When are we ‘enough’ at work?

Shakil Butt shares his thoughts about personal and professional accomplishments in the aftermath of the CIPD Festival of Work

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Paul Johnson, a highly regarded economist and director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies presented quite a stark and bleak view of the future during his opening address at CIPD’s Festival of Work. He shared statistics, historical trends and analysis underscoring the impact of high inflation, the pressure on wages affecting real earnings and the tax burden. One observation he highlighted was that, following the pandemic, many people were rethinking their options and were leaving the talent pool, opting to take earlier retirement and thereby contributing to the skills shortage and impacting productivity. 

This decision to retire earlier as a consequence of re-evaluating your life made me reflect on the following words: “I have enough. I’ve done enough. I am enough”. This was said recently by actor Jim Carrey, who was speaking about the possibility of retiring at the age of 60, noting he may be the only celebrity making such a statement – and it speaks volumes. Carrey has had a successful career as a comedy actor since his 1994 breakout role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective followed by The Mask and Dumb and Dumber shortly afterwards, to his most recent ventures in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. He could easily choose to carry on working for many more years to come, but his self-realisation is quite profound. 

The ‘rat race’ that many of us find ourselves in can be all encompassing, and we become blind to our situation. Most of us will know we are in the ‘rat race’ but feel we have no choice. The reality is no-one but you can make that decision to take back ownership of our lives, so work once more becomes a means to an end rather than the end point of our focus.  

Carrey’s quote reminded me of the analogy focusing on time, energy and money which the majority of us will not have all at one single point in our life. In our youth, we have time and energy but no money. As we reach adulthood, we have money and energy but no time. Once we reach the later stages of our life, we have time and money but no energy, hence the expression “youth is wasted on the young” by George Bernard Shaw. 

Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but the point is noteworthy. We can lose track of what is important, especially in a capitalist society where the narrative is always about having more, consuming more, so you need more. The pandemic has certainly brought into stark focus the simpler pleasures of life. Time with a loved one, a walk in the park, a meet up over coffee. Carrey may stand out as the exception in Hollywood but he is clearly not alone in the world of work having lived through the last few years.  

If you have a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back, safety in your home, some savings and let’s not forget WIFI, then you probably already have enough for today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, yet we spend so much time worrying about it. Finding ourselves in dead-end jobs, being compliant to an abusive manager, working in toxic cultures because of this fear of not having enough. 

Carrey’s statement “I’ve done enough” is interesting. When is ‘enough’ actually enough? None of us know how long we have, so it’s harder to arrive at that conclusion. That said, I was talking to someone who had been in a job for more than years and I suggested that after 3-5 years in the same role, you stop growing and learning and you typically will be repeating your greatest hits. There is possibly more to do if you find yourself in a situation where life becomes a motion you are just going through, rather than actually experiencing it. 

Reflecting on what I have done, some things I’m proud of, and some things I regret: missed opportunities, hurt feelings, broken relationships. There’s always more to be done in our personal space, while in the world of work, once you reach your limit, you risk the ‘Peter Principle’: being appointed to the one job you cannot do, having reached the level of your own incompetence, occupying a seat and being carried by those below you. 

Carrey’s final statement “I am enough” is the most profound, as too many of us go through life feeling inadequate, not believing we are good enough, amplified in a social media world where the lives of others appear perfect. It takes great self awareness to arrive at the conclusion that we are, all of us, enough. Our job titles, earnings potential, network, branded clothing or technology we are using does not add anything to us as human beings. The detractors, naysayers, well intentioned and otherwise who deride, belittle and limit us have no power unless it is given to them. 

Carrey is an amazing, celebrated actor, but even without that he was enough. The accolades, accomplishments and recognition do not define who we are, nor does the lack of them. Only we can define our value. We can opt to be more, pushing our boundaries past our limiting beliefs but only because we choose to do so. We are all enough, already.

Shakil Butt is founder of HR Hero for Hire and honorary treasurer of the CIPD