The Tyranny of Careers (and the Joy of Valuable Work)

Careers Advice to My Younger Self

Coming sometime in 2014… 

‘Work hard at school, get a degree at university, find yourself a good career, and you will be happy. Your career will be your source of self-esteem and give you control of your life.’ This was the subtext of every piece of careers advice I received, and still is. School, parents and society all tell us that a full-time career is the one essential source of self-esteem, the main focus of a productive existence, and the only way to have control over your life.

But years of work have taught me that this is completely false. Until I was in my thirties I believed I would find satisfaction somewhere in a career, in paid work. I had qualifications that found me jobs in the television, film and publishing industries – but none of these careers ever provided the pleasure and self-esteem I expected. Because not only was the work something I did not genuinely value, but any satisfaction to be had was always overwhelmed by stress and overwork, of it being part of a full-time career.

Of all the adults I now know, the happiest ones, the ones with the most self-esteem, are those without full-time careers. Instead they have their own creative work, work that they personally value, alongside their paid work. And the people with full-time careers, however prestigious or glamorous the profession, are the ones who are most stressed and miserable, the ones with least control over their lives.

So The Tyranny of Careers is the advice I wish I had received. Partly a memoir of my misplaced search for a meaningful career, and partly the advice I’ve learnt despite this, on how to earn a living whilst pursuing work and a self-made career that is genuinely valuable to you.

Contents and excerpts