Robert Frank for The New York Times' segment The Upshot wrote of "The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love." We're told by motivational writers to "follow your passion" and asked by career coaches, "What are you willing to suffer for?"
Another common question, "What would you do if you could not fail?"
A 45-year-old answering, "I'd be an NFL quarterback" would undoubtedly and sensibly be met with qualifying questions, such as "What aspects of being an NFL quarterback appeal to you?" Focus on the achievable specifics, like being part of a team, being outdoors, helping others (i.e. maybe you could get into coaching) because that specific career path is simply not a realistic option.
The matter is that of eudaimonia, I think, a Greek word meaning a full, flourishing life.
Many motivators seem to say that eudaimonia requires a job you're passionate about or one with frequent opportunities for what Robert Frank calls "flow"—that which "occurs when you are so immersed in an activity that you lose track of the passage of time," which was popularized by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow.
That may be true for many people. But, I suspect not for everyone.
I feel that Epicurus' definition of eudaimonia sometimes gets overlooked amidst all the passion and flowing.
The job pays the rent, buys the food, and so long as it does not compromise the pleasures of adequate self-sufficiency and friendship, is the useful mechanism for Epicurean eudaimonia.
In practical terms, this might mean, for example, a job free of a micromanaging boss and that doesn't require regularly working until late. It doesn't mean the job has to be fulfilling or provide for "flow."
I look at the world-traveling freelancers abundant on Instagram (photos of Angkor Wat abound). They seem intense, happy, fulfilled, but their life is highly curated on an app.
I read the newsletters of three people who are life coaches for lack of a better term. They write about how to have a fulfilling life, increasing productivity, avoiding burnout, meditation, yoga, or weight lifting.
And I wonder at what point the quest of achieving a career involving following your passion or finding "flow" becomes a kind of cult or obsession so consuming that simpler, Epicurean delights near to hand get overlooked.
My assumption is that eudaimonia differs based on the individual.
For some, perhaps Epicurean eudaimonia is a happy and periodic way-station that can lead to misery from boredom if they linger there too long, it's tranquility a dangerous allure into being safe but not happy, because for them happiness requires thrill or even risk.
But for others, such Epicurean-ism is eudaimonia fully achieved. For them, the desire to seek flow and follow passions can be a bedeviling temptress leading to exhaustion. It can also be a bullying external pressure in a world of social media impressions of others' seemingly adventurous lives, making them feel diminished until they've photographed Angkor Wat or written that novel they've dream of. But actually for them the ladybug would do (if only they'd look), the well-crafted e-mail to a friend in need (if only they'd write it), or the sunset shared with a spouse or offspring (if only they'd take them by the hand).
The real trouble is, I suspect, that most people are a bit of both, the work eudaimonia (passion, flow) and the Epicurean eudaimonia (security, friends). The trick is to find out what proportions of each you are and live—that is make your choices—accordingly.
The ancient Delphic maxim "Know thyself" has several possible meanings, but surely one viable option is something like knowing what eudaimonia means for you.
Images: The ruins of Delphi, Tholos, Greece. Marble bust of Epicurus; Roman copy of Greek original from the 3rd or 2nd century B.C.; British Museum, London.
*For the Epicureans, ataraxia sprang specifically from not believing in an afterlife, but I'm evoking its more general nature as, to quote the Wikipedia entry, "robust tranquility."