The Good Enough Job (2023) is a radical guide to reclaiming your life beyond the corporate walls. Through a series of anecdotes and actionable advice, you’ll learn you break free from burnout and find true work-life balance.
Introduction: Find out why fulfillment beyond work matters.
Table of Contents
In the 1930s, economist John Maynard Keynes thought that by 2030, we’d all be working 15 hours a week. That would leave heaps of time for leisure – the ultimate status symbol.
But where we once traded wealth for leisure, we now trade leisure for work. We’re punching in more hours than ever – Americans most of all. On average, Americans work three hours more per week than the notoriously overworked Japanese, six hours more than the French, and eight hours more than the Germans.
In short, we’ve switched from viewing work as a chore that supports our lives during our free time to a life-defining, must-find-meaning-in-it mission. Let’s call it by its real name: workism. But the thing is, work pays the bills. So how do we balance seeking meaningful work and not letting it swallow us whole?
Enter the “good enough job.” Inspired by the theory of “good enough parenting,” which counters the pressure to see small, inevitable hiccups in child-rearing as personal failures, it says that a job doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – be your entire world. All that leads to is burnout and mental health issues.
This summary to Simone Stolzoff’s The Good Enough Job lays out four real-life epiphanies, from the Michelin-starred culinary scene to the big tech arena, that’ll help you reclaim your life from work and focus on what truly matters.
The recipe for burnout calls for misplaced self-worth
Indian-American chef Dhivya Singh knows a thing or two about burnout traps and self-worth.
As a culinary intern at The Restaurant, Dhivya saw potential in her responsibility to create innovative dairy-free dishes. Her talent led to tear-filled customer appreciation and a successful business proposal to the establishment’s head chef, Stephen Fischer. From here, Prameer was born: a line of dairy-free products co-owned by Divya and Fischer.
Under Fischer’s mentorship, Divya quickly rose to recognition – even landing on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. But as the business scaled, things got tense. Investor debates, hiring squabbles, and a final dispute over a new product line led to Dhivya leaving Prameer’s operations.
But instead of buckling under Fischer’s negative response to her decision, Dhivya chose to take time off. She traveled to Thailand for six weeks, reconnected with her hobbies, and engaged in outdoor and cooking activities. This detour allowed her to manage her mental health.
When she returned to the culinary scene, Dhivya faced another shock: Fischer had diluted her 50 percent ownership in Prameer. A lengthy legal battle ensued – and when Dhivya got her shares back, she finally left Prameer behind for good.
Today, Dhivya happily lives in a cooperative household in Portland and runs a successful food company while also making time for other interests. Through her experience, she understands the value of setting boundaries, recognizing her worth, and maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life.
So when the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to step back and reassess your priorities. If Dhivya hadn’t decided to hit pause on her high-stress career, she might not be enjoying the fulfilling life she leads today.
Rise above workism with community
Work can be fulfilling but crushing – especially if you don’t have other community structures in place. Just ask social scientist Ryan Burge.
When Ryan got his hands on the General Social Survey’s 2018 data, he knew he’d found something big. His area of interest? Trends in organized religion. Specifically, the “nones” – people with no religious affiliation – were increasing. Excited, he spent a day crunching the numbers and came up with an astonishing discovery: for the first time ever, the nones outnumbered Evangelicals and Catholics.
This news spread like wildfire, but it hit close to home for Ryan. Why? Well, he’s not just a social scientist – he’s also a pastor at First Baptist, a small church struggling with a decline in attendance. He noticed that folks are still looking for the sense of belonging, purpose, and identity once provided by religious institutions. Only now they’re finding it at the office. Ryan attributes this to three things.
First, the rise of the internet has helped doubters find communities of nonbelievers online, challenging their Catholic upbringing. Platforms like the Atheism subreddit, with 2.7 million members, offer an escape from the spiral of silence that people often experience when they’re questioning their faith.
Second, there’s the politicization of religion – mainly Christianity’s fusion with political conservatism. This has alienated liberals from the church, causing a shift among white weekly churchgoing Christians from a 55 percent Democratic majority in 1972 to a 62 percent Republican majority by 2021.
Third, millennials are experiencing increased social isolation. With fewer people engaging in community groups, work is filling the void – becoming their primary source of meaning. But this situation has major downsides. As Ryan discovered from the data, placing faith in work can lead individuals to neglect other important aspects of life.
So, what should you do? To start, you don’t have to be religious – but you can take a page out of religion’s book. You see, religious traditions have often focused on answering one big question: What gives our lives value? In a world where more and more people are turning away from religion, we’re starting to look to work for these answers.
But there are so many things beyond the size of your paycheck and long office hours that can make life valuable – like joining a band, entering a bowling league, or having a potluck dinner with your friends. By diversifying your source for fulfillment beyond work with community-based pursuits, you can reclaim your life from the hands of volatile bosses or the marketplace – and build an empowering buffer against life’s unexpected changes.
Workism starts young
In 1999, an ambitious high-school sophomore named Megan Greenwell took a bold step into journalism. Joining the student newspaper staff, she dove headfirst into an alarming investigation about modern-day slavery. This experience was her initiation into a successful career that would lead her to top-tier media outlets and make her the first female editor in chief of the popular sports blog Deadspin.
But as Megan’s career trajectory skyrocketed, so did her stress levels. Despite her impressive track record at major publications like GOOD, ESPN, and New York, the journalist found herself grappling with an escalating burnout. Less than a year after accepting the position of interim editor in chief at Wired, the burnout peaked, leading to her decision to step down.
But this burnout was more than just a symptom of overwork. It was a manifestation of a societal norm that equates self-worth with productivity. Megan’s professional life had become so deeply entwined with her identity that stepping away from her career felt like losing a piece of herself.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Psychologist Janna Koretz has met many high achievers like Megan who feel adrift once they’ve ticked off all their career goals. The culprit, she says, is a culture that treats work like a never-ending marathon and sidelines personal time.
To overcome workism, Koretz suggests creating “time sanctuaries” – personal moments where you can discover who you are beyond your job. But the challenge doesn’t stop there. High achievers’ drive can transform hobbies into another form of work. So it’s crucial to inject your life with unstructured play, allowing curiosity and wonder to take center stage without the pressure to capitalize on anything.
This idea was a revelation for Megan. Having equated success with her professional milestones, she felt like an imposter despite her impressive achievements. This identity crisis surfaced more during her sabbatical, revealing a long-held internal battle between the desire for productivity and the need for relaxation.
Even nine months into her break, Megan continued to wrestle with her workaholic tendencies. Her motivation to work was a complex blend of genuine enjoyment, financial worries, and a fear of instability rooted in her past. But while she still sees the world through a professional lens, she admits to wanting more beyond work.
Through Megan’s journey, we’re reminded that workism can take root early on in our lives, shaping our identity and self-worth as we grow. Work-life balance is more than just navigating our careers – it’s about knowing who we are outside the office.
Speaking of offices, it’s paramount to disentangle your life from your so-called corporate “family.” Let’s explore why in the final section.
Your company isn’t your family
Have you ever felt so at home with your colleagues that work feels like a second family? That’s how it was for Taylor Moore at Kickstarter.
The startup thrived on its unique culture, prioritizing shared values over profit. Taylor and his colleagues bonded over the company’s mission to champion artists, which they cited as their shared purpose. The office was, above all, a cozy second home. Yet this coziness became a battleground when the company’s actions betrayed its ethos.
Kickstarter’s Trust and Safety team initially approved a 2018 satirical graphic novel titled Always Punch Nazis. But then it was pulled down following a right-wing media backlash, causing an internal uproar. It felt like management was kowtowing to external pressure instead of sticking to Kickstarter’s values. The final straw was the dismissal of Justine Lai, an employee who’d highlighted the company’s decision. Her termination led to a rallying cry for a union, a way to fight for the “heart and soul” of Kickstarter.
Taylor and his colleague Clarissa Redwine were at the helm of this union push. Driven by their love for the company and its values, they strove to recalibrate power and uphold the Kickstarter spirit. But their efforts weren’t met with applause. Instead, they were both shown the door, leading them to file unfair labor claims against the company they once looked up to.
In short, while feeling at home in the office can be warm and fuzzy, it’s crucial to draw some lines in the sand. After all, even the most close-knit workplace is still a business. When push comes to shove, the bottom line often takes precedence.
At the end of the day, work is just one part of life – not the whole enchilada. So let’s break free from the grip of corporate slogans that try to convince us otherwise. By recognizing that our company isn’t our real family, we can shift our focus and priorities. It doesn’t mean we should stop taking our work seriously – it simply means we should set boundaries and find fulfillment beyond the confines of our job titles and KPIs.
So go ahead and pursue the hobbies you’ve put on hold, spend time with loved ones, and nurture friendships outside of the office. There’s no better time for personal joy than now.
Work is work – it shouldn’t define who you are, because it’s not larger than life.
Whether you’re reporting to others or running your own business, remember that your career is just one chapter in the book of your life. So flip those pages, and write a story that also encompasses the things that truly matter to you.
About the Author
Mindfulness, Happiness, Career Success
“The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work” by Simone Stolzoff is a thought-provoking book that challenges the societal pressure to constantly strive for perfection in our careers and instead advocates for finding a “good enough” job that allows for a healthy work-life balance.
Stolzoff, a career coach and former corporate executive, shares her personal journey of burnout and the realization that her high-paying, high-stress job was not worth the toll it was taking on her well-being. She argues that many people are struggling in their careers, not because they are not good enough, but because they are trying to meet unrealistic expectations that have been perpetuated by societal norms and the gig economy.
Key Arguments and Ideas:
Stolzoff’s central argument is that the traditional notion of work as a means to an end (i.e., financial stability and security) has been replaced by a new form of work-centered culture that prioritizes constant productivity and output over individual well-being. This shift has resulted in a never-ending cycle of work and stress, which has profound implications for our mental and physical health, relationships, and overall quality of life.
To challenge this status quo, Stolzoff offers a series of strategies for individuals to redefine their relationship with work and reclaim their lives. These strategies include:
- Reframing the concept of work to include a broader definition of productivity and value, one that goes beyond financial measures and prioritizes well-being and meaning.
- Challenging the traditional notion of work-life balance and instead embracing a more holistic approach to life, one that integrates work, leisure, and personal growth.
- Redefining success and happiness to include factors beyond financial success, such as meaningful relationships, personal fulfillment, and community involvement.
- Creating a culture of work that values and supports well-being, including flexible work arrangements, mental health support, and a focus on employee wellness.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part explores the concept of “good enough” and how it can be applied to our careers. Stolzoff argues that “good enough” does not mean settling for mediocrity, but rather finding a job that aligns with our values, allows us to use our strengths, and provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
The second part of the book delves into the practical aspects of finding a “good enough” job. Stolzoff provides tips on how to identify your strengths and values, create a fulfilling career vision, and find a job that aligns with your goals. She also discusses the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say no to opportunities that are not aligned with your values.
The third part of the book focuses on how to create a culture that supports “good enough” jobs. Stolzoff argues that the current gig economy and societal pressures to constantly strive for more are unsustainable and that we need to create a culture that values work-life balance and prioritizes employee well-being. She provides examples of companies that have successfully implemented policies and practices that support “good enough” jobs and encourages readers to be part of the change.
Throughout the book, Stolzoff uses real-life examples and case studies to illustrate her points, making the book relatable and engaging. She also provides practical exercises and resources for readers to explore their own career goals and values.
One of the strengths of the book is its accessible and conversational tone. Stolzoff’s writing feels like a conversation with a wise and supportive friend, making the book an enjoyable and empowering read. Additionally, the book’s focus on work-life balance and employee well-being is particularly relevant in today’s society, where many people are feeling burnt out and disillusioned with their jobs.
However, some readers may find that the book’s message is not groundbreaking or revolutionary. The idea of finding a job that aligns with your values and allows for a healthy work-life balance is not a new concept, and some readers may have already come across similar ideas in other self-help books. Additionally, the book’s focus on the gig economy and societal pressures may not resonate with readers who are not familiar with these concepts or who are not struggling with them.
In summary, “The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work” by Simone Stolzoff is a helpful and engaging book that encourages readers to rethink their approach to their careers and prioritize work-life balance. The book provides practical tips and resources for finding a “good enough” job and creating a culture that supports employee well-being. While the book’s message may not be revolutionary, it is an important reminder that our careers should align with our values and allow us to live fulfilling lives outside of work.
- For readers who are feeling overwhelmed by their work and looking for practical strategies to reclaim their lives, this book is an excellent resource.
- For readers who are interested in the societal and cultural factors that shape our relationship with work, this book provides a thought-provoking exploration of these issues.
- For readers who are looking for a more holistic approach to work and life, this book offers a fresh perspective on what it means to be successful and happy in today’s society.