October 3, 2013

Love of Jobs and Other Things Lost

There are two main ways we express our love for anything: by feeling joyful when we (are about to) have it and feeling awful when we don’t (or are about to lose it).

Way too many people imagine that only the second one really counts or that it counts so much more: “If you really love me, you’ll miss me terribly when I’m gone.” –rather than “If you love me, you will experience joy when we are together (or even when apart).”

Even if they require both the joy and the pain as proof of love, the point remains that they make painful missing a necessary condition of true love.

More generally speaking, that line of thinking (or is it more a line of feeling?) becomes, “If you love something, you’ll really miss it when it’s gone.”

Should we feel this way about our jobs?

No, We Shouldn’t

No, we shouldn’t measure the value of a job by how much we miss it when it’s gone (or about to be gone), no matter how much brainwashing we’ve had by close to a century of sappy pop songs about separation anxiety and “baby-come-back”, “can’t live without you” proof-of-love themes.  

Nor should we make that kind of mopey missing proof of or a prerequisite for having really loved our job or anything else.

In the first place, let’s be specific about the job we will be missing: We are talking about losing and loving my job, not losing and loving having a job like it or any job, period. Like a (wo)man, a city or a job, the specific things we love can quite commonly be left without plunging into an abyss—emotional, financial or geological.  Paris is behind you (maybe even forever) —but Rome beckons.

But even if somehow, someone or some job is so unique, so special as to be irreplaceable, it still seems peculiar to define their value and our love for them only or mostly negatively—in terms of pain and pangs (of separation anxiety), instead of in terms of the joys of their presence. Equally odd is making that kind of separation anxiety a necessary condition for “real love”.

Such an “out of sight, out of my mind crazy” negative litmus test of love sounds like declaring that the main reason to get married is “to have someone to bury you when you die”, which, my mother, with the best of intentions, but not the clearest logic (given that the survivor won’t reap the same benefit), told me.  (Yes, she really did.)

In both cases, the core and full value and measure of what or who is loved is thought to be realized upon the gravest, grave-focused loss—which is fine if we are talking about life insurance policies that we love, but not when it comes to people, Paris or career positions.

Love: Not a Zero-Sum Rivalry between the Lost and the Gained

You can try to compare this “dark romantic” notion with love for Paris, and point out, as I have, that we can love Paris, yet not miss it when we leave, because we’ve gone to someplace just as nice, and maybe not even in France, e.g., Florence, if not Rome.

Just as love doesn’t have to be a game defined in terms of expected loss, rather than gain, it also doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game played as a rivalry between what we had and what we have instead.

If geography doesn’t seem like the right frame of reference, try a comparison with work and jobs: Is it really true that if I really love my job I’ll miss it when it’s gone? No, it isn’t.

 “How do I love thee? Let me count the positive ways, not the negative ones.” Forget about measuring love of a job in units of misery or outright agony upon (imminent) loss. Also, don’t make painfully missing it as a necessary condition for proving you really cared about it. (So if a recruiter asks you whether you “miss” your last job, keep this analysis in mind.)

If you love your job, you’ll delight in it when you have it, just as loving Paris means enjoying being there, rather than feeling miserable when you aren’t.

The main point here: Love of a job, a (wo)man or a city should be experienced as a positive emotion, namely, the delight of its presence, rather than primarily or exclusively negatively, namely, the misery felt in its absence.  Absence should make the heart grow fonder (of something, if not that which is left behind), rather than grow miserable.

Of course grieving over loss can be as healthy as it is natural and often inevitable. Loss is pain—often horrible. That’s undeniable. What is more readily deniable is that it somehow is the “true” or an always necessary measure of love.

Of course, these two standards and measures of love can coexist and complement each other: the joy of having and the pain of loss as equally valid, even perhaps equally necessary signs of love. But, what seems bizarre is the notion that only the pain counts, that it counts more, or that it must count—always.

Wait—am I making this up? Are there people who actually believe this—that true love is true pain (upon loss)? Although not entirely real people, do Romeo and Juliet—as icons of the truest, death-defined love—count?

You bet they do; but even if you’re not the betting type, you can bet that, during the thousands of performances of their eponymous play, many a real(ly) wet eye had some misty notion of “true love as loss”. Had the ending been happy, the play would have become “All’s Well That Ends Well II” or a bouncy Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

“If You Don’t Want to Lose Me, You Love Me”

There’s an interesting variation on this “love of the lost” theme. For many, their jobs are like pinkies—our smallest fingers. As a very astute, very divorced friend of mine, Sandra, once put it: “A mediocre husband is like a pinky: You don’t love it, but you don’t want to give it up” (Although Sandra is Chinese, I don’t think her thought was lifted from Confucius. She’s a very original thinker in her own right.)

Sure, we are certain to miss a pinky when it’s gone—unlike a mediocre spouse, but “If you don’t want to give me up, you love me” is simply not true and therefore is an even worse measure of love of anything, including, if not especially, jobs. 

When Misted Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Even if something or someone has been lost, it is possible to find joy in remembrances of having them. In this connection, merry Irish Wakes come to mind. Why not celebrate losing jobs that way? In fact, the more the merrier, e.g., in a pub gathering, after mass layoffs at a downsized or merged company.

But, after that Irish “wake(-up call)” to mark the end of one job and the start of the hunt for a new one, anyone in attendance who afterwards says, “I loved that party! I’ll miss it” will have missed its point…

…and only be able to hope for, if not unfortunately also get, another chance.

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Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).