Some little girls, I am given to understand, fantasize about their future weddings. They dress their teddy bears in white and march them down tiny aisles, and swan about in long dresses and veils.
I was never that kind of little girl.
Instead, I was the kind of child who often engaged in long, elaborate fantasies about my future job. Would I be the world’s first veterinarian/ballerina/lion tamer, or would I be too consumed by my duties as superspy/vaguely Indiana-Jonesy archaeologist to give animals shots? Exactly how many national awards could one be given for Professional Finger-Painting?
When I graduated from college with my big fat BFA, I was super excited to enter the workforce and make all of these (now-slightly-more-fleshed-out) fantasies come true. I was lucky enough to find a really good arts job right after graduation – one that was right in line with my career goals. My dreams were slowly, but surely, coming true!
Five months later, I called a friend – crying.
“What’s up?” said my very patient friend.
“I don’t... really… know?” I sniffled, “I’m just – something is really wrong. I’m in this awesome job, and I’m finding myself getting frustrated at little day-to-day things. I should be happy! What’s the matter with me?”
My very wise friend laughed right into the receiver.
“What did you expect?” he said, “Paradise? It’s work!”
That day, my friend gave me some of the most valuable professional advice I’ve ever gotten. He pointed out that you will never, in any career path, be happy 100% of the time.
This may seem like obvious advice, but as an idealist, I initially found it difficult to accept. However, I’ve found it to be true – as an actor, as a writer, as a playwright, and in the many other little side gigs I’ve had. Even when I am very happy at work GENERALLY speaking, I run up against little hindrances and hiccups. It is sometimes hard to accept that I will never have my halcyon, sparkling fantasies.
There will always be little annoyances and frustrations. You will never love every aspect of your job – whether you’re working as a freelancer, or in a more conventional workplace. That doesn’t mean that you should ever settle for a career that makes you fundamentally unhappy, or resign yourself to bad professional situations. It just means that obstacles are not game-enders – that you shouldn’t give up a career you enjoy just because aspects of it can be disheartening, or irritating, or even just mind-numbingly dull. Even freelancing – that theoretically formless, freeing, self-propelled path – can be tiresome and taxing.
Accepting that there is no onus to be absolutely happy and fulfilled 100% of the time is actually very freeing. It allows you to let minor irritations be just that – minor parts of your day-to-day routine, instead of giant catastrophes.
When you’re not feeling pressure to LOVE every challenge and bump, when you can accept your own ambivalence about problems, you may attach less weight to them… and thus solve them more easily.
If I could go back and tell my just-post-collegiate self anything, it would be that – that you won’t always love work. That being said, you may in fact find it fulfilling and exciting… without ever finding perfection.
I’ve come to see work – even the very best work – as less of a fantasy, and more of a pleasant reality. It’s never quite the woozy whirlwind of an adventure that I pictured as a child, but it has its own thrills. Once I released myself of the need to be completely in love with my work at all times, I sometimes found myself savoring the less-than-ideal aspects of my career. At times, those little upsets make the BEST parts of my job even more enjoyable.
I’m not always 100% professionally happy – but I’m becoming more and more happy with imperfection. And that’s an ideal that’s worth embracing.
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