What to Be or What Not to Be, That is the Question

Lately as I contemplate my next career move I am caught in a familar internal struggle: do I look for meaningful work or do I look for work that provides a meaningful paycheck? I have had both kinds of jobs and the resulting joys and sorrows of each have not helped clarify which I prefer. Of course I could try and find one that does both, but that seems less likely than my time travel fantasies.

It was in this frame of mind that I watched “History Detectives” on PBS while I made dinner last night. I have never really been much interested in the show before, but last night it really piqued my interest. For those that don’t know the show, the history detectives on “History Detectives” take some artifact (last night: an abolitionist banner, a WWII LCT “boat”, photo cards for a Victorian era marriage introduction service) and do primary source research around the country to find out more about the story behind the object. Kind of like an in-depth Antiques Roadshow without the valuation part of the show.

As I watched the history detectives talk to experts and visit libraries and archives, I kept thinking of my undergraduate degree in History and wondering what it might be like to be a history detective. But then I just go back to the fact that I am never happy in any job–they never really keep my attention long enough to turn into a career. On top of that, I tend to work really fast and usually finish my work in about half the time allotted. You would think that would be a good thing, but in my experience employers are rarely resourceful enough to keep me busy, and the “free time” becomes a burden after a while.

No doubt in these days of high unemployment I am whining way too much. But the economy isn’t going to stay bad forever, and I am going to need a career track that will sustain me for the next 20+ years. And as 40 rapidly approaches, I realize employers are going to start seeing me as an unfocused dabbler rather than a hard-working rookie.

I have spent time with a career counselor. I know what I am good at and what I am not good at. I know what types of things I want to do and what types of things I don’t want to do. My biggest fear is that I will never be happy with any job. And for me happy in a job doesn’t necessarily mean a brilliant career. It just means getting paid to do something that keeps me reasonably occupied for 8 hours a day. Shouldn’t be a tall order right?