For the past few months I've been trying to find the right words for how I feel about my work and personal life and how they relate to each other. It seemed like an epiphany when used the word "outgrown" in January, and recently I've stumbled across another turn of phrase that sums up how I feel. Some people reading this blog have the impression that I hate my job, and this is not at all true. I quite enjoy the job, it's very interesting, it can be mentally stimulating, there is a lot of freedom and there are many things I'll miss when I move on to something new. I think the people who make this mistake have some confusion concerning the difference between a job and a career, because I can't see how else someone can come to that conclusion. Even the first post I ever wrote on this blog concluded with an image showing how much I've had being a physicist. That photo was taken during the preparations for the LHC running.
Spreading the physics joy in my spare time in my apartment.
At that time the job took my life, and it was great.
At the time there was a lot of excitement in the air about the upcoming data. We had access to fresh data at energies we'd never seen before and were eagerly awaiting more. There were discoveries to be made, old models to test, and it seemed to bring together young and old physicists. I made videos and wrote blogs about what was happening, I mentored students and often stayed up until 2am debating physical principles with people. I set up social groups and I frequently invited physicists over to my home. We were all excited, we were all part of something bigger than us, and we were all homesick and, to an extent, lonely. I found the job fascinating and it soon took over my whole life. My boss was one of my best friends and had been an inspiration to me for many years. We would often talk about physics in our spare time, over breakfast, on the tram to Geneva, or hikes in the nearby mountains, wherever we were. Shortly before that contract came to an end the wonder of it all had begun to fade and I already had a sense that it was time to move on, so I looked for another postdoc and found a position in Brussels.
So here I am now, in Brussels. It's a fine place to live, there's no doubt about that. The job is still interesting, and I still enjoy it. The problem now is that I only find the job interesting, and the job is determining nearly everything else about my life. I find myself single and living alone in a foreign country for a job I find interesting. That's not enough for me, if something is going to eclipse all other factors in my life, whether it's a job, a relationship, my family, some charity work, it must be fascinating. I've got to fall in love with whatever it is that's making me make compromises elsewhere. If I'm going to have a job that I find just interesting, I may as well relocate and find an interesting job closer to home.
That's the phrase I've been struggling to find for the past few months:
"I don't want to build the rest of my life around a job I find merely interesting."
I've either got to go out and find a job that's fresh and new that fascinates me, then build my life around that, or spend more time prioritising the rest of my life. Or another way to think about is that:
"I want my job to work for me, not have me work for my job"
because at the end of the day who really cares if I do this job or someone else does? Probably just me, and I could be just as happy, if not more so in a different job.
As a side note, I also get the impression that some people have a problem with the idea that I might, for once in my life, put my personal needs above my career. That's not a healthy attitude for anyone to have, and you can probably guess what my two word reply to that kind of attitude would be. I'm not about to stay in the field for the sake of meeting someone else's expectations, especially if that person doesn't understand what factors have motivated me to choose the path I have taken.