My story began in a city called Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, where both blue collar and white collar workers meet and work to earn a living in one giant melting pot. Among those workers, there live thousands, if not hundred of thousands, of unemployed people, rich people who control the economy, street vendors, and a group of people who make a living by doing ‘uncoventional works’. This last category includes motivators, preachers, ‘religious leaders’, shamans, and a head of a tribe or kampung (village). Their job is not a 9-to-5 work we all expect when we hear the word ‘job’. Many of them work by ‘leading and guiding’ people, often selling dreams, hopes, and promises of better days through religions, faith, and or certain ideology and motivating people, providing them comforts and a sense of security and confidence in life.
I was raised never trully understanding the value of hard work since my parents fell into the last category, the unconventional worker. I never saw them leave to work at 5 AM in the morning for work and go back home at 9 PM, like a lot of Jakartans did (and still do). I basically didn’t know what good work ethics were. We didn’t start off well and I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. However luckily, as time went by, I started to taste a little more comfortable life. My parents believed in our education system and sent me and my sister to the best schools they could afford. My past experience and education made me believe that I would have the luxury to have an even better life. An easy life, to be exact.
Having graduated from one of the best universities in my country, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that schools taught me that we all had to work to make a living. We had to work to get what we want. We had to work to survive. So, I decided to take a teaching job.
I took the teaching job because I actually enjoyed studying and being in an academic environment made me happy. But most of all, I took a teaching job because at that time it was the easiest job I could get. The job offer came to me since I was one of the best graduates. I despised the idea of sending 100 application letters, waiting for months to get a call from potential employers, sitting in a room full of 1000 other applicants to take a test or two, going through 9 interviews if I made it through the test(s), and then waiting again for another month to see of I finally got a job. I despised the idea, so I chose the easy way out. I became an English teacher and a part-time lecturer at my alma mater. But life didn’t go the way I wanted it. After spending a couple of years teaching at the uni, I began to feel that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I decided to resign and pursue my master’s degree.
Having graduated with a master, I decided to leave the country and do an office work overseas. The recruitment process in that country wasn’t as complicated as the one we usually find in Jakarta. All I needed to do was to take a long and difficult test and then had one interview. That was all what it took for me to get a job overseas.
So, I got my working visa in Singapore. That was the first time I experienced a real 9-to-5 work. In real life, though, I started working at 9 AM and went home at 8 or 9 PM every day. Sometimes, I would leave the office at 10 or 11 PM and I also had to work at the weekends. My work life began to feel like a real burden and I hated the routine. I felt empty, very lonely and depressed since the balance between work and private life no longer existed for me. I hated myself for doing things that I considered destructive and killing my creativity and ripping my soul. Sorry for being so dramatic. But that was what I felt at that time. Never in my life I saw my parents work this crazy. I thought there must have been something wrong with me that I managed to stay there for merely a year. I had no examples or a role model to look up to. So, once again, I decided to resign. My parents fully supported this decision.
Soon after that, I got another office job at another company. The work and private life balance was so much better at this new company. My colleagues were nice and things were generally pretty easy to get done. I finished my target and met my deadline much faster than everyone expected. I was praised for my works and my bosses appreciated what I did. However, it didn’t take long until I started to feel the same emptiness and boredom that I didn’t know how to cope with. I felt like I could do so much more, yet there was no room for me to grow and be creative. I lost the comfort that the job used to offer me. I ended up in confusion once again, wondering which destination I wanted to take my life to.
There were so many days I spent thinking about what I actually really wanted in life. I kept on asking myself what my passion really was and if I was actually doing the right thing for myself and my future. I kept on having this dream of being ‘successful’ and I longed for more recognition. Yet, I didn’t know how to get there. I was stuck in what I believe to be a ‘luxury trap’ I was imagining and craving. I was longing for an ‘easy life’. I was a faithful believer of the dogma that has brainwashed our society that we all need to earn money to purchase material objects in order to survive. I was scared that I would lose or didn’t have enough of this and that to the point that I felt so greedy and losing my objectives and forgetting the most important thing, which is to have a meaningful life. In the midst of this greed and confusion and emptiness, my contract with the last company ended. I decided to give up on a job once again and went back to my parents’ place.
To support my single life, I began to work as a freelance translator and interpreter. It wasn’t easy this time. I had to start from zero, having not known many people in the localization industry. I finally had to do what I used to despise: sending cover letters to over 300 potential clients in just three months. Out of 300 something agencies I applied to, only five responded to my online application and none of them gave me a job. While I was still not sure it was the right thing to do, I decided that I wouldn’t quit and run away again this time. After six months living on 100 dollars per month to survive, I began to have several real clients who actually gave me real projects and paid me for my translation work. A year later, I began to have stable amount of works and enjoy my freedom as a freelancer. However, I still wondered how long I could go on working as a freelancer. Learning from the past and knowing how easily I got bored with a job, I braced myself to deal with the possibility of something unpleasant might be on its way and distract my focus once again.
In 2015, I got married to a man of the same profession. Another freelance translator. Then something I never expected to happen did happen to my life. My 78-year-old father was rushed to the emergency for he suddenly wasn’t even able to stand or sit by himself. He was diagnosed with diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His doctor told us that from that moment on he would have to spend the rest of his life with insulin pens since his body could no longer produce proper amount of insulin. We were also told that his pulmonary diseases was irretrievable, meaning that he had to live the rest of his life with the disease. We have to take him to hospital every month for medical check ups and regular blood tests. This whole thing became a new routine for all of us and this costs us a lot of money. Having always been the breadwinner in the family, my father could no longer support himself and my mother. That was when I felt like the world fell apart.
I felt that it was my responsibility then to take care of my parents. Suddenly, I came to an understanding that the time finally came. The time when I no longer could think of my own selfish self. I never really had to work to support anyone before. In the past, when I gave something to my parents, it was considered as a gift, instead of a help, despite the fact that I always wanted to help support my parents. Then it finally became a neccessity.
It was unbelievable that a part of me just couldn’t stop thinking if I really wanted to continue my freelance work. I still disliked the word WORK itself, even though I worked so hard days and nights to support my parents. I still felt like work was a burden that I needed to get rid of someday. I was wondering if I should just give up working and having a child and becoming a full-time mother and housewife, instead, and putting the whole financial burden on my husband’s shoulders. Another day, I felt like translation was not my true passion and I should find something else to do. Yet, I didn’t know what else I had to do. Another office job didn’t sound good since I had learned my lessons.
During my free time, I spent many days thinking and evaluating myself. I read a lot of books and articles until one day I read on the news that Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple, passed away. A lot of people were overwhelmed by his death. A lot of people, who appreciated his legacy and leadership, wrote a lot about him. I came across the text of the speech he gave at Stanford Commencement Day, in 2005. He said:
“You’ve got to find what you love.”
“And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Basically, he told us to find our passion and worked on something we loved. Unfortunately, this was something I already knew. This was nothing new for me. Long before I heard Steve Jobs’ name and used any Apple products, I was taught that we all needed to find what we loved and worked with passion. I was a strong believer that if we found what we loved to do, we’d never have to work a day in our lives. But, is that really so? Is passion the best reason to work?
I started to think that perhaps working for passion was a false mindset, instead. Steve Jobs might say that we had to work with our passion so that we’d be the best at what we do. But probably this ‘passion-motivation’ has been used by big companies to hire cheap workers who are willing to work with low wages in the name of love for work and passion. Ever heard about teachers and lecturers who are actually among of the lower income professionals in Indonesia, and maybe in other parts of the world, as well?
Maybe we all have been deceived into work force to serve the capitalist system which is based on greeds of the wealthiest people on this planet. We probably have been manipulated by the monetary system, which is controlled to protect the financial system and the interests of the same people using stock markets and banking practices.* We might have as well been brainwashed by our education system that always says the best outcome and assets a university can have are alumni who work at best and well-known companies or have highest income.
We even probably don’t have to work at all. We might just be tricked into believing it, perhaps? Isn’t it an irony that we have to wake up every day to work to buy a house we live in, a car we drive, food we eat, all and all so that we can be healthy and wake up in the morning and……all is to work again? All because we were brainwashed that this never-ending cycle is okay since we all LOVE what we do. We’re passionate about our job so it is okay to be a slave and serve a company we don’t own for rich people we don’t even know. Sounds like irony to me.
If that is really the case, I don’t think passion is a good reason enough for us to work, then. After a long contemplation and endless hours of learning new things, something that felt like an enlightenment struck me. I decided to work for a reason I believe to be better than passion itself: the opportunity to work while I still can. One day, my skin will start wrinkling. My hair will become gray. My backbone will no longer be able to support my body. I will, if I live long enough, lose my senses, my sight, my hearing, my ability to even type an email. My hands and knees will become too weak to do anything. One day, if I live long enough, I won’t be able to work anymore. I will become dependent to other people. I won’t be able to help anyone as much as I can now. I will become less useful for myself and others.
So, all I have is now. My presence. Now is the only time I have to work hard and do good for myself and others, while my brain still functions well. I now see work as an opportunity to do something good with my life. I now work for a purpose. I finally made peace with my work. I now feel lucky because I get a chance to work. So many people don’t have this privilage since they can’t find a job or simply don’t have the skills they need to work or do what they want. Some other people might not even be healthy enough to work. So, I no longer worry if I should continue doing what I am doing now. All I need to do is to keep on doing the best I can. To keep on working while I still can. I will have to keep on innovating and moving forward. It doesn’t really matter anymore if my job is my true passion. I don’t even need to stop looking for my ‘real passion’, anyway. I will and can always find something new to do and to learn.
We can always change our jobs. That’s okay. Changes are what make us all humans. But remember, we all will die one day. So if we can, and I believe we can, choose how we will spend our short time in this world, isn’t it better if we, just like George Eliot once said, spend it by doing the best we can to make life less difficult for one another? Isn’t it better to appreciate what we have and continue doing our best than just always quitting and never becoming happy just because we haven’t found our ‘true passion’ in work and life?
Don’t worry if you feel like you haven’t found your passion. Keep on looking. Don’t give up but don’t make it the only reason to work, either. There will always be hard times. There will be doubt days. Just find your purpose in life and be free to choose your own path. Don’t let anyone dictate you. This time, I will have to agree with Steve Jobs, our time is limited. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.**
Live life to the fullest. Work as hard and smart as you can, for a good purpose. Worry about everything else later.
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