The Life and Death of the Dream Job at The Baffler

The wonderful Raechel Anne Jolie (whose book, Rust Belt Femme, I devoured in nearly one sitting) has written about Work Won’t Love You Back for The Baffler and I couldn’t be more thrilled. She writes:

The book contains original reporting interwoven with keen analysis of and remarkably thorough histories behind several different, but related, kinds of labor, including domestic care work (both hired and familial), public school teaching, non-profit staffing, academia, art, sports, and tech. Jaffe talks with people who were initially drawn to their jobs because they felt a genuine commitment to, or derived pleasure or purpose from, the work. Throughout these interviews, we bear witness to the complicated emotional stress of feeling passionate about work that is simultaneously exploitative and alienating.

This contradiction, Jaffe explains, although increasingly common, is a relatively new one. We haven’t always tried to find meaning in paid labor, and in fact a central struggle of the early labor movement was to reduce the number of hours we spent on the job. “The labor movement’s earliest demands were usually for less work . . . ” Jaffe reminds us. “The strike, the workers’ best weapon, is, after all, a refusal of work, and for a while they wielded it effectively, winning some concessions on the length of the working day and week as well as on wages.”

As a working-poor Boomer, my mom wasn’t conditioned to seek love in work. She had (and still has) a love for reading, craft-making, and family. She never had a passion for serving drinks at the Brown Derby, delivering newspapers at 3 a.m., serving cafeteria food, hauling ink cartridges in a print shop, or working for below minimum wage to do home health care. But I am from the post-Reagan generation, in which, Jaffe says, “it’s become especially important that we believe that the work itself is something to love.” When in 2003 I made it to college—with the help of above-the-poverty-line relatives, good grades, and a contract signing me up for decades of debt—I felt certain that it was a guaranteed path to escaping the menial labor I both performed and witnessed growing up. Even my burgeoning post-9/11 radical politics didn’t stop me from buying into the dominant narrative that college secured upward mobility. I think I needed to buy it—the idea that college wouldn’t be my ticket to “fulfilling work” was too much to bear. And so I did what I was told to do by posters in guidance counselor offices and bumper stickers on cars: “Follow your bliss”; “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”; and other messages that promised me my fate wouldn’t be the same as others from my blue-collar town.

Read the whole thing (it’s so good!) at The Baffler.

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