Although the pandemic was filled with gloom, fear, and loss, it was also a defining moment for most of us. It shifted our perspective on a lot of things. We appreciated friendship more, placed more value on time, redecorated our space differently, and even saw life through a new lens. Life suddenly became clearer. It was like getting a new lens or leaving a fog or even darkness.
Before the pandemic, I saw work differently. Work meant productivity. Work meant I had to be busy all the time. Since I was a student at the university, work meant giving my studies a 100%. Work was the only way I could get to my dream job. Of course, my dream was still “work,” but I figured I would like it better because it was something I had always wanted.
However, as the pandemic came, and we were locked down, with no movement and no school — the things I thought about work and life slowly crumbled. With no pressure to study or work, I reevaluated my life, work, and future career.
Being in my final year at the university, I needed this revaluation because soon, I would be out of the four walls of the university, GPAs wouldn’t count, and all the study techniques I have gathered over the years wouldn’t even matter. Work was about to take a new meaning, and I was not even sure I was prepared.
I decided to test freshwaters, volunteer more, put myself out there, and find out what really mattered. Thankfully, I was alone most of the pandemic and had enough time for sober reflection.
Here are three things I discovered about what work really meant to me.
WORK IS A CHANCE TO FIND MYSELF
Before the pandemic, I had always believed that work was something I did when I had everything figured out or had prior knowledge on the matter at hand. This held me back from many opportunities. But as I spent most of the lock-down trying to do only things I knew how to, I grew bored and finally decided this wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like. I decided to take new paths, learned new ways of getting things done, and found a new meaning for work. This work was different. Every day I get to see a part of myself I never knew was there. Once, I tried using a Geographic Information System (GIS) to map out an epidemiology study; it was so much fun that I stayed up all night. The next day, I tried writing non-stop for hours. Other times, I tried social media marketing. Each time, I found a new version of myself, recording my feelings as I went through each process because work is a process and not necessarily the result. Now, while I enjoy content creation, I wouldn’t say I like Social media marketing. It makes it easier to turn down jobs I now know aren’t my strong forte.
NO ONE’S WORK IS TERRIBLY IMPORTANT
Bertrand Russell, in his book, the conquest of happiness, said, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
Before the pandemic, I found it very difficult to delegate duties. I always felt that it might never get done or done well if I didn’t do it myself. This resulted in me wearing myself out with work by trying to be everywhere at all times. As a result, I was constantly exhausted, my work suffered, and I was unhappy.
During the pandemic, the heartbreaking realization that people could actually do without me or my work forced me into a powerful revelation that my work is not so important, and that’s fine. It meant I could breathe. It meant I could take time for myself, and the world would not stop. I decided I would always do what I could, first considering my health and well-being before the job at hand. If It would lead me to burnout and deteriorate my health, then I would have to pass because, in the end, everyone is dispensable.
THE JOB IS NOT THE WORK
Job and work are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same. We should not misconstrue these two terms.
Understanding these two terms made it easier for me to understand certain aspects of my life. Shortly after the lifting of the lock-down, I had to begin my undergraduate research project. However, barely one month later, I got really bored. This scared me because my dream job was to become a research scientist. But here, I was already bored by something that was always exciting in my head. I got really sad about this. Who then would I become, If I was not a research scientist.
As I sat back one Saturday morning looking for answers, I found out two important things. The job is not the work, and the job always doesn’t have to feel interesting.
A research scientist with a focus on nanotechnology was just a job, and it simply meant routine, something I exchange for money, my designation. My work is different. It was more personal. It doesn’t have to be paid, and it could also be the little things that happened in the background. My work involved more of me. It was an art. A process. It was my unique way of getting things done.
My job also doesn’t always have to be interesting, and I don’t have to love my job every day, but that’s fine because no one has interesting jobs all the time. What matters is that this is something I am passionate about, something I am willing to stick with a little longer. And if I ever decide, my dream job doesn’t give me much joy or passion; it is okay to dream again. Life shouldn’t be a set of strict rules on what we should do or not do.