Skip to main content

Growing up in a stereotypical Asian household, the one thing my parents never stop bugging us about is “finding a job”. A job is the ultimate destination of a 16-year education, and everything before that serves this divine purpose. Even when my little brother slacks off on homework, they scold him by emphasizing that laziness won’t get him a job a decade down the road. Certainly, despite their harsh words, my parents simply want the best for us. They hope that a stable source of income would serve as the foundation for a comfortable middle-class life and conventional happiness. But what’s ingrained in my mind is that work is the unique focal point of adulthood. If work is great, everything is great. If it isn’t, everything falls apart.

Working a nine-to-five routine for two months in Miami reinforces for me the centrality of work to life. After work, I get groceries, dinner, go on my phone, socialize a little with our group and watch a few videos on YouTube, shower…and somehow it’s already time to sleep if I want to get up early enough the next morning. Staying even five or ten minutes behind at work makes me feel as if I were deprived of my “fundamental right” to leisure time. Forty hours out of a total of 168 per week, almost a quarter of the total time, especially in such a blocked-out manner, already seem overwhelming to me. How would I possibly survive the sixty to eighty hours per week typical of law firms?

I guess that rules out some career options.

But I did gradually come to realize that the reality of work is by no means as black-and-white as I had always imagined. The relationship of man to work is never monolithic. Work may be perceived as the centerpiece of life, or it may not be – despite the horrifying amount of time spent on it. If it is, you should probably find something that you’re passionate about. But what is passion anyway? Does passion for a subject matter automatically mean you would equally enjoy it as a career? Does passion for a field or a mission mean passion for the everyday tasks? Can a passion be skewed by inaccurate perceptions of the profession? To feel fulfilled at work, passion might not be enough. The environment, the work culture, the way that the organization goes about achieving a mission, and the people that you are surrounded by all add to or undermine that fulfillment.

It is also possible that, despite how much we have been told otherwise, work does not automatically dictate one’s level of happiness. Seeking meaning can take the form of developing and maintaining hobbies, travelling, exercising, forming friendships and relationships, bonding with family or serving the community. Despite the disproportionate time distribution, it might be that the fulfilment obtained through other ways can make mediocre work tolerable. Then maybe it is forgivable to not want to save the world. Maybe it is okay not to be passionate about work, but about living. Maybe we just need to love, and be kind.

Career exploration is often framed as a quest to find one’s interests, but in reality, it is more of a process of establishing one’s values. I am young and have many unanswered questions. But at least, I’ll continue to keep an open mind.