OP-ED: A “Real Job” (Dun Dun Duuun)

If you’re in your early twenties like me, I’m sure you’ve been asked the same question, over and over again by anyone who roughly guesses your age: “When are you going to get a real job?”

Whether you’ve just graduated university or technical college, or you graduated from high school and went straight into the work force, or you’ve had to take a few years off school.

“When are you going to get a real job?”

I have a few problems with this question.

What is a “real job”?

Whenever you ask someone what a “real job” is, it usually conjures up images of long work hours, crushing stress, and frustration. It’s supposed to be a slog. The old saying goes, “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” And that’s great. But the reality is you’re not expected to love what you do. It’s supposed to be incredibly rare for people to actually get to do what they love.

So we trade passion for paycheck, out of necessity. Out of societal expectation. You’re supposed to put finances above fun. To an extent, that’s fiscally responsible. You shouldn’t spend more than you have, you should save as much as you reasonably can.

But you shouldn’t be expected to work yourself to death to achieve that.

Who works a “real job”?

Another problem I find with the term “real job” is the narrow definition of who works it.

An accountant has a “real job.” A doctor has a “real job.” But a waitress doesn’t? Or a grocery store manager?

Already in my time I’ve had the privilege of working a few minimum wage jobs, and worked alongside some of the hardest working people in the world.

I worked with a floor stocker at a grocery store who, with their family, had been barely scraping by on minimum wage for years (in Indiana, it’s $7.25). They were always working tirelessly, and taught me how to be an efficient worker no matter what comes up.

 I worked with a waitress who put in well over 40 hours a week on nothing but a waitress’ pay (that’s around $2) plus tips. There were days when we had no patrons, but she always managed to crack a joke, even as the hours ticked by in the empty restaurant.

I’ve spent years in public school being taught by teachers who made a huge impact on my life and shaped who I am. They have to take second and third jobs during the summer and are forced to scrape into their own savings to buy new supplies for their classrooms.

Those are all real jobs. A real job doesn’t have to do with paycheck. It doesn’t have to do with benefits. It doesn’t have to do with your uniform, or your office, or your car, or your house.

Who defines a “real job”?

If you put your blood, sweat, and tears into your job, you’re working a real job. If you roll out of bed every day knowing you’ve got something to do that day, you’re working a real job. If you’re barely making ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck, just scraping by, and you’re working your ass off to pay rent and buy food and maybe see a movie sometimes, you’ve got a real job.

This is something my generation already knows. We’ve been prepared since middle school –we’ve lived through market crashes and rebounds. We’ve worked through high school and summer breaks. We’ve taught ourselves how to save and how to budget, because the only thing we learn in school is how to balance a checkbook.

Surprise: the economy isn’t treating us well. We’re not going to walk right into a job with benefits. We’ll be lucky to get a full-time job with a salary before we’re 30. And don’t get me started on degree expectations and student loan debt accumulation.

So the short answer to this is you: you define what’s a real job.

No one can tell you that your job isn’t good enough, or you’re not making enough. You deserve to enjoy your life and enjoy your job.

Find something you enjoy.

Maybe you don’t love it, and that’s okay. You’ve got time. You’ve got your whole life. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you have to pick your career and stick with it –you change that as many times as it takes to find your purpose and find your joy in this world.

If it’s not the highest-paying job, who gives a shit? You’re surviving and having fun. Save a little on the side, if you can, as a nod to your future self when you inevitably hit hard times. That happens to all of us.

That’s life. But it doesn’t mean we have to suffer through it.

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