’s a solid case to be made that every government has participated in some sort of state sponsored violence against its residents. You don’t need a further qualifier on what kind of government it is; you’ll find examples of state brutality from pretty much every country, in pretty much every period of history.

                3. TechWorker*

                  Yeah did you miss the bit where most (/all?) capitalist countries are also involved in state sanctioned violence? There have also been plenty of authoritarian capitalist regimes, so yeah, I do think it’s a leap.

          2. SoloKid*

            Working great in countries with homogenous populations. Once there are “others”, then tribalism starts to take root.

          3. Spearmint*

            Europe and the US are both welfarist, regulated, capitalist societies. People really exaggerate the differences. Yes, Europe is more on the “regulated, welfarist” side, but it’s not a radically different system compared to the difference between the US and utopian socialism.

        3. Brett*

          I know it is a minor point, but there are no taxes in socialism, much less high taxes. Since property is social owned, and everyone receives an equal share of the net profit social product from those publicly owned assets, there is no reason to tax and nothing to tax. If you had a need to tax income to fund public services, you would just reduce the social product share for individuals and fund directly out of the revenue from public assets.

          For that matter, there is no reason to compensate labour at all, much less compensate it well, since individuals receive their income equitably according to their need and not according to the productivity or quality of their labour. Income would derive solely from their participation in society, not from their participation in the economy. Vacation time would be solely dependent on whether societal product was high enough to afford vacation time, and again, equitably distributed rather than dependent on productivity.

          1. Nanani*

            1) I was pointing AE at real world models though, which exist in the form of socialized economies and not pure socialism. My comment was not a dissertation.

            2) Some labour sucks but still needs doing and that has to be compensated somehow. The old models of ignoring women’s work as not being real labour (for example) is not tenable.

            3) This is AAM not a socialist forum so lets leave it at that (though I likely 95% agree with you)

        4. Sally*

          People still have to work in jobs they don’t like in socialism, even the most extreme socialist idealized society still needs unpleasant work done. This is a fantasy.

          1. Anoni*

            The point is that in almost anything other than capitalism, you can make a choice to do that without it feeling like a literal choice between life and death, which is the case in the US.

      2. nonbinary writer*

        I’d encourage you to read some about decolonization and indigenous anarchism. Non-capitalist social, governance, and economic structures existed for centuries and are still fighting to exist today.

      3. meyer lemon*

        It’s a dangerous stance to assume that capitalism is so intrinsic that we can’t even begin to imagine alternatives to it. Also to assume that human nature is fundamentally oriented toward capitalism! It’s a system of massive inequality, and it’s within the interests of those in power to perpetuate the idea that criticizing it is a radical move in itself. In fact capitalism is a completely unsustainable system that will chew up all people and environments in its path except to the extent that we act to hold it in check.

      4. MizA*

        Although I live in Canada, a mixed-market system, I work within the socialized medical system, supporting safe equitable access to healthcare. It’s not at all perfect, but it IS extremely gratifying to know that it truly makes a difference. I’m pretty much guaranteed work, and my job is far less at the whim of capatalist factors. I’m paid by the people to whom I owe the responsibility to serve. Other models and systems do successfully exist outside the bounds of pure capitalism.

      5. SaffyTaffy*

        @Analyst Editor resources aren’t scarce. There’s one specific group of people who wildly overconsume and prevent resources being evenly distributed.

      6. Hamish the Accountant*

        Even slightly less awful capitalism would be nice. Maybe if I could get some affordable and comprehensive health insurance that wasn’t tied to my employment, and more than 3 months off unpaid (but they’re still paying my insurance premium, so I’m lucky!) after having a baby? Or maybe if my city didn’t give the money from parking meters to one of our major local sports franchises to keep them here, while we still have the worst public transport system in the Midwest. Or, maybe if my street didn’t have lead water pipes and slow internet despite being only blocks from one of the best hospital system in the world, because my neighborhood is mostly poor and black so there’s no profit in extending the good infrastructure another few hundred feet. How about employment protections such that I didn’t have to weigh “how will my family live if I can’t get another good job” against calling out horrendous sexism at my employer which had fewer than 10 employees? Or tweaking the system enough that people doing social good are also valued, so that “how will my family live” isn’t an immediate concern if I lose my finance job, despite my partner working full time teaching theater programs to kids in urban housing projects?

        Humans speak in shorthand sometimes. I actually have much less of a problem with capitalism than many of my friends, but still, someone can say “Ugh I hate capitalism” without being obliged to have a working alternative ready for you. We’re allowed to just vent about the current system.

  28. HailRobonia*

    I, like most of us (I’m sure) loathe the whole “you should be passionate about your job!” attitude. Yes, I like to be good at what I do, but what I am really passionate about is having food on my table and a roof over my head.

    1. Zephy*

      Cosign ALL the above. I have an office job. I’m good at it. I’m not passionate about it at all, I didn’t dream of being an office drone, but I do need money to maintain my pesky little “sleeping inside” and “eating regularly” habits, so, here I am.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      I agree that the attitude that you should derive most of the meaning in your life from paid work is just profoundly unrealistic. There are going to be positives and negatives in every job in your career and finding a job with a bearable amount of positives is the most realistic goal.
      And every industry has a variety of employers. Some are terrible, some great, some mediocre.

  29. Still Here*

    It might help if you change how you categorize jobs. Rather than thinking ‘tech’, ‘media’, ‘non-profit’, etc, instead think ‘construction’, ‘manufacturing’, ‘transportation’, ‘personal services’, ‘retail’, and so forth. Take, for example, an small industrial parts supplier. They have someone managing inventory, other folks filling orders, someone looking after financial stuff, maybe a bit of HR, etc.

  30. Carol*

    Mmm…for my entire twenties my jobs generally had some pretty big flaws–some toxic people or situations, underpaid/taken advantage of, meaningful content but stressful/no work-life balance…and some of that has settled out as I got more experience, understood more of what I wanted out of work and what compromises I could or couldn’t make, and generally had more understanding of what most office-type jobs are.

    Currently I’m lucky in my benefits and in my work content, but pretty unlucky with organizational drama and negative coworkers (who are otherwise decent people). There’s always a compromise happening…for now the stability is great and the content of the work is meaningful and appealing often enough that when my morale dips there’s some intrinsic value to the work that keeps me motivated.

    Generally, I’ve found the less competitive the field, the more room you have for satisfaction, but the highly competitive fields, it’s tough to get paid what you’re worth and people will usually put up with way more toxicity to keep their jobs…sometimes the less glamorous fields have more breathing room and give people more choice, so it can be a healthier environment. That does sometimes mean deciding not to pursue a highly competitive, desirable path even if you think there’s some chance you could eventually succeed. When people will do anything to stay in (or get in) a particular job line the toxicity can ratchet up really fast. The toxicity, low pay, etc. always gets to me eventually.

  31. The Original K.*

    I think a lot of us are having these conversations about what we want out of life and whether that is at odds with the work that we do. I know a career counselor who does a lot of work in the financial sector and she’s seen a huge uptick in clients who say they’re sick of helping rich people get richer and want to do more meaningful work. My peers and I are all striving for more balance – none of us want to work all the time. We’re all kind of thinking, we were lucky enough to survive a pandemic* in which a lot of employers and managers showed how little they care about their workers (and in many cases that lack of care led directly to the illness and death of some of those workers), and we do not want to turn right around and go back to lives with work at the center, particularly when we’re rarely rewarded for doing so. Like, you can make work the center of your life and still get laid off. Happens every day.

    It definitely helps to make decisions about what you can live with and hold firm to them, and don’t allow yourself to be swayed by others who have a vested interest in you not sticking to your guns. Like, what does your dream LIFE look like, and what does that mean for the way you earn money?

    *I have a lot of feelings about this “return to normal” we’re pushing in the US. For one, “normal” sucked in a lot of very deep ways, and for another, for those who have lost people to COVID, there is no return. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead and I don’t think this country has reckoned with that in any real way.

    1. Justin*

      Normal was and is oppressive and exploitative, and despite the LW being somewhat simplistic, I think that’s what the issue is: the system is (and has long been) bad for everyone but a very small number of people. We just do what we can.

      Okay that’s enough of my constant comments, I just think (and write/research) about this a lot.

      1. Danish*

        I think this and the comment you’re replying to are really the heart of the issue. Sure, there are good jobs here and there, but it’s hard to see them when you’ve watched large parts of the industry insist that you must be willing to give your life for, checks notes, someone else’s mcchicken.

      2. RemotelyCommenting*

        Yes. And while individuals might land in the few jobs that are a net good for the world, the real answer is unfortunately political change to impose regulations on terrible business practices and labor organization to improve working conditions. Both of which require societal change and are out of the control of any one person.

      3. Beth*

        Yes, exactly. All the comments here seem to be talking about how it’s possible, if you do a ton of research on an employer and are flexible enough with your expectations and choose the right field and live in the right area and get lucky and etc., to end up in a job you don’t hate. But it shouldn’t be that hard!

        It sounds to me like OP wants to be paid enough to live comfortably, to work few enough hours to have time for friends and family and hobbies, to be well enough managed to not be dreading work, and to be doing work that doesn’t cause any serious ethical quandaries for them. That’s what most people want, in the end. And it seems to me that most jobs should be capable of meeting that; it’s not an absurdly high bar. The fact that it takes work to find those jobs IS the problem OP is complaining about.

  32. Liz*

    This is a very narrow list of jobs, honestly. I used to work in grants and hated it, but now I’m an office manager for a nonprofit and I love my job. Long term I’m considering retraining in horticulture. My mom is a graphic designer for a manufacturing company that she thinks makes a good product. My dad worked for county social services. My best friends are a therapist and a teacher – both with graduate degrees but they feel it was worth it. Another friend is a union rep. My roommate is a sommelier.

    Frankly the jobs on that list feel like “things that educated people in a big city consider to be at least somewhat prestigious.” Which I get! I spent a decade in fancy but stressful nonprofits, I have friends in advertising and law and publishing. But there’s a lot more to the world than that.

  33. KHB*

    There are jobs out there that are good. I think I have one (at the intersection of media and nonprofit). It’s not perfect, mind you – there’s plenty of dysfunction and plenty to complain about – but I think it ticks all your boxes: The pay is very respectable, my direct boss is quirky but mostly great (and even the clowns at the top have their hearts in the right place), I can leave work behind at 5:00 every day, and our mark on the world (to the extent that we’re making one at all) is for good rather than ill. And the work itself is challenging and interesting.

    I feel lucky to be here, so thanks for my daily dose of gratitude. I don’t have any great advice for finding a gig like this for yourself, but I’ll say kudos to you for having such a clear idea of what you want out of a job. Knowing what you’re looking for is the first step to finding it.

  34. IRB analyst*

    Not that my job is perfect or anything, but it does make a big difference to me that I’m not just working in service of a company’s bottom line.

    My performance has nothing to do with saving anyone money or lining anyone’s pockets — it has to do with ensuring research is conducted in an ethical way (feels good) and doing it efficiently enough to make the researchers happy (stressful but fine).

    I have no delusions about medical research being all around ethically flawless — technically my work also helps big pharma make money. But very indirectly.

    This is one example of a job that isn’t soul-sucking or ethically repugnant. Mine happens to come with a decent work environment and decent pay. And it’s at an institution that’s large enough to be functional. So it’s possible!

    TLDR: If capitalism gets you down, look into jobs where your performance isn’t tied to saving/earning anyone money.

    1. Temperance*

      And arguably, I would point out that while yes, your work might help big pharma, it also changes lives. I’m on a newer medication (Aimovig) that has been life changing for me, and many others. Without you, and Big Pharma, it wouldn’t exist.

      1. IRB analyst*

        Yeah I didn’t say that explicitly but I meant to — clinical research is overall a worthy endeavor and my work is a net positive for the world.

      2. anon for this*

        I actually worked in Big Pharma for a while (sort of slid there sideways, my company sent me there as a contractor) and this really struck me. The industry gets such a bad rep, and there are definitely huge problems with it. But at the same time, they’re… attempting to create products that will save/improve people’s lives? Which is a good thing? When I worked there we had all these motivational posters up about what the company was doing and it was all “here’s this campaign to eradicate X disease! our breakthrough new cancer treatmentis hitting the market! look at these vaccines!” And, like, with all the problems with Big Pharma (and how we do medical research and medical development generally)… there were still people who were a lot better off because those medications and that campaign existed.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I feel sort of the same. My job is nice. I get to make historical documents available to people who need them, while I also making sure they are safe for future researchers. I get to give young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, their first jobs and try to help them learn the ropes of the working world. I have a great staff who I get to support and I don’t work a lot of extra hours. However, my school has donors who made their money in oil and pharma and big tech. Does it bother me? Sure, I’d rather we didn’t put certain people’s names on buildings, but I can’t change the fact that they made money and if that money can help a disadvantage student get a good education, I can live with it.

      1. Pippa K*

        To you and all the archivists and librarians who safeguard historical documents and make them accessible to researchers: thank you and I love you very much.

    3. Astroworld*

      I do bio research and no, it’s not a perfect job — whatever that means — but I personally do derive a lot of meaning and satisfaction from the overall goal of my work as well as the daily activities. I don’t advocate for everyone to “do what you love” or “follow your passion” or “derive meaning from your work” = it’s different for everyone. But personally, I do enjoy/like/love (depending on the day) what I do for a living. It is fulfilling, emotionally and intellectually.

  35. Aggretsuko*

    Yeah, I’d say most jobs suck, and that’s why you’re paid to do them. Nobody wants to pay me to do the things I love to do.

    It just sucks that I have to waste 70% of my life doing things I hate just so I can stay alive, though.

    1. Nicotene*

      This is where I land too. I love to write fiction and I’m even pretty good at it based on some external indicators, but nobody wants to pay me a living wage to do that, and with things like insurance and the self-employment taxes it takes a loooot of money. So, I have a boring white collar office job. Do I love it? No. Do I hate it? No. It pays the bills so I can write for fun.

  36. Empress Matilda*

    This is such a great answer, Alison. It’s totally understandable that OP feels this way – and it’s also important to avoid broad generalizations about entire industries! There are good and bad people, and good and bad organizations, everywhere.

    Definitely take some time to figure out what you want to do, as well as what you definitely don’t want to do, and what you can put up with for the sake of a paycheque. The jobs are out there, although I expect it will take more creativity and persistence than it has in the past. Good luck!

  37. MechE*

    Removed this and the ensuing thread because derailing (and it’s not okay to comment that it’s “fun” to see people get upset about weapons and death). – Alison

  38. OyHiOh*

    What I have mostly discovered over the last year is that there’s much more range in “what I can do as a grown up” than I ever imagined, even when I was in college and supposed to be finding out what was available as paid work. See yesterday’s conversation under asking kids what they want to be when they grow up! So many people working in fields they had no idea existed, or in fact didn’t exist 10, 15, or 20 years ago.

    My job right now is non profit, in economic development. I was hired as admin and am promotable to grant writing as my organization evolves. My boss is progressive, my colleagues waver across a spectrum I can’t quite pin down, and my board mostly stays out of the way until we need them to make decisions and they’re generally a thoughtful, intelligent group of humans so I mostly enjoy where my work intersects with theirs. I have leeway jump in and take tasks and projects that fit more on the planner side of what the organization does than the admin and am subsequently learning more about regional broadband and housing issues than I ever imagined wanting to know. The only part of economic development that I had any awareness of, when I was in college, was the somewhat vague heading of entrepreneurship and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to run my own business so screw that. It turns out that in well-run economic development orgs, systematic issues of equity and access need to be faced head on and dealt with so a region can thrive and that very much appeals to the part of my brain that knows exactly why people take to the streets in demonstrations but which also wants to actively do something so we don’t have to keep demonstrating.

  39. Temperance*

    I think you’re looking at everything in an overly broad manner. Tech isn’t “morally bankrupt”, necessarily; yes, you will make $$, but with more funds, you can donate more to causes you care about. You can also do nonprofit tech, working to build products that change lives; there’s some movement to use cryptocurrency and blockchain to help refugees in camps, for example.

    I’m a lawyer. I work at a big firm. We do some really evil shit. I work in our charitable arm, so I don’t, but my work absolutely supports that side (and is supported by that side!).

  40. Tracy*

    I expect jobs to be hard, difficult, stressful. When duties are that way – I can handle it.

    The hardest thing for me to deal with are people in general. I think we all struggle and dealing with humanity, on the bad days and sometimes even the good days, can be what really causes the wrinkles. It might be my introvert self coming through, though.

  41. gbca*

    No, not all jobs are bad! One thing I noticed about the examples you gave is they are all (by someone’s definition) “cool” jobs or industries. I do think these are the type of places where toxicity is more likely because people really want to work for these places, so they’re highly competitive and an attitude of “people should be lucky to work here” exists.

    I have a lot of job satisfaction right now. I chose a function that is personally interesting to me and plays to my skillset, is broadly needed, and crosses industries (corporate finance). From there, I look for companies that have a collaborative, collegial culture. Yes, I have days where everything annoys me, and at the end of the day it’s a job – it’s not like I would be working here for free. But I have the general satisfaction of working with and for people I like, and doing something that stimulates my brain and makes me feel productive.

  42. Firecat*

    I’d like to caution you against broad industry damning categorizations as that’s a recipe for depression.

    Yes it is good to not wrap your identity up in what you do, something I am working to detangle myself, but everything you mentioned has a lot of variety and it’s not as black and white as you painted.

    Law for example, isn’t just high paying firm types who work 24/7. You can be a lawyer and paid decently – $50-$100k range, for almost any industry you are passionate about. Every hospital has lawyers for example covering everything from malpractice suits to contracting software acquisitions or negotiating better private health insurance rates.

    And even the “savior” industries like healthcare or scientific research have the same political problems that other jobs do. Nothing is sacred and sequestered from the challenges of being run by flawed people.

  43. Incessant Owlbears*

    The way this question is phrased sounds so negative, and it makes me sad that someone has so far only been exposed to the bad side of working. My experience has been very different. Sure, I’ve had some toxic jobs, from which I learned (sometimes the lesson was “get out!”). I’ve had to work to learn in-demand skills, and work to screen potential employers for what matters to me. It did take me years of self examination, upskilling, after hours classes, and jobs that weren’t the greatest, but those were all rungs in the ladder for me.

    Now, I’m working somewhere that does good in the world, my manager and team mates are fantastic and supportive, I’m learning new skills, being paid more than ever before, with full benefits and a pension plan. I’m excited to get up in the morning and make progress on my tasks. I don’t think for a minute that all jobs are so rosy — I’m very aware that I’m super lucky, while also working my butt off to get here! For me, the key was to hold my ideals and work towards them relentlessly. Even if I didn’t get what I wanted right away, I knew I was setting myself up for success.

    I hope the letter writer can take heart, have hope, and continue to hold their ideals without becoming embittered by the struggle.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      A pension plan? Are you working in heaven? Seriously, congrats, this sounds fantastic!

    2. Flower necklace*

      I’m a little surprised at the negativity, too. I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment with wonderful coworkers and a supportive admin team. The pay isn’t great, but it’s enough to support me and my cat. And I really like the work.

      That said, my school has been on an upward trajectory the past few years. Turnover at higher levels has made a huge difference. I was brand new to public education four years ago, and I didn’t realize how bad it truly was. If I had, I might have left. But I’m glad I stuck it out because it really is nice to work with such a fantastic group of people.

  44. Sara without an H*

    OP, I think you’ve been sold the notion that for a Successful Life, you must find a Perfect Job! It will be your source of Personal Meaning! It will be your Identity! It will be your Passion!

    All of this is a steaming heap of organic fertilizer.

    I’ve had good jobs, bad jobs, and ok jobs. But you know what made things better? I quit thinking of my job as part of my identity. I think I’ve done well in my profession, I’ve avoided major moral compromises, and I think I’ve made a difference in the world, albeit in a small way. But I found I was much happier if I thought of my work as something I did rather than as who I was.

    Another useful insight, that I actually took an unnecessarily long time to discover, is that human beings are imperfect. The best of them have flaws, and even the worst of them will usually have a couple of redeeming characteristics. My managers and coworkers were all flawed human beings. And then it hit me…I, too, am a flawed human being.

    You seem to be locked into dichotomous thinking. It’s a cognitive distortion and it is guaranteed to make you miserable. It may also bias you against job opportunities that may not be perfect, but would give you experience that could lead to better things. I recommend a book by Andrea Bonnior called “Detox Your Thoughts.”

    1. AlbertHerring*

      I think this is where I come down on this list, too.

      I’ve had a handful of office jobs over the years…each has had its flaws, and none has been perfect. (For those keeping score, all save the first have been in the field of government contracting.) But with one exception (which I left pretty quickly), I can’t say I’m sorry I took any of them. I got something useful out of each of them, and each helped me develop in my career to the next point I needed.

      The thing is, none of these jobs was ever part of my core identity. Working was, yes – the act of working itself. But never the jobs – they’ve always been a means to an end, to earn money to allow me to enjoy my life. So I didn’t take the knocks to heart, for the most part – I recognize that every job is going to have its downsides, and looking for the perfect, or even perfect-for-me, job is a surefire path to misery.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      So much this. And that’s even from someone whose job uses a lot of skills and interests that are closer to what I’d consider my identity than the job itself. But I’ve used those same skills in several very different jobs, so the job is not the common denominator.

    3. ArtK*

      Well said.

      I also think that the LW could have asked for advice without delving into all of the negative generalizations. I think that Alison did a very good job answering the underlying questions about the meaning of a job in one’s life, balance, and the path to what one wants.

  45. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I read the book Bullshit Jobs a few years ago, and it confirmed what I’d already been thinking; that most of us spend our lives doing meaningless work that no one really wants or needs. And that, oddly, the more good a job does in this world, the lower paid it is and the lower the odds of it being able to offer benefits like healthcare for us and our families.

    I raised two children, made sure they had good healthcare growing up, left a toxic marriage, was able to maintain the lifestyle for the children on my one income and minimal help from their father, put the children through college, bought a house, sold the house to move to where I always wanted to live on my own after the children were out of the house, and am looking to use the proceeds from my old house to settle down in my new neighborhood. All on my income from my otherwise meaningless jobs. That might be the most useful thing to have come out of my entire career; helping two people (and a dog, and some cats) have a good life in this world. Other than that, a succession of bullshit jobs; which the author defines as “if it were to disappear tomorrow, no one would notice”.

    And the thing is, even if you find a good role, or manager, or company, it kind of feels like you’ve got, at best, 2–3 years before a re-org or shareholder meeting upends the whole thing and you’re either taking a pay cut, getting laid off, or being managed by someone who probably should not be a manager.

    Sadly true in my experience. I left a large company to work at a new and promising startup. A large company bought it. I left for another startup, another large company bought that one. It’s like large corporations are the Hotel California, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

    1. The Original K.*

      I’ve found that even if your employer isn’t bought or re-org’ed, it’s often the case that the easiest way to get a decent raise or promotion is to change jobs. A lot of folks I know change jobs every 3-5 years or so because that’s the only way they can move up and moving up is the only way they can earn more, which they need to do at the very least to keep pace with inflation.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Both times I went to startups was because I wanted to Do!Great!Things! rather than working at a stagnant corp. Both times, fast forward a few years and I found myself at a stagnant corp again (thankfully, with the same COL raises). But you are right about the job changes, especially early in the career. (I’m way past the point now where I can hope for even a matching salary at a next job, but have done it many times in the past.)

  46. SummerBreeze*

    I’m sorry the OP has this view of work which, yes, is overly simplistic and negative.

    My passion is books, and I make a living working in publishing, for companies that do really outstanding work (children’s publishing! lots of nonprofit partnerships! lots of free book grants to underserved communities!). I chose a non-editorial path so I make a lot more money than the notoriously underpaid editors, but I’m still doing writing work. I work 35-40 hour weeks. I get good benefits and vacation. I meet awesome people. Is my publisher out to make money? Of course! But that can be done ethically. And I’m really proud of what we put out into the world. No matter what role someone in this company does, they’re helping get books to young readers.

    Yes, capitalism is real and it can suck. I’ve made it a point to only work at places that are net positive rather than negative or neutral. They exist. Those of us who can find them, stay in them, and survive (or thrive!) on them are lucky, to be sure. But they exist.

    1. Diotima*

      I’m so curious… What are non-editorial roles in publishing? Like finance or marketing/business side? But you still work in writing? Sounds like a great career! :)

      1. londonedit*

        I’m not SummerBreeze, but I also work in publishing – there are all sorts of non-editorial roles. Marketing, publicity, production (the people who actually send the book to press once the editors have finished with it), foreign rights, audio, sales, finance, digital…loads of different things! Books are just a product at the end of the day, and there are tons of different roles involved in producing books beyond the editorial bits.

  47. Nothing to Show for Life*

    This OW is definitely colored by a world view that isn’t necessarily correct…and so while I sympathize with the general sentiment, I’m wondering if they’re missing some important things to consider…

    i.e. We trade work for other things in life. No one is making you live up to a certain expectation, and last I checked, the vast majority of companies did’t throw anyone under thee bus for profits (gasp!) but had to let people go, or change things in order to STAY IN BUSINESS. Last I checked, if a company goes under, no one keeps their job.

    Anywho, I say all this as someone who had a double major at a very elite college, has an additional specialized degree, is a veteran, and has over 10 years of work experience in their field, and is still working the most menial job below my skill and intelligence. I’m honestly considering selling everything I own, finding some menial remote part time job and traveling the world on the cheap for the next decade.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      the vast majority of companies did’t throw anyone under thee bus for profits (gasp!) but had to let people go, or change things in order to STAY IN BUSINESS. Last I checked, if a company goes under, no one keeps their job.

      … can be true of some small companies, but definitely is not true of many large companies, which make plenty of decisions based on maximizing profit for shareholders, not to stay in business. (For one much-covered recent example, take a look at Amazon.)

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        We had a large company in our area conduct a layoff last year in a way that made everyone gasp. If anyone wants to google, it’s Hyland layoff. They announced the layoffs to their WFH staff via a prerecorded call that they were invited to call into, not knowing what the call would be about. I talked to someone just the other day who was laid off that day, and they told me something I hadn’t heard before; that, when the people got the invite to the meeting (where they would be laid off), the invite also said “if you are on a call with a customer, you do not have to end it to call into the meeting. Stay on the call, we’ll catch you up later.” Talk about milking the already-laid-off staff to the last drop! The reason for the layoff was that the company had outsourced the positions to offshore for lower pay. The company was in no danger of going under. It used to hype up the team spirit and over the years that I knew people working there, there was always a lot of talk about “Hyland family” and such. Well at least the Hyland family is going to have a damn hard time finding new talent after this. (Got to thank capitalism for working correctly at least once in a while.)

  48. Colette*

    I largely agree with JJJBB. The letter reads to me as somone who thinks there are no good options (without having done much research) and could easily be using that as a reason not to bother. At best, these are extreme generalizations – it’s like saying “spiders kill people” even though only 30 out of something like 47,000 species can actually kill people. It’s not false, but you’re ignoring a lot of nuance.

  49. Observer*

    One thing that Alison didn’t address is the fact that you are making some really broad assumptions and they aren’t all correct.

    Non-profit does not necessarily mean dysfunctional. Tech is not necessarily morally corrupt, etc. even withing a company, if it’s large enough, you may find both good and bad. Certainly across sectors for the most part. Even in a sector with some really problematic norms it may be possible to buck that trend.

  50. Toucan Flies*

    There are jobs that exist and plenty of companies with great positions and that do all of the things you mention. What’s important is picking the right company. One that’s established (been around for a long time), has a diverse portfolio of products or services (more diversity can lead to less layovers because when one division is down in sales, another can support it), and a company of good size since those generally pay better, have better benefits, and have a good HR. I’m talking the Fortune 500 companies generally.

    These positions can also be selective as they want the best of the best working for them, but once you’re in, you’re pretty much set for a lifelong career there or with another big company since you already have the experience.

    I speak from experience and I know I’m very fortunate/spoiled with my job. Fortune 100 company, more than 100k salary + bonus + stock, cool AF boss, manage a team, never work more than 40 hours a week. While my actual work is not glamorous or ideal, I enjoy it and the other benefits outweigh it.

    This is why I’m so big on picking a job that supports the life you want instead of picking a dream job or one that defines who you are, but you’re working yourself to death.

  51. JD*

    They call “work” a four letter word for a reason. Unfortunately, we (Americans) tie alot of our self-identity to our careers. There’s more to life than working.

    I’ve had a number of jobs in a couple of career fields (Infantryman, police officer and EMT -worked my squad and then “volunteered” on the Bus to keep skills up and log hours, and now sales – mechanical equipment). There’s been good parts and bad in ALL of them. No job is perfect, you just have to find something you can tolerate enough to sell your labor to, for a sufficient rate.

  52. BlueBelle*

    My suggestion is to focus less on where you work and what you do, but why you do it. Why are you choosing the profession you chose? What drives you and motivates you to do your work? Is it money? That isn’t enough. My job is to help other people be successful and to advance in their careers, that is my purpose at work. Regardless of what leadership is doing or the mistakes the company is making, my job is to help other people. That is why I do my job. When I focus less on what they aren’t doing or doing, and I focus on what I can do within my position and to help the people who need my help, the happier I am in my work. Of course, there are frustrations, nothing is perfect. But I craft my own purpose regardless of who I work for.

  53. kiri*

    I appreciate this question (and Alison’s answer) immensely. For me (and many of my coworkers, especially those around my age and stage, which I think is close to that of the OP), the pandemic has clarified a lot about working in a capitalist society – which is, essentially, I don’t love it. My job is good, my coworkers are good, my bosses are good – so I feel lucky in that regard, but I get paid next to nothing for a job that requires a Masters. We had to stay open during the pandemic, and the constant anxiety and stress about safety really took a toll on all of us.

    Basically, before you cry entitlement and oversimplification, please have a little empathy. I’ve been in the working world since I was 15 – almost 20 years at this point – and I’ve never felt so tired, so cynical, so absolutely fried, as I do currently.

    1. Nicotene*

      I really appreciate that Alison didn’t sugarcoat it. This blog tends to be pro-career for obvious reasons – and that’s why I read it! – but I felt that she was being a straight shooter here. We need to get this message out earlier in the education system I think.

    2. Unpopular Millennial*

      I think we’re about the same age, and I completely agree that our generation has had a short shrift recently. We graduated during the recession, held bottom-of-the-food-chain positions during the pandemic, and we were raised on a bunch of junk about careers = identity. No wonder a lot of people are feeling fried.

      But I think the premise of this letter and a lot of similar complaints I’ve heard recently is that there *should* be a perfect job for every person. I think that’s a fundamentally incorrect way to view jobs and work, and I think it’s the reason people are “crying entitlement”. Society doesn’t owe anyone a perfect job, and I think we’d all be happier if we accepted that and looked at jobs as a means to end: money, stability, etc.

      And I say this as a STEM PhD who until recently worked 80+ hours a week and made less than the average Uber driver driving 40hrs/week. I get the frustration. I just don’t think it’s justified (understandable, but not justified) or useful.

  54. Bostonian*

    You’re not doomed! Good jobs ARE hard to come by. Most will be mismanaged in some way, even the good ones.

    I actually have not really had the experience of frequent re-orgs/management shifts in my experiences, but I recognize I’m just 1 data point.

  55. Britney Spears*

    I have a great job, with amazing benefits (paid health insurance with a small copay, pension, stock rights, cellphone allowance, flexibility, hands off manager, supportive colleagues) but even within the company, my group seems to be a unicorn with a great culture. I’m in support and though operations makes more money, they almost always work super grueling hours. There’s little direction for the vision of our group, but somehow or other we are glorified to some level of importance. There’s no perfect job, but I count my lucky stars to have work-life balance, good boss, good benefits, just not a lot of purpose or passion for what I do. Reminds me of Catch-22.

    1. Britney Spears*

      Also, we are being given leeway as how us coming back to office looks like (not so much for operations), the management is stable as in there are no re-orgs and the company is financially sound. Sometimes I feel guilty and stupid for looking into giving this up in order to pursue a job where I feel that I am “making an impact” or “intellectually challenged.” Maybe I am. Maybe I am not. What’s more important? Idk… if someone knows, let me know hah

  56. Fabulous*

    I feel like I’ve found a unicorn in my job…

    Right before I started working for Company A, they were acquired by a large corporation. In five years, I’ve now gone through a merger and two reorganizations with my job intact. And while the pay started out sucky, today I’m making about $15k more than where I started due to a plethora of awesome bosses who’ve lobbied for me throughout. We’re in the midst of a job job title audit in our division (due to the re-orgs) and re-titling people as appropriate – and I’m sure I’m on the list for a re-title… which will also come with about $10-15k more! *fingers crossed*

    1. Fabulous*

      Welp, after talking with my boss in our most recent 1:1, apparently I’m NOT on the list for a re-title just yet, since I was just promoted/re-titled at the end of last year. Gotta wait one more fiscal year for the next step, but I’ll be ready!

  57. Dust Bunny*

    I work for a nonprofit that is decidedly not dysfunctional. We’ve had a couple of not-great people in leadership over the years but we routed them and found better people. We’re underpaid across the board because our funding situation is unique and less than ideal, but the benefits are good and the organization is very humane while still holding people to standards. I like the work. My coworkers are genuinely great. People tend to stay here for years even though we’re in a big city with a fairly expansive and diverse job market. (We’re a medical library that serves a bunch of institutions in a huge medical complex, so . . . research and education, basically?)

    I think this is actually a bit complicated: Yes, a lot of jobs suck. Most jobs probably suck in some respects but maybe not in others and you’ll have to decided not just how much but what variety of suckage you’re willing to tolerate. I’m fortunate to have a job with extremely minimal suckage.

    But I also think that people need to be careful not to ask too much of a job. Is it changing the world? Does it need to, or can you do that on your own time and settle for a job that is minimally harmful?

    1. Nicotene*

      It’s also nice to alternate the suckage every once in a while – makes it easier to tolerate. I had jobs that paid well but were poorly managed, which was a nice break from passion jobs that paid crap.

    2. DarnTheMan*

      Echoing this; I also work for a non-profit which is very well structured, and pays well to boot. A big part of this is we’re a country branch of a larger international non-profit that has been running for close to 75 years at this point so a lot of the organizational structure and mandate comes down from the top. And yes there’s been some not great parts; I had a terrible director for about a year – they were nice but just very ineffective at their job, especially since they always wanted to play peacemaker, rather than managing other team’s expectations – but the rest of my team is amazing so we banded together and worked through it. In my experience even this job which i really like isn’t perfect but there’s a huge gulf between soul suckingly terrible and I would throw my mother under a bus to stay in this position.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, one of the reasons I haven’t looked for something that pays better is that everything else about this is pinching-myself awesome.

  58. Danish*

    I feel this deeply- many days my friends and/or coworkers and I will say, with a hysteria-tinged laugh, “I sure do love working for Shin-Ra/Umbrella/First Order!” but it is helpful to remember there is nuance.

    For example – Amazon is probably one of the biggest names in tech that comes to mind for “morally bankrupt”, right? We’ve got bezos using his incomprehensible wealth to fly himself orbit while his warehouse workers and truck drivers pee in bottles. They have units dedicated to creating military AI. They actively discourage unionizing. They’ve put innumerable small businesses out of business and put enormous pressure on the post office to meet ridiculous demand.

    However, there are also business units within Amazon entirely dedicated to creating green-energy solutions for consumer products. That work to reduce shipping waste to as low as possible. That want to automate shipping and delivery to reduce the burden on humans. That want to create and standardize accessible tech for people with disabilities. They are also passionate, dedicated people who care very much about the work they do.

    Neither of these things cancel each other out, and we hear much more about the negative because that has more of a visible and immediate impact on people, but the good does still exist.

    All that to say, I feel you LW.

  59. Elliot*

    I feel like what the letter-writer is seriously also missing is any sense of agency, control, etc. Are some jobs just objectively bad and hard to change, and thus worth getting far away from? Of course. That’s a major theme of this blog! However, if you go into any job with the attitude that “all jobs are bad” and “tech is morally bankrupt” (a line which is not funny, not productive, and completely overlooks the immense good that tech has done…) etc, you’re likely going to hate your job and be the one making the environment toxic for everyone else.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That is so, so true. If the LW is in a position to be picky about jobs, then she is in a position to exercise some control in her search for the right role and approach her work with a less negative mindset. That’s a luxury not too many people have.

      This is starting to remind me of a family member I have who refuses to apply for jobs because they don’t meet his exacting standards and they’re all shortsighted and servicing “the man.” Dude has no work experience beyond the family business and service jobs, but the family business is “behind the times” and waiting tables isn’t the right use of his talents. I tried to make the case that you can’t make change without starting somewhere, but… I am also a victim of “the man”, so…

      1. Britney Spears*

        Sounds like fear of failure… vicious cycle. Sorry about your friend — I have one like that too and it’s hard to watch.

  60. hellohello*

    There are two important considerations with this question, really. 1) There is work that needs to be done for a healthy and functioning society, and it’s often work that wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice of daily activity so we pay people to make sure it gets done. 2) We’ve created a societal and economic system that allows workers to be tremendously abused and exploited without any real recourse or any way to impact the decision making of a company to hold them accountable for unethical actions.

    Point number 1 is where looking at a job as a job, and deciding what trade-offs will work best for you. Point number 2 is, in my opinion, best solved by forming unions to ensure workers have the power to demand safe and reasonable working conditions and by advocating for policy and regulation that holds corporations accountable for behaving ethically.

  61. Submerged Tenths*

    Applauding Alison’s response! It is candid, and makes the MOST important point: the definition of “good/bad” job is an entirely individual one and we need to be honest with ourselves about our expectations.

  62. StripesAndPolkaDots*

    The version of this I’ve encountered most is: you can either have a job with a small, local company that’s ostensibly doing something good (or at least is “local” aka people think that’s more moral that a giant corporation) but pays terribly, no room for advancement, often office culture is bad/bizarre, no HR, etc; or, you can work for a giant immoral multinational corporation that’s definitely doing bad things, but they pay well, have great health insurance, room for growth, actual trained managers, etc. I know plenty of people in the latter who want to switch to doing something they see as good for the world but it’s tough to take the pay cut, especially when they have families. I also worked in academia, which had its own major moral issues. It’s very hard for many of us to find jobs we feel good about morally but also pay enough to live.

  63. Tripleloop*

    My father worked at a factory and my mother had a job with the government and I never heard them say anything good about their jobs. It was always “I hate that place!” It was something they did to pay the bills and that was it. Because of this, I never expected to like my job (or even have a “career” instead of a job) so I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I have liked at least aspects of most of them, though I’ve only had my “dream job” once in over 40 years of working.

  64. Lucious*

    Good news is, not all jobs are bad.

    Bad news is the “good job” you have today is one piece of paper away from becoming a “bad job” tomorrow. For all the pithy mission statements attached to corporate office walls , most if not all of us office workers are names in an Excel file. When the C-suite meets to make profit impacting decisions, human beings become assets to be used, developed- and discarded if necessary.

    In the action movie “The Kingdom”, there’s a line from a character regarding his work that applies to this subject.

    “Every day I go to work I accept that one day, this job will end.”

    Internalizing that truth puts a lot of office BS and drama into its proper context.

  65. Cooper*

    I don’t think it’s helpful to pick apart the LW’s specific arguments, because there is a certain amount of needing to come to terms with the fact that… yeah, most jobs are for companies, and inherently, under capitalism, there’s a certain amount of terribleness going on! All of my jobs so far have been in the realm of “make it so people keep making money”, and the meaninglessness of everything I do does not escape me.

    But I use the money I make from my meaningless jobs to do things with meaning, and not all jobs are equally meaningless. (Within tech, for example, I was an intern briefly with a company that made cutting-edge medical technology that offered relief and treatment to people who would otherwise just have to live with pain and incontinence.)

  66. AndersonDarling*

    Starting out is hard. When you don’t have experience or education then you end up taking the jobs that everyone else ran away from. Bad managers, safety violations, abuse, misogyny/racism, and all the crap that makes every workday unbearable are things we sometimes have to endure while we get that one year of experience so we can move on.
    It would be great if all you had to endure when starting out was “hard work,” but most of the time you have to deal with bad pay or a psychopath manager. But we put in the time and move onto a job that is just a bit better. We put in 2 years there, and then we get to the sweet jobs. Once you have experience, then you can have a respectful manager, competent leadership, good pay, and all the other nice things we would like to have in our work.

    1. Lucious*

      A college grad with 0 hours of industry experience doesn’t deserve to be abused. Discrimination , unsafe, or racist/sexist work environments should not be viewed as dues one has to pay for professional advancement.

      It may be so in some industries. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

  67. ZSD*

    I’ve had plenty of good jobs! Working at universities has generally been fulfilling (helping make students’ lives better) and involved reasonable working hours, supportive bosses, etc. Sometimes the people at the top of the org chart make decisions I can’t understand, but I’m low enough down the chain (while still high enough to make a good salary) that I’m less affected by the weirder big-picture decisions.
    I also had a job at a non-profit advocacy organization that I thought was very well-run and treated its employees well. They worked hard to walk the walk by not just advocating for anti-poverty public policy, but also pay employees well, make sure we had the benefits we were trying to enshrine in law, etc.

    I agree with commenters up-thread who point out that you’re engaging in black-and-white thinking. Try not to catastrophize, and try to make yourself see the shades of gray. Good luck!

  68. Mayflower*

    Tech: pays well, but is morally bankrupt

    Startups: often managed by people who purport to have high-minded visions or progressive values, but then it inevitably comes out that they are abusing their employees and are run by a low-key cult leader

    Woah, those are some…. generalizations. I’ve worked in tech for 20 years, for all kinds of companies including startups, and that’s simply not true. Whoever said that to you has a major chip on their shoulder and should consider elevating themselves by actually elevating themselves, not by putting others down. (General rule: if you find yourself to be morally superior to everyone around you, you are not morally superior.)

    Tech is an amazing, diverse industry that makes everyone’s lives better. There are abuses, for sure, but to say “tech is morally bankrupt” is to miss the forest for the trees. The have-not’s of today’s first world countries live better lives than the have’s of the past, much of it is thanks to tech. And every company is a startup at some point, so it’s just weird to say that every single company starts out as a cult. I am not excusing the myriad bad things that happen every day, and certainly there are systemic issues (that I am too familiar with, being a female software engineer), but overall tech is one of the best industries to be in.

    If I had to offer constructive advice, it would be to stop consuming the news (which I am guessing you do a lot, based on your sense of hopelessness). The news industry an outrage machine – you get caught up in endless stories of malfeasance that do nothing but get you to buy more stuff while making you depressed about the state of the word. This is my advice as an older progressive: if you truly espouse progressive values, find your niche and do the grunt work of helping actual real people out there. Stop looking at what everyone is doing wrong, and figure out what YOU can do right!

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      Ah, you made some huge generalizations. Tech has no more made everyone’s lives better than any other industry.

  69. BradC*

    In addition to the fact that companies vary widely WITHIN industries, don’t forget that all kinds of companies need all kinds of workers: if you do “tech work”, for example, that doesn’t mean you have to work for a “tech company”, you can work in the IT dept of literally any company that works with computers and servers (ie, nearly all of them).

    Pretty much any company (of sufficient size) needs a broad spectrum of teams that do all different sorts of work: IT departments, marketing teams, HR teams, art departments, managers and office workers at all layers and all roles.

    I know that many jobs are much more specialized, but no, I don’t think its unreasonable to think you can get paid a living wage doing work you are good at, at a company that needs your skills and that treats their employees well.

  70. Anonymars*

    UGH I could have written this question!!

    I’m literally struggling with this right now. My current job is at a mid-sized nonprofit where I’ve been for more than 5 years. I have two apps out at places where I feel like i have a decent chance of getting interviews and I’m super anxious about both of them.

    One is a mid-level job at a big consulting agency where a mentor from my very first job works. What excites me about the job is that it sounds like a great workplace with upward mobility and work-life balance where I’d be able to collaborate with other experts in my field. But…they work on corporate social responsibility for big corporations. My anti-capitalist brain is…anxious about actively helping Big Oil greenwash their work.

    The other is a senior-level job at a tiny (>25 people) nonprofit on an issue I really care about. What excites me about this job is the possibility to actually do some good — not just in the world, but specifically for this company. The types of things they’re looking to hire in this position are things that I’m really good at, and things I can tell they really need. What makes me nervous is that, going to an organization this small (my “team” is 1-2 people), I’ll be left to fend for myself and have no one to collaborate with.

  71. Brett*

    I’ve worked for two organizations that I think _many_ people would classify as “actively doing harm in the world”. Both organizations definitely believed the opposite, that they were actively doing good in the world. In both cases, I think they were right. The thing is that people external to the organization could clearly see the harm done by the orgs, but had little visibility on the huge amounts of good being done by each organization.

    Point is, be careful with that criteria and do you due diligence. You might be very wrong about how “harmful” or “helpful” an organization is if you are not researching and judging against your own values.

  72. Roja*

    I think it helps to think of each job as a mix of good and bad, and you just have to find the mix you can live with. My job, for instance, offers no benefits and funky hours, but I adore the work, my coworkers, my boss, and honestly just going in day to day lights up my world. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make right now. I tend to trade off financial benefits for peace and quiet, because that’s the kind of person I am. Other people are fine making the tradeoff between having more money and not having coworkers and a boss they love. Certainly there are jobs that are just the cat’s meow, and others that are toxic hellholes that you should escape ASAP. But by and large, it’s all about finding out what you can live with.

    In that respect I don’t think it’s any different than the rest of life. Very few relationships, living situations, places, etc are perfect. You just find what suits you best.

  73. BigBadBoss*

    It’s called work for a reason. If it were fun all the time then we would have to pay to be there! Decide what you can live with, remember it’s how you keep a roof over your head and be tolerant of others including bosses. I am a business owner and find employees who demand the most perfection from a boss are often mediocre at best. Every job is what you make of it. If the boundaries are reasonable, you aren’t asked to do anything illegal or immoral, you are reasonably pleasant to work with and are able to learn, grown, and adjust to changes then work is a pretty decent place no matter what. Just be sure it isn’t who you are, just what you do.

  74. Spotted Kitty*

    It took me nearly 20 years in the working world to find a job that I wouldn’t describe as toxic in some way or another. First it was low-paying retail, then an office job with crazy coworkers, then another office job with crazy coworkers and insane bosses, then a job where I enjoyed the work but the work was increasingly being automated, then to another job with crazy coworkers and unstable management, and finally to where I am now. I’ve been here for 5 years and I imagine it’s time to move on, but it is daunting to think about what I might be going into.

  75. ShakenNotStirred*

    This reminds me of a tweet I saw, “The only feeling worse than not having a job is having a job.” Made me laugh.

  76. Andrea*

    A job that’s not a good fit for your talents, interests and skills will likely always be a bad job. Look into what you are good at and interested in and not what 5 sectors your friends have heard of.

  77. Lora*

    I think you just have to decide what you want to do and what you can do. Companies are made of people and unfortunately a lot of people really, really just suck. Ask any customer-facing worker, they will tell you: people are mostly a-holes. So some things just come with the territory of working with other humans, sure – weird co-workers, bosses who shouldn’t be in charge of a houseplant much less other people, bad planning and surprise work.

    You just have to decide what it is you want out of life generally. If the thing that gives you meaning and joy in life is Not Work, it’s surfing or traveling or knitting cat sweaters, then figure out which job will maximize your ability to do those things while covering necessities. What’s the most important thing to you – and how can you go about doing that?

    For myself I was very good at STEM and wanted to do something helping people and doing good in the world, but not so good at working with the general public, so clinical type jobs were right out. Academic drug research is…frankly crap. 80% of it is not reproducible. I did it in both undergrad and grad school and it just sucked, it was incredibly frustrating to see so much grant money going to waste on the Least Publishable Unit when the PI knew that data was crap but gotta get those publications for the next round of grant funding, so… And I ended up in Big Pharma, because they have the budget to get drugs into human trials, your data definitely has to be reproducible and validated, and they do not screw around when they want to cure a disease (see: Covid vaccines). They aren’t trying to balance teaching obligations and generate publications and search for grants and all the time-sucks that make academic drug research take forever: they have one job, and it’s discovering drugs and then making them for humans. Sure, they vacuum up money from people who can least afford it in a very exploitative way, because what are you going to do, just die? But they also cure a lot of diseases, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do and if someone else wants to take on the task of universal health care, good for them but that’s a political job (which I am bad at).

  78. Macaroni Penguin*

    Some jobs are good! I’m one of the lucky people working at a place where all the boxes are checked off. Nothing is perfect, but it’s honestly a great place to work.
    1) Non-profit sector that pays a living wage.
    2) It’s a great work environment. No toxicity or clown management.
    3) A positive work life balance is emphasized
    4) We make the world a better place.

    OP, it sounds like you’re negatively generalizing a lot of things and feeling low. It’s truly been a terrible year for so many reasons. Humanity isn’t doomed though, and there are at least a few sparkling jobs to search for.

  79. Infrequent_Commenter*

    It’s called “work” for a reason, but still, the OP’s views show some pretty harsh biases/prejudices (all tech is immoral? Really?). They should make an effort to correct that.

  80. Colette*

    I also wonder whether the OP is restricting herself to office jobs, and she’d be happier looking at something outside of that realm – e.g. physiotherapist, electrician, plumber, respiratory therapist – something where she directly sees the impact of the work she’s doing.

  81. Nope, not today*

    I totally agree with Alison’s response – a lot of it is figuring out exactly what YOU can live with. Which is the same as anything in life. There are loads of wonderful people out there whom I would not be compatible with for a myriad of reasons – I have to figure out what my personal ‘dealbreakers’ are for a relationship. Same goes for school or work. What is it you want most, what are you absolutely not willing to do, and what things can you put up with without having it completely drain you? Its hard to find the right combo, and often the experience of different jobs will help you figure out those answers more clearly. For instance, I just want a job I like with people I dont hate for a wage I can live on. But after a long marriage with a spouse who was habitually job hopping, and a stint in a small barely surviving local business, my number one goal is stability. I want a job where I dont have to worry about things like ‘will I actually get paid on Friday’.

  82. DirtySocialist*

    Based on the letter I’m gonna assume LW is from the US, apologies if this is not the case – much of the exploitation/precarity you mention is partially about jobs but mostly about the policies regulating these jobs and workers’ rights. This is not to bash the US but to point out that rather than just feeling defeated maybe there are ways you can get involved on the local level in trying to change the policies that make this possible! I’m European and have lived and worked in a number of central European countries – everything from lowly student gigs to professional positions in various fields – and most of the outrageous structural problems I read about on this site would simply not be possible here. Sure, we still have plenty of crappy jobs and crappy bosses, but it’s a lot less miserable when you have regulated holidays, sick leave, health insurance and maximum work hours. Also I can’t stress enough what a difference a regulated housing market makes in living costs, and by extension the money you need to earn to live well.

  83. kittymommy*

    Honestly, I don’t think so. Perhaps I’m Polly Positive, but I’ve worked in a lot of different industries and had some toxic people/environments, but for the most part, when I look back and objectively analyze those experiences, no, for the most part I enjoyed most aspects of the job, was treated okay to pretty good and had had decent co-workers. Of course their are outliers and it’s really easy to focus on the GM who told me to “dump” my mom because she was sick and dragging me down. But I also had a boss who when my mom got cancer would special order the less common cases of Ensure and bring them to my house (he was a former boss and a pharmacist). I currently work for elected officials in a government role (and not a party I agree with). There are days that it. really. sucks. And when you are a government worker the public can be complete and utter assholes. I get paid… not well and there’s definite office politics in play. But it’s also filled with people who genuinely want to do good, people who are hampered by budgets that don’t have a lot of wiggle room, and co-workers who rally around each other (even if they’ve never met) to provide monetary and physical support in times of need.

    I do think you may be getting into a headspace where massive generalization about large industries may not being doing you any favors. It’s great that you have friends/family to vent to but it might help to make sure it doesn’t become a situation where all the circular commiserating isn’t wearing you down.

  84. Tinker*

    Okay so like real talk for a moment:

    I’m not the OP, but I am definitely struggling lately with similar feelings of discouragement around just how much effort I have to exert in order to effectively direct my abilities toward producing results that are actually useful to other people, while also earning enough money to sustain my lifestyle / living a lifestyle that is sustainable by a given amount of money that I can earn.

    Do you figure, after reading your comment, I am a) less depressed about that, b) more depressed about that?

    The answer is definitely B, because now in addition to having a difficult and frustrating problem (that I will ultimately handle, but in the meanwhile it’s a lot), I am faced with the bleak realization that when I was 25 I thought that the “so entitled you just want the perfect job handed to you on a silver platter you need to get out into the real world stop whining” responses to the type of things that constitute my workplace concerns would stop long before I was 40, and now I am 40 and it is clear that I was wrong.

    Please note that if you tell me to get a STEM degree and some work experience, I swear to the gods I will actually scream.

    1. Colette*

      I have a STEM degree and I’ve written a lot of software that no one ever used.

      I think sometimes people get into a mindset where they want to make big, sweeping change in the world through their job, and they miss the little ways they can make a difference in the world. We’ve seen some of those ways this past year – I’m certainly glad that we have people working in grocery stores, delivering parcels, and picking up the trash. I’m glad people have been purifying water. The exterminator I hired last fall was my favourite person in the world the day he showed up. The person who stocked the monitor I bought the day before the world shut down made working from home much more pleasant.

      I’ve had waiters who made my day with their competence and humour and a furnace tech who talked me through replacing my therostat when I knocked it off the wall. The last time I was in London, I was impressed by toilets you flush by waving your hand at a sensor on the wall.

      There are lots of ways to make a difference in people’s lives – and some of them are by working for for-profit companies. (Getting paid fairly is a separate issue that needs to be solved politically.)

      1. Tinker*

        I was originally writing in response to a comment that I now can’t find (might have been deleted, but I don’t quite have the time to confirm) which makes the tone a bit off out of context.

        My education is in engineering and I’ve also written some software that sometimes hasn’t seen much use — most recently, well, I was just commenting to my partner that everything I did for my paid employment in 2020 ended up amounting to “it got me paid” because a reorg at the end of the year basically negated the technical impact and most of the organizational politics impact of what I was working on. I’m philosophical about it to an extent — I agree with you about little ways of making a difference, and I think that “it got me paid” is a valid benefit to the world, but I would really like something more like the “it got me paid, and also I picked out the type of electrical box that a gadget is installed in that makes trains run slightly more efficiently, and the gadget needed to be in an electrical box and someone had to pick it so the gadget could exist” that is the more typical result across my career.

        Basically, I’m in a bit of an unusually ineffective corner of my career and working to get out of it, and in the process of getting out of it — for instance, I’m starting a side business, and while the point of the business is to produce a thing I think ought to exist, it may also actually earn me money — I increasingly encounter the feeling that what I dislike most about my paid employment is the degree to which it is an obstacle to my engaging in laborious effort to produce things of benefit to myself and others.

        Given that, it gets frustrating to see the discussion of the shape of the paid workplace so often fall into a corner where the workplace is implicitly or explicitly contrasted against self-indulgence and leisure. I like the delights of the senses about as much as other people seem to, but if I didn’t have a job it would free me up to do work, not to smoke weed and drink Lucky Charms milkshakes.

  85. Flurple*

    I work in a specialist industry you’re probably not considering, but I’ll talk through the 3 jobs I had and what didn’t work there. Before these, I had a terrible time in a highly toxic academic group.
    1. Low salary relative to industry as I was a contractor. Couldn’t have as much influence as I liked because I was a contractor. But there are ways round that – I had the client’s big boss’s ear at all times because he was excellent. There was no way around the salary.
    2. Working closely with an extremely patronizing older man. Company made false promises about something very important to me. Leadership was sexist and didn’t believe they were.
    3. They are really slow. Really really slow. My job is about speed and they don’t seem to know the definition of the word. My job also requires a fair bit of funding, and they’re not good at coughing up. It makes it hard to do good work that I normally pride myself on. I don’t trust my manager as he keeps massaging the truth. I think our other site has a diversity problem. When they hired me, they had no plan and didn’t understand the field they hired me to work in. There’s also this one guy I’m not a fan of, who seems to consider himself important, but I don’t have to work closely with him.

    1. was a completely amazing place to work, and if it still existed I would move back right now (on a better salary now I have proven experience, lol) with a plan to stay. 2. wasn’t good. 3. isn’t perfect and I may move on but it’s not, like, toxic or anything. Really, in terms of things that are important to me, people here are trying to pull out all the stops, and I have a ton of freedom. The stuff I mentioned for 1. and in some ways 3. are not that bad, and it’s a huge cry from the academic group where people were mentally in terrible states. Things look very different when you actually mention the good bits, and your friends probably aren’t.

  86. Mental Lentil*

    I used to work in a field where my personal identity was very closely tied to what I did for a living (teaching). There are a lot of issues with that field (I could write a book. Wait, I did write a book. Agents weren’t interested.), and while I tell people that I miss being in the classroom, I definitely don’t miss being in the school building.

    I now have a job I don’t identify with at all, and I can just leave it all behind at the end of the day. People ask me what I do for a living and I just say “production management” and leave it at that. They don’t press for details. It sounds boring because it is boring (although with exciting moments and days) to most people. But when I go home at the end of the day, I get to be me. My identity is no longer tied to what I do for a living, and no matter how well it goes or how dysfunctional it is, it really doesn’t matter. I can walk away from it on a daily basis. It’s a completely different mindset, but it does help.

  87. CorgisAndCats*

    I feel like I comment the same thing repeatedly on different letters but yet again, OP consider doing a few sessions with a career counselor! It sounds like you are burned out on job hunting and have a bit of option paralysis. I think you would benefit from sorting through your personal values and what aspects are truly important to your success/happiness at a job and what you can live without. Personally, I love being a psychologist, for me it hits my values of helping people in a clear manner, gives me flexibility for travel, and pays reasonably well. The downsides that I can live with is I deal with some heavy subject matter, I can’t take more than 3ish weeks off at at time, and there are plenty of days where I am beyond emotionally exhausted but these are worth the tradeoff. Maybe there a unicorn job out there that has everything on your wish list but perhaps finding the truly important pieces will make the job hunt a little less soul crushing.

  88. Spcepickle*

    I want to add my vote for government work. I work for a state in transportation and I really love my job. On a whole gov jobs pay less than private, but I take several vacations a year, almost always leave on time, get a good retirement, have the opportunity to move up and move around to slightly different jobs, and until I moved into management was covered by a pretty powerful union.

    Also I really do help people, those roads you drive on, sidewalk you walk on, that bridge that did not fall down, you are welcome.

    Also I am desperate to hire people, my team of about 30 has ten (posted activity trying to hire for) openings!

    There are good job, there are good managers but you have to be creative to find them.

  89. Ace in the Hole*

    You’re looking at exciting jobs. But the jobs with more status/recognition/prestige tend to come with some pretty serious down sides too. Try looking at boring jobs.

    I work at a garbage dump. It’s run by local government. We have stable schedules, decent pay/benefits for the area, and good management. Work-life balance is excellent – no working off the clock, overtime is infrequent and always optional, 6 weeks of annual vacation time. It’s very stable and not prone to layoffs. The work I do is mundane and a bit dull sometimes but it’s satisfying enough and provides opportunities for professional development. I’ve also had good jobs working at an auto parts store, a sandwich shop, and a university (as a receptionist).

    Most of the people I know who are happiest with their work do relatively “boring” jobs. Whether that’s civil service, janitorial, trades (plumbing, HVAC, etc), trucking, accounting, in-house tech support, etc… as long as you’re not trying to center your whole identity around work, there are an awful lot of good jobs. This isn’t to say that every janitor is happy or every civil service job is good. You need to know your own preferences and needs as far as work environment and watch out for red flags in the hiring process that indicate bad management or poor fit.

    1. Tau*

      You’re looking at exciting jobs. But the jobs with more status/recognition/prestige tend to come with some pretty serious down sides too. Try looking at boring jobs.

      I was trying to figure out how to say this. IMO there’s a definite correlation between status/recognition/prestige and a shitty work environment, because the more job applicants you have per position the more companies can afford to treat their employees badly. There’s a reason I’m not touching the “cool” part of my industry with a ten-foot pole – I’ve already heard horror stories of the work hours and the way they churn through people. And if you’re going for the status/recognition/prestige job you may have a lot of your self-worth and identity tangled up in the job which isn’t healthy for you, especially if the job ends up toxic in some way.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Absolutely. Up until my early 20’s my “dream job” was illustration. I had the skills to pull it off and freelanced for a few years before realizing how awful the industry was. Now I’m quite happy pushing garbage to pay the bills and doing art for my own enjoyment in my copious time off.

  90. ABBBBK*

    I’m a healthcare consultant. I work to make healthcare work better, but I”m also the overhead that adds to its expense and all my billable profits go to a huge health insurance company. Healthcare has it’s issues, for sure, but this is the system right now and I like that I can help make it work better. Morally bankrupt? IDK, by OP standards, probably. But I like my job. I get several solicitations from recruiters each week and generally am not inclined to respond because my team is fun, my work is interesting and the hours ebb and flow but are generally ok.

  91. Nicki Name*

    #NotAllTech! I can’t defend the ginormous tech monopolies, but I’ve seen my fair share of both good and bad. Both my current tech job and my previous one have been at companies that truly are trying to make the world better and treat people well while doing it. The reason for my last job change was that the last company was such a good place to work, people stuck around forever and there was no room to move up.

  92. Thanks, I hate it*

    Sharing in case this is helpful for anyone. I earned a PhD in a humanities subject from a top program, but couldn’t get a tenure track job in academia. I took the first thing that turned up afterward, and it ended up being a terrible fit. I left after 2.5 years. While I was trying to figure out my next move, I distilled what I needed in a job into three categories:

    1. Pays enough that I feel valued and respected and can afford to live (modestly but without fear) in my expensive region.
    2. The work itself is interesting and enjoyable.
    3. I respect/share the values or the overall mission of the organization.

    I decided I would try to find a job that had at least two out of three. (I think having good colleagues and supervisor are also hugely important, but you can’t easily screen for that when you’re job searching.)

    My previous job had 0/3. I ended up in a job that has 1 and 3, and often 2. I also love my leadership and colleagues, which makes an enormous difference. There are still plenty of days I don’t feel like going to work, and I still miss the kind of research and teaching and knowledge-production I was able to do in academia. But on the whole, I’m very lucky to be where I am.

  93. e271828*

    Flippancy aside, LW needs to pull off their white-collar blinkers and look at the trades. Plumbing and electrical, tiling, flooring installation and maintenance, specialties like window installation, carpentry from the basic framing up to fine cabinetry, just for example, are all jobs that offer excellent work-life balance, portable in-demand skills, and good money. (Roofing, less so.) And without taking out $100,000+ in student loans.

    1. Danish*

      I appreciate this comment because it is true that LW is focussed on white collar jobs, but as someone currently working in tech who did also seriously look into switching to trades during a stint of “but what if I did work that is meaningful” in early 2020, there are unfortunately still issues and barriers!

      For example, one friend who is now an electrical journeyman had a very difficult two years of training because she is female and ended up with a crew who thought that was hilarious – and yes again there are jerks in all jobs, but “traditionally masculine industry can be hostile to women” would likely fall under the “are all industries primarily bad?” umbrella the LW is using.

      Also, all of them seem like they would be near impossible to do (at least in my large city) if you don’t own your own car – which is why I ultimately didn’t switch.

  94. Susana*

    LW, I’m sorry you’re feeling dispirited. But is it possible you’re just having a bad day/month/whatever? It’s been a pretty tough year-plus for all of us – including those of us lucky enough not to have become very ill or have a loved one fall ill or die.
    I know it’s sort of annoying, when you’re feeling low, to hear someone say your job satisfaction relies a lot on how you look at it. But it does. There are jobs that are truly awful for very workplace-specific reasons – bad work culture, insane hours that NEVER get relieved, corrupt or incompetent leaders. But really, those things are not intrinsic to an entire industry, let alone all of them.
    Maybe just lower your expectations, big time, for awhile while you re-evaluate where you are and what you want to do. I do think there is often a choice between doing what makes you happy and fulfilled 99% of the time and doing what pays you well enough to really enjoy your life outside of work. But that’s less of an either-or as you gain more experience.
    But really, this may just be mental and emotional exhaustion – which are entirely understandable right now.

  95. WantonSeedStitch*

    I…actually love my job. Are there annoying parts? Sure. Are there things that frustrate me about my employer? Of course. But the people I work with directly are really, really good people. The work itself is interesting and engaging. The employer generally treats people well and provides us with excellent benefits. Pay for me and my team is very much in line with what people at other organizations get in our industry. The culture is much better than in many places, and appears to be improving steadily. My management is hugely supportive. My peers are collaborative and friendly. My reports are hardworking and help each other out all the time. I consider myself AMAZINGLY fortunate.

    1. World*

      I’m so glad to read this! There are many people who like or even.. gasp.. love their jobs, OP. If it’s important to you to not hate 1/2 of your waking hours, you will find a job that is a good fit for you. That is NOT unrealistic.

    2. Reluctant Manager*

      When it’s going well, working in an industry that supports people—coworkers and customers—doing what they love can be really gratifying. And if the people at the top aren’t greedy or stupid, it can support a good life for employees.

      (Assuming you have something to do with seed stitch.)

    3. The New Wanderer*

      This is pretty true of my personal work situation too – I really enjoy the work and find it fulfilling, I like my manager and coworkers, I think very highly of them and I feel respected in return. No one (of my peers, anyway) behaves problematically that I’ve either observed or heard about; of course there are crummy coworkers, managers, and so on but they are the exception not the norm. The job is well paid, good benefits, and excellent PTO setup. There are downsides, like with anything, and I’m planning to take a different job soon because of those downsides (specifically career progression). I’m gambling that my new work situation will have a good manager and coworkers and that the work will be as interesting as it sounds to me. No job is perfect but it can be what you need – a paycheck, something flexible, something stable, a mission you feel strongly about – and what you need will change over time.

  96. WhoKnows*

    Not to add to the sadness parade here, but I have to advise that anyone looking to enter media just…don’t. At least not for a while. Every single part of it IS crumbling, the OP is correct. It’s just constant layoffs and restructuring, mergers and buyouts, at least once a year. So I’d say unless you’re willing to spend the next 5-10 years in constant fear of unemployment…stay away for a bit!

    1. WhoKnows*

      Also I suppose this really focuses more on the entertainment sector of things, but encompassing all of that sector, in my experience.

    2. Reluctant Manager*

      Um, no. Every single part is not crumbling. Some parts are thriving. But it’ s a lousy job if you just need a job. Don’t do it unless you can’t imagine doing anything else.

  97. Anoni*

    I am reading a lot of these replies and finding myself sad and frustrated by the overwhelming attitude of it not getting better, or it being inevitable. In the US, it IS that bad because we have very few protections, very few options, and we literally have to work to survive. I don’t think that’s universal, and I do think it’s possible to make it easier to work to enhance, enjoy, and improve. Hi kids. Capitalism is doing this, not work specifically.

  98. Absurda*

    “And the thing is, even if you find a good role, or manager, or company, it kind of feels like you’ve got, at best, 2–3 years before a re-org or shareholder meeting upends the whole thing and you’re either taking a pay cut, getting laid off, or being managed by someone who probably should not be a manager”

    Just wanted to chime in on this part. Please keep in mind that not all change is bad. I’ve been through a hostile takeover, several acquisitions and more reorgs than I can recall. I haven’t been laid off or received a pay cut and sometimes changes result in getting a better manager or more interesting/challenging work. The things you say are possible and can happen, but aren’t guaranteed to happen. Sometimes the change is good, don’t think it’s all going to be negative.

  99. Lizy*

    I think Alison’s mention of essentially figuring out what’s important to you is key. Try to let the rest go. For example, CurrentJob has an amazing commute, decent pay, laid-back working atmosphere, but there’s definitely some upper-management requests that … won’t work. Turn-around time can be really quick sometimes, and I’m often having to put out fires rather than catch up on the mountain of work I need to catch up on.

    PreviousJob had fantastic coworkers and I loved the work I did. They had some amazing benefits, but there wasn’t much room for growth and there were a couple of things I tried to negotiate in terms of benefits that they did not budge on, and it left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth.

    Not all jobs are bad, but the perfect job doesn’t exist. Once you realize that it’s a paycheck and not Your Dream, it’s a lot easier to reconcile it.

  100. Dan*

    If tech is so morally bankrupt, can someone explain to me the horrors companies like Adobe have committed? How about ADP, a payroll processing company? I just saw an ad in this comment section for big, bad, no-good Survey Monkey.

    The FANG stocks do not encompass all of tech. These lazy generalizations fell apart before even basic research.

      1. quill*

        Less flip, leading the charge towards not allowing ownership of software and relying on constantly leasing it in order to squeeze more money out of consumers is ethically not great…

  101. Didi*

    A friend shared with me her system for assessing wat she needs from a new job. She makes a list of all the things a job brings – commute, pay, career opportunity, title/prestige, management, hours etc. Then she ranks these items from most to least important for her at this time.

    For example, sometimes she’s looking for a new job because of pay, but other times she’s seeking a new job because she wants to work for a certain company, or a certain person/type of person. The top-scoring items are must-haves, while the lower scoring ones are still important but they can wait while she figures out if she really likes the work, company, manager etc.

  102. Bloopmaster*

    Really like the frame of “Often the best thing to do is to figure out what you, personally, can live with.” I know I’m never going to like the obligations that come with performing work for money (heck, when I’ve gotten jobs that paid me for doing things that I’d previously enjoyed doing as hobbies, I immediately started to hate those activities.) So instead of focusing on looking for work that I enjoy doing, I’ve started focusing on work that allows me to structure my life the way I like. I don’t really care what the work tasks themselves are as long as the hours are flexible and the work can mostly be done independently. (I realize that in some sectors these qualities are hard to come by, but there are often more of them when you’re flexible on other dimensions–more modest salary, being willing to put up with more dysfunction, occasional overtime, etc.) This allows me to save my energy and structure my day for the outside-of-work things that I actually care about. Everyone’s tradeoffs are going to be different, and while there are probably a limited pool of jobs that are great across the board, there are many more that are perfectly livable as long as you avoid the couple of things that are deal breakers for you personally.

  103. Kyrielle*

    And you may find several combinations that work for you. At $PreviousJob I was doing something that I really felt made the world a better place, but I *definitely* didn’t always get to leave work at work, and while the vast majority of my coworkers were good people and people I liked, a couple people over my time there definitely weren’t. I was okay with that; most of the people were good, and the rest came and went, but we were doing useful work.

    My current job is less “making the world a better place” in ways I feel emotionally/obviously, but is definitely not on the “doing bad in the world” side of the line. But I am at work when I’m at work, and not when I’m not (except during COVID, but even now, working hours and work are distinct from home hours, even under the same roof!), and the atmosphere is more universally collegial.

    And I’ve been content at both those places. Honestly, I like my current job better, but the previous one was okay too. When I was on the search that got me this current job, though, I saw postings for and interviewed at places that I did a hard nope out of – everything from “hey, I could work to help this company implement things I find distasteful or even unethical” to “hey, I could work on this REALLY COOL thing and learn lots and contribute and have no work-life balance because it’s a work-work balance there”. And some others that were “Well, I don’t *love* this combination, but I won’t hate myself for doing the work and I could live with the drawbacks if I had to.”

    I’m really glad to be where I am, but a lot of it is knowing what you like, what you don’t care about, what you can tolerate, and what will make you want to scream after work (or worse, during it) on a regular basis.

    And yeah, the system is a huge issue. It should be at least better than this in some ways. But there are good jobs, and there are jobs that are bad in ways you can cope with, and ones that are bad in ways you can’t cope with. And what you want and can handle changes over time, as pointed out.

  104. Esmeralda*

    No, not all jobs are bad.

    Maybe I’ve been fortunate. Once I moved out of retail and food service jobs, my work life got a lot better (and some of the retail/food jobs were good in terms of co-workers, managers, hours — they were bad in other ways = icky customers, low pay, no benefits). The only exception was the manager who ended up arrested (thank you, IRS, for letting me know how he cheated me and you’re welcome for giving you all that interesting info)

    No job has been perfect, and some have sent me job-hunting. On the whole, however, I’ve had many competent-to-excellent managers, mostly interesting work with socially redeeming value, good co-workers, a fair amount of independence (very important to me), less-than-stellar pay but really good benefits.

    Sadly, I’ve had jobs of different sorts in different industries that had Me-Too crap. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid it completely over the course of a career in the US. But you can find managers and coworkers who don’t engage in it and don’t allow it. You just never know which managers/coworkers those will be.

  105. Richard*

    Also, don’t forget that people rarely talk about being happy about their jobs, and you’ll almost never read or hear about good jobs from media (social or traditional). People prefer to talk about problems as opposed to good things, and nobody ever got a bunch of clicks from an article titled “This company is pretty good and a lot of its employees are pretty satisfied.” Be wary of the effects that doomscrolling and other media/social media have on your perceptions and make sure you’re actually talking to people to learn about what’s going on in the world.

    1. Chinook*

      I came to realize this the other day – nobody writes epic novels/creates great movies about satisfying lives because they are truly boring. There is no conflict to resolve, no trials left to overcome, no plot points that are even interesting to the outside. And those in the middle of it have no reason to share it because they are too busy enjoying it. And, even if someone did share it, there is the realization that they run the risk of it being destroyed by others (in the same way crabs will pull down the ones that are trying to climb out or a drowning person will pull down the person trying to save them). The risk to your contentment is not worth the little reward you may get from sharing.

      So the good stories go unrecorded and shared only with those who can be trusted to be happy with someone else’s happiness. The unintended result is that our culture is, instead, filled with stories of unhappiness and dissatisfaction or the stories of those who broke free. For every teen that left their small town for the big city, there are a dozens of their peers who were willing to live with what they saw around them or do the more subtle work to make it better (usually to the benefit of that teen to return as an adult).

    2. 1234*

      There’s Crain’s Best Places to Work but I’ve heard that some of the places that end up on that list is because the owners made employees say these “positive things” to the Crain’s people.

      1. Richard*

        True, though that’s something you’d have to seek out. Every once in a while a “Best Places to Work” lists pops up in local news, but it always has a whiff of PR/Marketing campaigns that make it hard to take too seriously. Also, in the off chance I hear someone raving about how much they love their job, I assume that they’re being pressured or paid to say it or they’re in a cult-y kind of job.

  106. llamaswithouthats*

    Alison alluded to this, but the main issue with jobs isn’t necessarily the jobs themselves but the fact that in our society (if you’re American anyway), too much regarding our lives is tied up in jobs/work. It’s how people size you up in terms of how much to respect you, it’s the only way you can afford healthcare and most other necessities, and it’s supposed to be the bulk of how you spend your time. To rub more salt into that, a lot of jobs solely exist to make company owners richer at the expense of their workers.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Basically, the key to being happy in this economy is more about managing to get a job that isn’t a toxic trash pile than finding an enjoyable job.

      1. quill*

        Jobs with actual worker protections and bosses and coworkers that don’t make you write to Allison.

        I wish everyone in this thread one of them.

  107. Turanga Leela*

    Just to add some small encouragement for the OP—I have a job I genuinely love. I work as a lawyer in a public defender’s office, which isn’t for everyone but is a good fit for me. My office is currently well-managed, and I have a union contract. I have some busy times but can mostly leave work at work, so I have decent work-life balance. I’m not making anywhere near the kind of money my friends at law firms make, but ~10 years out of law school, I make a good salary (around $75k).

    My job isn’t perfect but I’m very, very happy where I am. Government jobs can be a good option!

  108. No Tribble At All*

    OP, you haven’t mentioned your background/education yet, but I’m sure if you jump on the Friday open thread (starts 11am Eastern) the commentators will be happy to help you brainstorm industries/companies/positions that could fulfill what you’re looking for.

  109. Autumnheart*

    I have what I consider a “good job”. I like my coworkers, my pay is enough to be comfortable and I get regular raises and a bonus (tied to company performance), 5+ weeks of PTO. The company is a household name and my job sounds cool on paper, even though, like any job, it has its tedious and frustrating days. And they at least make an effort (like, there are performance metrics tied to achieving these goals) toward D&I and being generally progressive. They were not on the list of companies that made claims about diversity and then donated money to anti-diversity groups! (But more than one direct competitor was.)

    I’ve been here 17 years, and quite honestly, what LW wrote about is really most of the reason I continue to stick around, even though advancement is not much of a thing in my role. But like, if you like what you’re doing, like the work environment, and you’re happy with the money, that’s pretty much the trifecta. I might be able to make more money, but would I still wake up Monday morning and feel good about starting another work week? My sister has a niche skillset and is currently in a job that pays her very well (six figures plus five-figure bonus–she’s in CA though not SV) but she has to work 12-hour days at least a couple days a week, can’t seem to ever take time off without being asked to work on her vacation, and gets a lot of scapegoat treatment from her managers. No thank you.

    I’ve had jobs where the coworkers were great but the management was terrible, or where everything was meh but overall fine, or all the people were good but the job itself was crazypants. You do what you gotta do to bring home the bacon. But I’ve had the privilege of being in a genuinely good environment (not perfect…we have one or two people who would be AAM letter fodder) and quite frankly I have no intention of leaving. I already have four aces in my hand, I’m not going to try for a royal flush.

  110. potato salad*

    This letter is interesting because commenters are forced to grapple with their own values before they can provide input/advice to OP. OP, if you are approaching this from an anti-capitalist stance, then you will likely feel aggrieved and upset in most careers. I’ve primarily been an educator and I certainly feel as though part of the role is indoctrinating young people/getting them used to the idea that they will be needing to find work and attempt to thrive in a capitalist system. It’s dispiriting, for sure.

    If capitalism isn’t your main concern and you want to do rewarding work alongside thoughtful colleagues, I’m sure you can find something.

    Some possibilities if you are young and have some advantages at your disposal: get your finances/credit/education in order and start your own business or nonprofit. That way, you can control some of the aspects that concern you (work/life balance, work culture, focus on ‘good’ work).

    Some career directions that might not seem as questionable if you are not primarily concerned with the evils of capitalism:

    *invent a truly useful product. Here’s a freebie: manufacture and promote a glow in the dark paint for automobiles. You could reduce accidents by increasing auto invisibility and save lives!
    *careers that address food scarcity/lack of affordable produce and food variety in low-income communities/countries with collapsed economies
    *work for a grassroots politician you admire (AOC?)
    *learn GIS and use your map-making skills to support projects that help others stop climate change/find water sources/identify dangerous weather patterns/identify and stop racist real estate practices and policies
    *become an ethnobotanist and find ways to respectfully travel and learn about plants that may become the next big medicine. When you patent said medicine, don’t attempt to make a profit.
    *work to promote free knowledge and open-source systems
    *become a radical librarian and start a podcast as a side gig
    *help people with terminal illnesses come to terms with their death using counseling, music, and drugs like psilocybin
    *provide people with physical therapy and accept clients who have terrible insurance/can’t pay premium prices for your service
    *work for a policy agency that is trying to decrease the costs of vital medicines, like insulin, epi-pens, etc.

    Anyway, OP, if you are young and want to learn about off-the-beaten path careers, don’t be afraid to write people you admire and ask about their career journey. Don’t just consider business/law/tech/traditional nonprofits…

  111. AMT*

    Has the LW considered self-employment? I realize this isn’t usually an option if you’re new to the workforce, but it might be something to work toward. I’ve found ten times as much happiness working as a private practice therapist vs. as a clinic or hospital employee. I do much of the same work as I did before, but have an incredible degree of freedom in when I work, where I work, how many clients I see, what software/systems/documentation I use, and everything else right down to the furniture I use. I don’t have to sit in endless meetings, do any work I’m not good at, train anyone, or report to a boss who isn’t me. And the money is drastically better because I keep all the fees I earn.

    There are a lot of careers where getting a steady amount of work is doable—law, art/design, healthcare, consulting, and event planning just off the top of my head. Writing and teaching/training can be lucrative supplements (that I’ve done myself) to any of the above. And there’s no need to stick to white-collar professions if being a retail business owner, landscaper, or tradesperson is more your thing.

  112. LKW*

    I really like my job. I really like my company. They treat me very well. In the 20 years I’ve worked for this particular company, I could count the assholes on one hand and have fingers left over.

    Part of it is the company culture. I regularly participate in meetings where we discuss how to grow people, how we match people to projects that will be interesting to them or will help them build skills they’ll need to get promoted. Part of it is the culture of my clients who are very similar. I’ve had clients speak sternly to me in meetings and then other clients will ask me if I’m ok and will chastise the stern person privately. Part of it is the work I do and that I amazingly found work that I really like that I’m sure 99.9999999% of people would find just annoying and boring.

    I lucked out and I know it.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      A company with good company culture relies on its employees to nurture that culture–so if you’ve been there for 20 years and it’s a good place to work, that’s at least partly because you make it so.

  113. hmmm*

    Does anyone else think that our current culture of constantly being told everything is wrong with everything is making us feel horrible all the time?

    1. RagingADHD*

      Yes, and an important antidote to that is to remember why “you’re doing it wrong” and “everything sucks” messages are so prevalent.

      Because they get attention which can be monetized, and/or they sell stuff. The internet is a platform of commerce, and making people feel horrible is a deliberate, highly profitable strategy.

  114. HQetc*

    I apologize if this has been mentioned already, but the book “Working” by Studs Terkel might be interesting to the OP. *Ahem* I caveat this whole comment with the fact that it’s been several years since I read this and my memory is not stellar. It’s pretty old at this point (maybe like 30 years?) so it won’t address some of the current societal issues OP is grappling with but, to me, it seems like some of OP’s frustration/despair is coming from a somewhat narrow view of what sorts of jobs are available to them combined with a particular mentality (which Alison has discussed several times) about what jobs should be (fulfilling, prestigious, fun, challenging, etc etc). I think it can be hard to get out of that if you don’t have a good way of getting exposure to different approaches to and types of work (which is in turn hard because our society is pretty stratified). “Working” helps do some of that exploration, and might broaden the OP’s horizons enough that they are able to think more freely about what they need and want from their work.

    1. Aitch Arr*

      30 years ago I was performing Working: the Musical in high school.

      The music came out in 1978 and the book in 1974. So almost 50 years.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        From Wikipedia’s synopsis of the musical: “Amanda McKenny is displeased that people stereotype her with her job. She has a strained relationship with her boss, Rex Winship, who tells us he wants to be a teacher.”

        I was Amanda.

  115. Anon LIbrarian*

    I am so surprised at just how many people are sort of just … putting up with their jobs. I see so many saying, “Like yeah, I just do it for the money.” “If it was not work, they would not pay you for it.” It makes me feel like I am completely useless and like 8 hours of my day are a complete waste of time.

    I did have a job or two that I liked and was a SAHM for some time. But those jobs did not pay the bills.

    So now I have a job that I think many would think was a “good” job. But I cannot believe that people can spend 8 or more hours a day putting up with the basic crap of working at a job like this. I work in a library. Things are so disorganized at the levels above me (nothing toxic, just so disorganized as to appear stupid), customers are incredibly rude, and a few coworkers constantly find ways to get out of work.

    Honestly, I constantly wonder now why more airplanes don’t fall out of the sky, why more trains don’t crash, and buildings don’t fall down. Work is just pretty soul sucking and people just don’t do their jobs.

    1. Liz T*

      What if I’ve figured out what I can live with and what I’m good at, but those jobs don’t seem to want to hire me? Or any job I’ve ever enjoyed has been a freelance gig without the health insurance I desperately need?

      Sorry, I may have gotten a rejection email right before seeing this. No interview even. I have a bit of a relationship with the company and everything but still no dice.

      It’s hard to imagine any job that won’t make me completely miserable. I’m almost 40 and there’s something truly awful about knowing that I’m just forced, for the rest of my life, to give up half my waking hours to labor for someone else, all for a made-up reward system based on nothing. If I’m lucky!

      1. Anon Librarian*

        there’s something truly awful about knowing that I’m just forced, for the rest of my life, to give up half my waking hours to labor for someone else, all for a made-up reward system based on nothing. If I’m lucky!

        That’s what I am feeling exactly.

        I’m sorry about the rejection. And that we have to focus on things like health insurance. I know just what you mean.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      Usually the people who make airplanes and buildings like to make those airplanes and buildings, so they find it less soul-sucking. Also, a lot of those jobs involve checking other people’s jobs while you’re putting the airplane together… so if one person slacks off for a bit, someone else will catch it. Just to alleviate some of your concern around our engineering projects :)

      1. RagingADHD*

        Also, most people aren’t sociopaths, so they actually care if the plane falls out of the sky or not.

        Nobody’s going to die if the books get out of Dewey order or the library’s public program schedule gets screwed up. It’s good work, and a good service to the community, but the stakes are lower and people take liberties accordingly.

        1. Anon Librarian*

          All true. The stakes are lower in my job. But it does not make them less important to me.

          I feel pretty crappy being surrounded by this all day and yet I do it to earn a living. A friend of mine, who by any objective measure is a mover and shaker (if I gave evidence of that, it would reveal too much, she got regional attention at one point). She does not identify with her job, is very practical about it. But she is miserable right now because the person above her just does not know how to do the job.

          I am pretty lucky that I cobbled together jobs here and there and was a SAHM for some years. If I was looking at a lifetime of the job I have now instead of more like 15 years of it, I don’t know what I would do.

          1. RagingADHD*

            I never said or intended to imply that the work isn’t important. Of course it is.

            I meant, quite literally, that mistakes in your field aren’t likely to cause mass casualties. And therefore people will tend to be more rigorous in fields that would do.

      2. Anon Librarian*

        Its not so much the actual people doing the work as the decision makers and how screwed up decision making can be that makes me wonder why planes don’t fall out of the sky more often. And yeah, there are at least redundant systems that hopefully catch things on airplanes.

        But it still seems soul sucking to work 8+ hours a day, even building airplanes when you like building airplanes, only to know that what you are doing is a bit screwed up bc people above you are making poor decisions.

    3. Hillary*

      It’s a different mentality, and it’s one that I’m kind of striving for. I mostly like my job – I’m doing interesting work and it’s the lowest % of jerks I’ve ever worked with. But there are also projects that I’m going to redo once a year and they’re not going to follow my advice again. I choose positivity, I control what I can control, and I try to let what I can’t control go. I’m not saving the world but I’m doing my little part to get a signal to cell phones among many other things (I work for a manufacturer no one knows about).

      I’ve known people who see work as the price of their hobbies. They’re happy putting in their eight hours at a manufacturing station, exerting zero brain during that time, and going home to fish/woodwork/craft/whatever. I don’t think I can do that because I get bored but I admire them.

      Work doesn’t have to be soul sucking. My minimum requirement these days is interesting work plus ok culture, better than ok is a bonus.

  116. J.E.*

    Not all jobs are bad, but in the U.S. there are a lot of things that make them bad in comparison to other developed countries. Many other countries offer a lot more vacation time, and parental leave of up to a year for both parents. Not to mention that healthcare in those countries is not tied to full time employment. It’s the system that the jobs in the U.S. operate within.

  117. Deborah*

    Capitalism sucks, yeah. But I work for a distributor of telecommunications infrastructure equipment. It’s a medium sized business (a few hundred employees all in North America) and is about 50 years old, closely held with the CEO being the granddaughter of the founder. I’m in IT. They treat employees well, pay well, have great benefits and a history of spectacular bonuses and profit sharing (it was a total of 24% last year. I feel ok about supporting selling cable and fiber and bolts and set top boxes and handholes and more arcane equipment to telecoms, especially since we work with a lot of the RDOF projects (the rural, federally funded stuff. The big telecoms are part of the whole crony capitalism structure but I can’t get away from that and live in this economy so I’m at peace with this job.

  118. Far from a Boomer*

    Nicely said. There are some bad situations out there and some awful people, but the vast majority of people are decent and it helps to assume that until proven differently. That goes for all aspects of life. If you assume that all jobs are awful, then you mean all people are awful and, well, that is going to make the rest of your life pretty unpleasant.

  119. Coffee Owlccountant*

    LW, a whole lot of these comments are trying to convince you that tech jobs aren’t evil, and that’s fine. (I notice a significant lack of arguments regarding your generalizations of NFP and start-ups, but I digress.) I think the general protestations about how lots of tech jobs are great is missing your point, and I want to encourage you to think about what is truly causing your discouragement here – because I don’t think it’s jobs.

    IMO LW, you are mushing together jobs, companies, industries, capitalism, and the concept of work itself. Each of those things are a unique idea, and I don’t really believe that it’s “jobs” that has you discouraged. There are as many kinds of jobs as there are kinds of people. Some of them jive with you and you get along well with them and some of them don’t. Some of them we have preconceived or stereotyped prejudices against, personal or structural, and often those ideas need to be confronted, examined, and rejected. And just like any one person is going to be great at some things and lousy at other things, any individual job is likely to be great about some parts and lousy about others.

    So are there “good” jobs? Is “good” vs “bad” a helpful way to look at a job? I would say not so much, in that it’s too constraining, just like it’s not a great way to talk about people. People do good things and bad things. A person is not inherently “good” or “bad” and neither is any individual job. Companies do good things and bad things. Jobs have good things and bad things about them. Is it possible to find a good job, company, industry that does good things, that is a good place to work, where you feel good (or at least neutral) doing the job you’re doing? Absolutely YES.

    LW, I feel you so hard and I’m sympathizing, because I feel a lot of the same things – but it’s not the jobs that’s the problem, it’s the capitalism. Especially here in the US (although it’s not completely absent outside the US), we have as a society decided that 1) individuals are solely responsible for their own welfare, 2) an individual’s relative prosperity and happiness is completely determined by that individual’s personal choices to which we have assigned “moral” bearing, 3) capital is more worthwhile than labor, and 4) the only important goal of firms is to maximize short-term shareholder value.

    Does this suck? ABSOLUTELY. Is it incredibly disheartening that people who seriously object to those ideas and want to make changes to make a more equal and humane society get utterly steamrolled by the self-feeding monster of capitalism? Oh hell, yes. Do we have a shot at making any of it better? I really would like to say yes, but I get less and less hopeful about that every day.

    So LW, what I would encourage you to do is to really think about what it REALLY is that has got you discouraged and what actions you can take to address them. I’m sure wherever you are, there is some way that you can get involved in pushing for change so that some of the things that make Work suck in the US get a little better.

  120. No Tribble At All*

    Commenting for a 3rd time because the OP has hit me right in the feels. OP, I hear you. I didn’t see “tech is morally bankrupt” and get offended, I chuckled and said “lol, fair.” You are correct that there’s lots of jobs that do crappy things to the world or to their employees. But, there’s lots of jobs that just do…. stuff… and are mostly fine! One of the biggest things that affects job satisfaction is your coworkers; my job right now is somewhat boring day-to-day, but my coworkers are great and we have a lot of fun. Work is only one part of life. A big one, to be sure, but not everything. Would I love it if I only had to work 6 hours a day, 3 days a week, and could be a part-time engineer and part-time painter/video gamer/cat mom/who even knows in that much free time? Yeah, sure. Do I think that’s likely to happen? Probably not, because it’s not how our world is set up right now. So, what you want to do, is look for the best thing you can in the system that exists right now.

    You may feel disheartened that it’s hard to optimize all 4 of {money, managed well, work/life balance, ethics}, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Idealism and pragmatism are both important, and it may feel like a betrayal of your ideals to look at what you can realistically accomplish. You’ll have to do some amount of research to find jobs that are more “optimized,” and it’s true that certain sectors/industries are stronger at some things than others. (For example, petroleum engineering gets you lots of money but also lots of guilt). There’s also an argument to be made for trying to make as much money as you can doing the least amount of work, so you can donate your money to people who are more skilled/passionate than you are (you’re a software engineer making better sales tracking websites, but you live modestly and donate a ton to your local foodbank). I think the Vox Future Perfect series might be helpful — they discuss how different people and organizations decide what they can do to make the world better.

    Lastly, you seem to be pretty frustrated with this (understandably!), and you have a lot of black-and-white thinking here. It’s tough to see how complicated the world is, and I say that as someone who has these sorts of conversations and thought patterns a lot. You may find it helpful to talk to a professional about this; they can answer specific concerns far better than randos on the internet. For advice about specific jobs, if you’re still in school, I encourage you to reach out to your department’s office to talk to alumni, your professors, or professional organizations. I literally had a student get in touch with me to ask how she can find a job in the space industry that isn’t working on missiles, and I was happy to talk with her. I promise not every job is terrible! And I promise it’s possible to do good things without making yourself miserable.

  121. Skippy*

    A lot of commenters are getting hung up on the LW’s taxonomy of jobs, which is admittedly simplistic, or getting very defensive about tech jobs. But Alison’s eloquent response points out a very important truth: our system is profoundly broken. It’s great that so many of you have good jobs, but the reality is that for many others, the working world is broken, and the pandemic exposed all of its gaping flaws with regard to compensation, benefits, and overall working conditions. There’s a reason so many people are telling pollsters they plan to leave their jobs within the next year: they’re deeply unhappy with their current situations, and they desperately want something better. Which may or may not exist for most people.

    I think it’s good that the LW is contemplating this issue now when they’re young: when I was in my 20s, I had so many idealistic visions of what work should look like, and I spent so much time and energy trying to make the impossible happen. I wish I had been more clear-eyed back then: I probably would have made better decisions, and avoided the pitfalls of making my career such a huge part of my identity. It’s a lot harder to unlearn those lessons when you’re in your 40s.

  122. RagingADHD*

    Do all jobs have flawed people in leadership, and working there?

    Yes, because all people are flawed, everywhere, all the time, working or not.

    Do all jobs have parts that are not fun? Yes, because they are jobs, not entertainment.

    Are all jobs soul-sucking wastelands of moral bankruptcy?

    No. Lots of places are perfectly fine, well-managed companies providing useful products and services to people who want or need them, paying their employees reasonably and treating them fairly.

    I’d suggest you and your peers quit reading both overblown mission statements and overblown hit pieces on large corporations, and just go out in the community to meet some real-life plumbers or hvac installers, healthcare workers, small manufacturers, CPAs, advertising or creative agency owners, real-estate agents or managing companies, restauranteurs, craftspeople, insurance agents, or the myriad other businesses that every community thrives on but weren’t even mentioned in your oddly dismissive summary.

    Some of them are better than others, but you’ll get a far more realistic picture of what work is, and how it can be an overall positive thing in your life and the lives of others.

  123. Spearmint*

    I think the LW, and many of the “all work is bad under capitalism” folks, are being unreasonable. Yes, people are flawed, the world is flawed, nothing will ever be perfect and morally pure. This applies just as much to non-capitalist communities and systems as it does to capitalist ones, by the way. So what? It’s a fallacy to assume that anything that isn’t perfect and 100% morally pure is bad. Otherwise every single person on this planet would be a bad person.

    I think what the LW needs to do id that things can be good even if not perfect. I’ve been so much happier with my life when I had that realization.

  124. Kyubey*

    I will say, that I am either quite lucky to not have ended up in a toxic job, or I have a high tolerance/thick skin for things that many others I’ve known do not tolerate. I have a college friend who graduated the same time as me, in the same field, yet she has hated every job she’s had and I haven’t had any problems ever. I think she struggles to get along with people based on info she’s told me, and takes a lot of things personally. On the other hand I brush things off easily. So it may be personality, who knows.

  125. nora*

    After 10 years of nonprofit hell, I absconded for the government. The hierarchy is extreme, which is sometimes hard for me to handle, but otherwise I love it. (A) I help people in desperate need, and I help them in real, tangible, quantifiable ways (usually involving paying hospital bills). (B) I don’t support bad guys or evil corporations. In point of fact, the money for my program comes from bad guys and evil corporations. (C) Barring really horrific emergencies (mass casualty type emergencies) I never work late, check my email on vacation, or otherwise interrupt my time off. (D) I am very well paid by just about any metric you can think of, like my profession, role, years in my career, etc. Additionally, the benefits are unreal, especially after all the time I spent in aforementioned nonprofit hell. (E) Tons of opportunities to learn and grow. I sort of stumbled my way into some incredible opportunities and mastered skills I never even knew I had.

    The tradeoff is that my work can be very taxing emotionally, and there are very hard days. I have cried more than once because of a particularly difficult case. But the team I’m on is amazing and the culture is second to none. I’m not saying I’d happily work here until I’m 90 but I am really, really glad this is how I earn my cat-treats-and-yarn money.

  126. Heidi*

    Maybe instead of putting together the definition of a “good” job and trying to find one that fits it, the OP might be better off finding people who are happy with their jobs and discovering what makes it worthwhile for them. They may find that people who really enjoy their work prefer to spend a lot of time doing it. Or that there are approaches/techniques/coping mechanism that they can use to make their jobs less onerous.

  127. Reluctant Manager*

    As a small business owner/employer in one of the fields named, I was initially offended, because I treat my employees and customers well, and my coworkers definitely don’t think that their jobs or our company are bad, racist, or making the world a worse place. All of my coworkers have worked in awful places before, so being a good place to work is important to me.

    You don’t get your paycheck from an industry. You get it from a company, large or small, who has customers and managers and owners.

    But hey, many employees suck, too. Matching up the not-crappy jobs with the not-crappy employees is the hard part.

  128. Junior Dev*

    If you’re looking for a job in tech where you’ll have a positive (from a progressive standpoint) impact, check out – it’s where I got my current job.

    I have some other thoughts on how “tech” is being represented as this evil monolith. I don’t think tech corporations are inherently more evil than other sectors; I think there’s 1) resentment over high salaries 2) frustrations over how products and services people interact with every day seem bad in really obvious, noticeable ways and 3) a lack of regulation, at least in the US. But there’s exploitation and abuse and unethical behavior in every sector. If you were to go work in (say) logistics for a grocery store chain, you’d be buying meat from factory farmed animals, produce picked by undocumented migrant farmworkers who don’t get bathroom breaks, all of it shipped by trucks spewing carbon emissions as their drivers are overworked to the point of exhaustion in order to deliver their cargo on time, unloaded and sold by employees making minimum wage with no sick leave. That’s just a random example–my point is that while there are certain sectors that probably do worse than others, something as broad as “tech” is not a monolith and most of the problems we see in it are problems with capitalism in general.

    I would also encourage you to read – it talks about how the phrase “tech industry” doesn’t refer to any coherent thing, how everything is online nowadays. And yeah, it talks about how some companies brand themselves as “tech” in order to get away with unethical/illegal things — but for every programming or IT job at Uber or AirBnB, there’s dozens at banks and schools and bookstores and hospitals and any other thing that needs a public-facing website or internal logistics software.

  129. AnotherSarah*

    I really feel the OP (and I have a job I like…but I’m super underpaid and my org is effed), but couldn’t you ask this about anything? Are there any good places to live, are there any good relationships…when you get down to listing pros and cons of anything, often it seems like the answer is no.

  130. Lily*

    I think the no-good-jobs thing is a problem that’s especially acute post pandemic. Many companies laid people off during the pandemic or did not fill positions, and now they are looking for people to fix the messes that resulted, or to make up for huge backlogs of work that built up, and they are still not willing to staff to meet the need. I accepted just such a job in January, and it has been putting out one fire after another, as my department wasn’t the only one that was chronically short staffed at the company. Every job posting I’ve seen recently has a blisteringly long list of responsibilities that makes the job seem extremely unattractive, and I don’t remember this being the case pre-pandemic.

  131. MissDisplaced*

    Yeah… well pretty much. It’s work not you life’s purpose in my book.

    There are good places. There are good bosses. There might be good companies with bad people and bad companies with great people. You do your best or move on if/when it goes bad.

  132. Grumpy, Sleepy, and Sneezy, LLP*

    Just hopping in as someone who (a) has very much struggled with being not-greatly-dissatisfied with my career path and (b) felt like the letter writer captured some of my thoughts.

    The best I could come up with is that I’ve dealt with my own vaguely unhappy work life by making a point of trying new things and developing new skills/knowledge, in part to keep things interesting and in part to try and give myself exit options if/when I have a chance to shift gears to something new. I think the other thing that’s helped me, mentally anyway, is to compartmentalize work-I-don’t-like as simply the activity I do to generate money. No need to put any more weight on it than that if your job isn’t giving you much else to work with.

  133. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    Fatalism level: 15 out of 10!

    Dream jobs are not common but decent and good jobs are findable in most if not all industries. But like dating you have to kiss some frogs before you kiss a prince or princess.

  134. Retired Prof*

    I adored my job. I got to teach my passion, and to actively improve students’ lives. But I worry sometimes that I set an unrealistic bar for my children, since most people don’t have the luxury of a dream job. My husband had a job he mostly liked with great flexibility so we could be present as parents. AndI think my kids really appreciated that. Right now they all have okay jobs, which makes me a little sad, but I think they may find work that they like better in the future.

  135. RB*

    I’ve worked in jobs that ranged from mediocre to good and that ranged from Fortune-50 sized company to 8-person company and from non-profit to government. Based on those experiences, I would choose a larger company over a smaller company and a for-profit over a non-profit. The government job has been good but we are in a union. I don’t know if that explains the decent pay and benefits but it probably doesn’t hurt.

  136. RB*

    I think at some point you have to decide what’s important to you. Alison alluded to this. For example, a short commute and a good work/life balance are important to me but it’s easy for me to say that because I haven’t had to compromise other things (like decent pay) to get those. I was also willing to leave a job that wasn’t ever going to pay very much. That was hard but ended up being the right choice.

    Also, depending on your goals in life, you may not need to make a lot of money. A warehouse job, or a trade (plumbing, electrical) can pay well and have the added bonus of keeping you in shape, physically. If you like the outdoors, there are park-ranger and landscaping jobs that pay well. Working a trade, you can be your own boss or you can work for a company as an employee, so there’s another choice to make.

    You can refine your choices as you go along, but it helps to have some idea of profession (office vs trade).

  137. HereKittyKitty*

    I have these feelings too. For me, I thought really long and hard about which companies I would not work for no matter what, and what industries I felt uncomfortable with and so on. I tried to heavily research the companies I applied to, or think through the ethical implications of working in an industry or for a company. Being able to be picky though is also a privilege, and it’s good to be aware of that. I don’t judge people for where they work because I don’t know what’s happening in their life, but I can control where I work and how I feel about it. I also think of jobs as a way to funnel money to community resources. Maybe you’re stuck in an ethically uncomfortable job but it pays well, so you use a portion of your salary to funnel to community resources. My husband and I just happened to end up in relatively high-paying jobs for our degrees and one of our first thoughts was to plan out where we wanted that money to go. What charities or organizations were important to us?

    Are there fairly ethical jobs? I think they’re out there. But I think most jobs you have to weigh yourself and work to counter any damage you may be causing.

  138. Varthema*

    Yikes. I’ll preface with a caveat that is basically everything that Alison said – I myself just left an industry where the industry standard just sucked, we tried to unionize but struggled, and I just didn’t see any way forward without collective action.

    That said.

    Yes, a lot of things about the world suck, and LW has highlighted some real problems.
    I think a lot of deep-rooted change is necessary, especially in the US, but also employers are people and people are always going to run the spectrum from saints to total glassbowls. I do think that going through life requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, otherwise you’ll just be paralyzed by all the terrible things that could happen. Any day I could get hit by a car or crash my car or keel over of heart attack or an aneurysm in my head could explode or or or.

    In my experience, when I start to see only the terrible things in the world and am unable to block them out, it’s time for some mental health intervention, because in my own experience that kind of thinking tends to come out in me when my anxiety or depression are spiking. (Which wouldn’t be totally unlikely at the end of a global pandemic!)

  139. UnicornJob*

    Probably too late, but I work at a community college and it checks all those boxes. And I am not faculty (I am staff). I work somewhere that is dedicated to serving anyone from students who need help completing their high school diplomas and learning English to students who eventually transfer to top tier schools. We are openly and vocally committed to becoming an anti-racist institution. My pay is better than living wage. And while my job can be demanding at certain times, I have a great work life balance most of the time. And the culture is very supportive of emergency/health needs, even when things are busy. Not everyone can/wants to work at a community college, but if the things you value are as you describe, it might be a good fit for you.

  140. Koala dreams*

    All jobs have pros and cons. You’ll not find a job that haven’t any drawbacks, but the other side of the coin is that most jobs have some good parts. Being paid and being able to put food on the table is a good thing, after all. Tech has improved life för a lot of people, the current legal system is an improvement over many of the legal systems in history, and so on. We don’t live in the perfect society, but that’s even more reason to fight to make it better, not give up.

  141. Geriatric Millenial*

    I know they were just intended as examples, but the narrow swath of careers mentioned in terms of what the LW and their peers are encountering seems to be part of the issue… they’re stereotypical “sexy” industries that recent grads think they need/want to be in. The number of jobs in media is vanishingly small compared to the number of people who want to create content for a living, but that’s one of the options listed here. There’s nothing about medical, research, manufacturing, education, accounting… Even “nonprofit” work is sort of vague, do they mean casework/social work or NGO/fundraising, etc? Limiting options to a narrow set of highly sought after fields will definitely make it harder to find a job that works for the tradeoffs you’re comfortable with. There’s no such thing as a perfect job, truly. Anyone who tells you there is is trying to sell you something… probably a spot on their MLM sales team. ;-)

  142. Karen*

    I can add healthcare to the LW’s list. It’s always been a mess in terms of management, work/life balance, and pay/benefits, but the last year has really brought out that there’s a lot of just…genuinely awful people that work in the field.

  143. boop the first*

    Best job I ever had was at a grocery store (unionized, of course), if only because they had rules and order. Whew, imagine having two weeks of work schedule planned! Staff were friendly. And everyone started at the same wage no matter how experienced they were, so no wage politics. We all got screwed equally.*

    That’s kind of it for good stuff, though.

    It was very boring
    It was poorly managed
    They fought me tooth and nail for 3 months over planning a week of vacation for no reason (still bitter)
    Denied us essential resources for many tasks that were supposed to be important
    *Half the employees were paid a living wage while the rest of us got minimum wage with a longterm growth cap at half of what they got, effectively splitting the workforce, which rendered the union pretty useless when everyone got laid off!

    Sigh, good things never last.

  144. Anna*

    I’ve been self employed for 13 years now, but was employed before that and have had to dip back into employment a couple of times since. I have to agree with the OP and say that toxicity is rife, especially as most of my work history had involved non-profits. I can’t understand how an industry that promotes empathy and altruism is so toxic and terrible to its staff. Self employment is not perfect by any means, but the feeling of knowing that it’s down to me to fix what’s wrong is very valuable and it does make me consider what is tolerable and what is non-negotiable on my values. I don’t think I’d be a very good employee anymore because although I’m conscientious, I’m used to getting my way.

  145. cat hat*

    My general employment experience has been having a decent job then suddenly getting laid off after 2-3 years due to reorg or outsourcing. I’ve arranged and minimalized my lifestyle to accommodate periods of unemployment. I’m old enough now to call it “semi-retired.”

  146. HRArwy*

    I think all jobs are “bad” in the sense that you are exchanging finite time (your life) for money. But if you find something you like in an OK environment it’s not so bad.

  147. Pepperfishes*

    I mean, I can only speak from experience. But I work at a nonprofit now, and absolutely love it. The pay isn’t the greatest, but I’ve never worked for a better organization. I’m being forced to leave next year, and I’m incredibly upset about it, as is the organization. They treat me well, they pay is decent, I have so much autonomy.

  148. Love my job!*

    Want to chime in too on “all jobs are not bad”. I love mine!! Been at it for 3 years and wouldn’t even want to move up if it was a possibility. My job enables me to go back to my home country twice a year, and that’s huge!!! I can even do a few other travels per year or defer to my direct report if I deem it too much for my young family.
    The pay is pretty good, I guess you could always find higher. I get to work in my mothertongue and with very supportive and kind colleagues. Not all is rosy, but my closest team is pretty awesome. I really love my boss, always there when I need him, always guiding me, but otherwise leaving me to deal with everything for my department.
    We are not expected to work after hours, but I will check my emails several times at night just because I want to. I’m genuinely passionate, I work in higher education, and I like the fact professors keep the standards high. I get to discuss to high school students (domestically and internationally) and feel like I’m helping them make a life changing decision about where they will study. My University has no quota, I don’t have to reach a certain number of new students, so it’s not stressful that way. I’m here to promote the institution and find the right kind of future students who will thrive there.
    I like the intercultural aspect of it, I like that I get to design our brochures cause I like marketing but would not be fond of an all-marketing job. I like to prepare 3 big events a year, but more would be too much. I like doing fairs, but not all the times.
    I get a little bit of everything shared with my colleague, and that makes it like everyday is different but not overwhelming.
    I think if i were to win at the lottery, I’d still stay there. Maybe part time ;)
    I love to get up in the morning and I don’t feel like I’m working. (I mean yes, some stuff I don’t like as much, like reports or big meetings).
    Did I say I have a 5 minute commute??
    When I interviewed, I was so stressed cause I thought it was my dream job. Now 3 years into it, I can definitely say that it is. It might evolve in 5-10 years from now, where I value different things or a higher salary, we shall see. But yes, I’m super pumped with my job!

  149. agnes*

    is there any life circumstance that requires you to deal with people that checks every box? Are your friendships, personal relationships, and family relationships checking every single box? I know mine don’t.
    Work is no different. It’s all about finding something that reasonably aligns with your priorities. I don’t know that we ever get everything we want in a job.

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