The Job Delusion

by MDY

I don’t have a dream job. I sometimes think I would’ve been an excellent electrician, except my fingers are clumsy (particularly when cold in winter) and my father always discouraged me from becoming an engineer from first-hand experience. I used to joke in high school that I had no ambition. My gift is not one which lends itself easily to professional designations.

In letters to his patron Maecenas, the Roman poet Horace alludes to the necessary separation of otium (“leisure” is an approximate translation) to its literal antithesis negotium (“business” or “responsibilities” in a more or less professional sense). I’m no longer familiar with the specifics – this knowledge stems from high-school Latin, after all – but the gist of the correspondence is that a person will derive most happiness from keeping business and pleasure as distinct as possible, to avoid corrupting one with concerns of the other. Maecenas was offered up as a good example of this: a politically influential entrepreneur by day, he would dedicate his nights to holding literary salons replete with fresh poetry, wine, and bro-fisting. If you were to represent Maecenas’ social circles as a Venn diagram, the intersection would be the Empty Set or its asymptotic equivalent (O ∩ n-O ≈ ∅). I wonder what Horace would have written about work/life balance (O ∩ n-O ≈ {webmail, kids interrupting conference calls, …}).

In my current line of work, we often talk about “managing expectations”. Is it a compromise if you fall in love with what you do only after you’ve started doing it? I find my current line of work to be interesting, and the people with whom I work to be more salubrious than average. This, to me, is the epitome of job satisfaction. I’m one of the lucky ones, but I also believe in making my own luck. My gift is not one which lends itself easily to professional expectations. Things have worked out well for me and my dichotomy of neg/otium. But if they don’t, there’ll always be wires which need fixing.

(The intersection between and B)