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Simone Stolzoff on Finding Yourself Instead Of Your Dream Job

Howard Gensler  |  August 4, 2023

Don't let a job define you. Instead, define yourself by finding yourself — not a dream job. You don't need a dream job to have a purpose.

So many of us are defined by our jobs. But since COVID began, we’ve changed how (and where) we work plus how much time we want to give to a job. Many of us still rely on our jobs for our healthcare, retirement plans, and a good dose of our self-worth. But Simone Stolzoff says you don’t need a “dream job” to have a purpose.

Stolzoff is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work. He says that although “Do What You Love” was a slogan plastered all over workplaces across the country over the last few decades, “the tide has begun to turn.” FFor many years, entrepreneurs and visionaries told millennials like Stolzoff to find the elusive “dream job.” Stolzoff refers to a famous commencement speech Steve Jobs gave where he said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Millions of us followed this path — until the pandemic. After COVID, people saw the risk of tethering their identity to a job that might not always be there. Did we want to spend more time at the office or doing what we love, even if there wasn’t a huge paycheck involved?  

“People got a taste of what a less work-centric view looked like,” Stolzoff says. “And now we’re starting to see the backlash to a lot of the ‘hustle culture’ and ‘girl bossing’ that was so prevalent a few years prior.”

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Workism: Made In America

Look at the way people work around the rest of the industrial world: fewer work days, longer vacations, paid healthcare, earlier retirements. Stolzoff says “workism” is especially American. He says in the seventies, the average American and the average German worked around the same number of hours each year. Today the average American works about 30% more than the average German. 

“If you start at our country’s foundation, the Protestant work ethic and capitalism are the two strands that entwined to form our country’s DNA,” Stolzoff says. “But in the last few decades, there have been a number of different trends that have work centricity particularly prevalent.”

Over time, there’s been a decline of other sources of identity and meaning in people’s lives. This includes things like organized religion or neighborhood and community gatherings. But the need for belonging and community and purpose remains. This leaves many Americans turning to the workplace to find those things. After all, it’s where they spend the majority of their time.

“If you were relying on work to be your primary identity and you lost your job, maybe by no fault of your own, you were left wondering, ‘what’s left?’”

The “Good Enough” Job

Stolzoff says that the concept of the “good enough job” shouldn’t read as “a slacker manifesto.” Sometimes a “decent” job is one that lets us pay the bills. But also lets us live the lifestyle we want or live in the city we love.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to find a job that aligns with your interests or is a source of meaning,” he says. “The good enough job is subjective. You get to choose what good enough means to you. If you want to live in New York or San Francisco, you need a job that pays a certain salary. Or a good enough job could be in a certain industry or with a certain job title. For someone else it might be a job that lets them leave at 4 p.m.” 

Whatever your definition of good enough is, the most important thing is that we start to recognize when we find it.

“A lot of times, especially in the United States, the rule of thumb is the desire for more, more and more,” Stolzoff says. “I’m reminded of a quote from David Foster Wallace who says that there’s no such thing as not worshiping, but whatever you worship will eat you alive. Worship money, and you’ll think that you’ll never have enough. Worship beauty and you’ll believe that you’re never beautiful enough. I think the same is true with the endless pursuit of dream jobs. If you’re always expecting your job to be a dream or to be perfect, it can create a lot of room for disappointment.” 

LISTEN: Simone Stolzoff says you can prioritize yourself outside of work. Listen to him share his tips on the HerMoney podcast, wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

How To Become A Recovering Workist

Stolzoff calls himself a “recovering workist” and credits Derek Thompson, a colleague at The Atlantic, for coining the term. He says that a workist treats work similar to how a religious person might treat their faith. That is, looking to work not only for a paycheck, but for a purpose, a meaning, a means of self-actualization. “I argue in the book that this isn’t necessarily a burden that our jobs are designed to bear,” he says. 

Many of us have relied on our jobs to be our primary source of community. But in the last few years, the nature of your relationship to work changed, he says.

Work-centered life “can crowd out other aspects of who we are,” Stolzoff says. “When we are giving all of our best time and our energy to our careers, it can neglect the other identities and sources and meaning that we have.”

Working is part of what we do, but it’s not who we are.

“We are also neighbors and friends and siblings and parents and citizens,” he says. “And if we don’t also water those identities with our time and attention, they can wither.”

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