An unhappy worker generally has three ways to respond to a nightmarish job . . .
She can aim for survival if her circumstances don’t allow the luxury of unemployment, so she should pick up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. At least 40 hours of an unpleasant job is better than this.
The journey in The Road confronts our ideas of morality, compassion, and society. An anonymous father and son traipse southward through a bleak, ash-covered country. On the hopeless gray road, they are more likely to be food than to find it. After an unexplained disaster, perhaps a nuclear war, the earth and almost all living creatures have died. Through the father’s will and wit, he and his child manage to survive for years.
The boy is naïve, especially for a child born in a decimated world ruled by cannibals. He acts as his father’s conscience. He sees another child, an elderly traveler, a dog, and begs his father to help – but the man refuses, hardening his heart to the compassion the child craves. The boy cries, but survives.
It is a slow, arduous read. The brutality of the post-apocalyptic world is sickening. This is what becomes of humanity when morality no longer contributes to survival. The man constantly reassures his son that they are the “good guys” and the marauders are the “bad guys.” He tries to create a sense of right and wrong in the boy when those distinctions are nonexistent. Somehow, the boy becomes the personification of compassion and connectivity, seeking out the good in everyone, even worrying about a lone traveler who stole their precious food supply. Clearly this goodness in the boy is a disadvantage on the journey. Yet it persists, even when his father – his whole experience of humanity – leaves other survivors to die.
2. Recover Optimism
Our unhappy worker can also ditch her attitude and try to recover the happiness the job used to supply. Myriam Warner-Vieyra writes a depressing, but hopeful example that recovering optimism is possible in Juletane.
Helene, a French social worker, discovers an old notebook as she packs up her apartment in preparation for her wedding. In it is Juletane’s bizarre and tragic autobiography.
Juletane was an orphan living a simple life in Paris after her guardian passed away. She decided to marry the first man who showed interest in her. While sailing to her new home in North Africa, she learns that her husband is already married. Juletane quickly becomes depressed, deepening in her alienation, listlessness, and madness. In the next five years, she hardly attempts to go back to France, preferring polygamist misery. She blames her misfortunes on forces she cannot resist and lives alone with her fatalism.
Helene sits awake through the night, drinking and devouring Juletane’s story. A man also broke her heart when she was young, and she responded as Juletane did. She internalized her pain and masked it with promiscuity. She cooly considers her approaching wedding- a transaction she’s agreed to so she can have a child before she is too old. After reading Juletane’s diary, the “block of ice around her heart” is broken.
People can’t live in isolation. Juletane was isolated by language and culture. She could have chosen to live with her circumstances or to go back to Paris. Helene rejects meaningful relationships after her first fiance’s betrayal. She imagines her solitude is strength and plans to only use her fiance for his sperm without getting close to him. But she recognizes the detriment of her self-imposed isolation. She cannot follow Juletane’s path. What will Helene do? The novel ends after she finished Juletane’s diary. But, I suppose the way to start is to form true, lasting, and deep relationships.
3. Move On
Or, our worker can rationally, irresponsibly abandon her junky job, move on, and try to find her passion. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is like a motivational seminar for people trying to find a meaningful career.
Swift and grand, the tale sweeps over a transcontinental journey, enormous life changes, and vast philosophies without wordiness. Brevity is power, and the book quickly snared my affection. A seminarian becomes a shepherd (symbolism!) out of wanderlust, dreams of a great treasure and forsakes the safety of familiarity on a mission to complete his life’s narrative. It is an adventurous, romantic, philosophical coming-of-age tale. Every character was likable, even the thieves and bandits, who are each an important part of Santiago’s quest. The story is warm, the writing poetic and the message inspiring, despite the pantheism.
I consumed this book and felt nourished and encouraged. It is an optimistic fantasy, but surprisingly pertinent. Discovering suppressed desires, resisting the easy routine, trusting instincts, accepting opportunities, conquering disappointments on the way to a higher goal – it is the quite an enjoyable self-improvement book. Some might think it is too idealistic or too pagan. They wouldn’t be wrong. But with captivating images, charming characters and a satisfying conclusion, there is only everything to love about this short book.