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Finding Meaning Outside of a Career

Many of us grew up this way: we went to school, got good grades, went to college. We were taught that this is the path that will bring meaning and success to our lives, and that to fall off this path would mean failure. Capitalism has ingrained this mindset of toxic productivity into many of us, and that can be really hard to break out of. For me, it is only when I leave the United States and see the way other people are living and how different that is from us, that I can escape this mindset. We no longer value work-life balance, and our careers are often what define us. For my entire life I have felt like whichever career path I take will wholly define my identity. So what happens when this narrative has been fed to you your entire life, you graduate college, and no one will hire you?

To be fair, I did take a job after graduation. Almost a year before graduating, I began the long, drawn-out application and visa process to work as an English teacher in Spain. This was my plan. But what about after that? It's hard, because I'm passionate about so many things. I want to pursue international relations, my major, but can't do anything without a Master's. And even then, I'm never guaranteed a job.

I'd be lying if I said I had it figured out. I definitely don't, and that's OK. I'm still feeling quite down about this myself, and have almost all but given up on my job search. I also entered the job market during a pandemic. So there's that.

So now what? I've fallen off the path I had set out for myself, I'm unemployed and desperately searching for a job that will bring some type of meaning to my life. It's mentally taxing and difficult, but I have found a few ways to cope.

My first piece of advice is to nurture the relationships in your life, and build new and meaningful ones. This is probably the most important aspect of your life, and will impact your life as you move forward. Much of our overall happiness is dependent on these relationships, so they're something to nurture and grow. Having meaningful relationships with friends and family and feeling like a part of a community can bring us the kind of happiness that no job or career can.

Something I consider essential to my sense of identity is my deep love and passion for travel. As someone who often gives up modern comforts and opportunities in my home country to pursue travel, this is something that keeps me grounded and brings me joy. There is something indescribable about the feeling I get when I am en route to a new destination, and no job will ever change that. I have this deep passion in me, and as long as I can travel and support myself, I am happy.

As cheesy as it sounds, you are your own person, and that person is amazing. You have your own accomplishments, you are talented at something, you are knowledgable at something. And while those talents differ for everyone, there is meaning to be found through pursuing your passions and creative hobbies. Many of these skills may not be employable, but why do they need to be? Pursue your passions in your free time because that's what they are, passions.

We have this inherently toxic idea that your job needs to be your passion. A job is a job. It allows you to put food on the table and have a roof over your head. And while you should pursue a career you enjoy doing, or at least don't hate, it isn't the end all be all. At the end of the day, you are in a very privileged position if you are able to choose a career based on your passions and interests.

So do what makes you happy, nurture those relationships with your loved ones, and think about what makes you unique. You have so much worth and value outside of what you do to make money. You are a friend, a family member, and a good human. Maybe this will impact someone, maybe it won't. Maybe it's just a reminder that I need to give myself.

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