“Just Be Thankful You Have A Job”

“Look, I hear you, but at least you have a job. Not only that, you have a rare job other people would give their eye-teeth for. Stop complaining. You won.”

If you haven’t heard this yet, you will. If you don’t hear it from others directly, it will most likely cross your mind.

The response is fairly simple, a throwback to playground admonitions about jumping off a bridge: Just because lots of other people want something doesn’t mean it’s right for you. But it is still true.

Would your friend be saying the same thing if you were employed as a superstore “greeter” with no benefits, barely-above-minimum hourly wages, and a workplace that smells like mouldering birthday cake? Maybe, but probably without much conviction.

Obviously it isn’t just having any old job that matters. It’s having a particular type of job. In this case, it is almost certainly the fact that your job pays by the bucketful rather than by the thimbleful. There’s also some prestige involved.

So right there, the question gets much easier: Is the money (and prestige) worth it?

Here’s where you know something your friend doesn’t. Every lawyer knows that the basic price of something isn’t always the true value: What is the opportunity cost of the wages you are paid? Time to put numbers on this baby.

  • If you didn’t have to work for your living at all, what would you be doing instead? What is that worth?
  • If you did have to work, but Warren Buffett promised to pay you fair value regardless of what you chose, what would you do? What is that worth?
  • Who are you not meeting, talking with, snuggling, or playing with? What is that worth?
  • Are there hobbies or talents you would do if you were not at work? What are they worth?
  • If you were not at work, what charities would benefit from your time or money? What is that worth? (Don’t forget to multiply that by the impact on the people who would receive it.)

You will likely be able to think of other foregone opportunities that you are choosing to pass up in order to do the work you do. Add them in also!

Now I don’t know what your total is. For all I know, it may be well under your wages, which means you’re getting a great deal and this is the highest and best use of your talents and time. In that case, your friend is right: this ain’t working out so badly.

But if, after sincere reflection, you realize you are not paid enough to compensate for the value you are foregoing in order to go in to work every day, then you have a very rational response to your friend: “Actually, it isn’t worth it. I’ve done the math. There is so much more I could be doing–for myself, my family, and others–if I weren’t doing this. So it isn’t worth it; not for me, at least..”

It’s worth being thankful if one is being used for the best purposes and making the world a bigger and better place. If that is the case, then you absolutely should be thankful for having a job. But if it isn’t, then there is no need to be thankful.

Don’t be resentful either, get all pouty, or sneer at passers-by. Simply acknowledge that this choice is not the highest and best use of your time and energy, and consider what the best next steps are for you.

This is not a matter for guilt. There are enough head-trips being laid on people of all ages about having the “right” job and growing up to be respectable and crap like that. When you actually have the chance to face one of those myths down and kill it, do so.

I know I felt a lot of guilt when I started realizing this was not the right path for me. I actually felt hurt when people chastised me for not being thankful to have a job–until I realized that it was a self-defeating and even a self-harming perspective.

Have you had an experience like that? Tell us about it in the comments, and how you dealt with it. Is there anything a sense of guilt is keeping you from doing?



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2 responses to ““Just Be Thankful You Have A Job”

  1. Hi Justin –

    Found you on the trailblazer forum and I know Justin is a pen name (I MORE THAN respect that). I’ve just read through all of your blog and it’s resonated with me (though I’m not in the law business, engineering).

    “I actually felt hurt when people chastised me for not being thankful to have a job–until I realized that it was a self-defeating and even a self-harming perspective.”

    I hear that more often that I should be – for all the bitching I do about my current situation (to friends, family, co-workers). And honestly, I’ve wished that I’ve gotten laid off. Maybe that would have put me farther now on my entrepreneurial endeavors, I don’t know. Anyway, what I’ve done to deal with it is just nod, and agree. And whisper to myself – never bitch to that person again! (Of course “bitching” includes what I’m trying to do to get out of the situation – and people around me just “don’t want to hear it!”). Oh well! Such is life. All the best to you and yours!!

    • Hey shenz, thanks for the comments (and sorry for the belated reply–this has been a busy month)!

      There is no reason to feel hurt when people chastise you for not feeling grateful. I do agree that not bitching to that same person again is probably a good idea, but sometimes that option isn’t available. Let’s face it: it’s tough not to bitch to a spouse or parent. They’re an integral part of your life.

      There may be a point when it’s important to compassionately reject the “you should be grateful” line.

      “Actually, I’m not sure you have the whole perspective. I’m fundamentally not happy with the situation, and I am trying to change it as gracefully as I can. By the way, I’m glad to see you’re thankful for your current body weight and have given up on the diet.”

      On second thought, probably best not to use that one with a spouse. 🙂

      Take care,

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