Over the past few years, I’ve tried on quite a few “hats” while exploring my career path. I’ve been a certified book addict for as long as I can remember and growing up, my dream job was to be an author. For a while, I thought about becoming a pediatric surgeon after binge-watching too much Grey’s Anatomy, then I considered pursuing human rights law. However, I always worried deep down that working any sort of 9 to 5 job — regardless of what industry it was in — would drain me of all my creativity. Up until this school year, I thought I would be doomed to live a half-fulfilled life with an underwhelming career. But now that I’m nearing the end of my undergraduate degree, I’m starting to gain clarity on my career path. Ultimately, I’ve realized that the 9 to 5 job structure is simply not for me.
One of the first times this occurred to me was during the pandemic when classes went virtual. Suddenly, my attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a behavioral condition that makes focusing on everyday routines challenging, became amplified. As a triple major, juggling multiple classes (that are heavily reading and writing-intensive) hasn’t always been easy, and during the pandemic, it became even more difficult to concentrate on work for long periods of time. On top of dealing with the pandemic and a busy class schedule, I’ve been working to recover from burnout, a serious condition where your body, mind, and emotions become exhausted from excessive, prolonged stress. While trying to stay afloat, I started having weekly breakdowns and it felt like I was drowning. It was then that I realized that a future 9 to 5 lifestyle might be unrealistic for me. How would I be able to stay focused (and healthy!) while being tied to a desk all day?
One day, my boyfriend showed me a video from the Healthy Gamer GG channel on YouTube, an account created by Alok Kanojia, MD ( “Dr. K”) focused on gaming and psychiatry. When my partner shared one of Dr. K’s videos about procrastination, it was life-changing; he spoke about how people with ADHD have trouble focusing on tasks for a long period of time, often needing to switch tasks and take frequent breaks to avoid overwhelm. In the video, Dr. K mentions that folks with ADHD would rather “do anything but a 9 to 5 life.” This solidified what I had always suspected: The 9 to 5 lifestyle might not be the best match for my mind — or my free spirit.
I am not alone in my aversion to the 9 to 5 lifestyle. A 2021 Forbes article describes the 9 to 5 structure as an “antiquated relic from the past” and describes how the pandemic served as a “wake-up call” for the masses, shaking everyone out of “complacency” and causing people to closely examine their work-life balance and bandwidth. There has also been a mass exodus in the workforce, also known as the “Great Resignation,” a phenomenon in which people are resigning from their corporate jobs in record numbers. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million members of the American working class resigned from their jobs as of November 2021, and according to the Wall Street Journal, many are continuing to “ditch” their cubicles for home office desks and are now opting for self-employment. The “Great Resignation” notably includes many members of Gen Z who are starting to quit their soul-sucking jobs in hope of pursuing more fulfilling opportunities.
The 9 to 5 work structure that society force-feeds us is toxic, and I witnessed and experienced it firsthand during the pandemic. Online learning and working from home have caused the line between “work” and “home” to be completely blurred. When do we rest? When does the work stop? The thought of living the rest of my life in a state of burnout while drinking five espressos a day is enough to steer me away from the 9 to 5 life altogether. Additionally, as a highly creative person with many passions, I feel like the corporate world doesn’t always favor workers like us; instead, society wants “cogs” who will be part of a big machine. I simply can’t conform to the notion of being a small cog in a giant machine, and I’ve decided that I cannot — and will not — submit myself to a structure that doesn’t align with me.
Some people might see the rejection of a 9 to 5 life as a path of instability, however, the 9 to 5 lifestyle has been slowly dying off for many years. Plus, having a traditional full-time job doesn’t always guarantee you lifelong stability — whether professionally, financially, or otherwise. Many students are opting to support themselves with side hustles and passion projects, and nowadays, there are many ways to achieve financial stability that don’t involve the typical 9 to 5 structure. The way I see it, forcing myself to do a job that will run my mind and body into the ground simply is not worth it. Fortunately, I believe the world is changing and many people are starting to realize how damaging it is to romanticize the “grind.”
As a college senior, creative person, and someone who struggles with ADHD, I am no longer denying who I am. I used to believe I had to deny certain parts of myself to fit a societal expectation, but I’m starting to realize that I don’t have to sacrifice what makes me who I am in order to have perceived “stability” in my life. For all of the creatives reading this: Please do not try and fit your colorful, larger-than-life self into a corporate box. You don’t have to work 9 to 5 to be successful.
Of course, the “perfect” job doesn’t exist, and there will always be compromises. However, in your college career and beyond, try to make compromises that don’t put your mental and emotional well-being at risk. Do your research, find job opportunities that allow you to express your craft, go for what you want (even if you feel underqualified!), and don’t be afraid to pivot along the way. Remember to take breaks and take time off from work to recharge, too!
I believe we’re long overdue to challenge the long-standing tradition of the 9-5. It’s time to start finding options that are better suited to our mental and physical needs. While I certainly don’t have the answers regarding my career path, I know that if I’m stuck in a boring cubicle or glass-walled corporate office, I will never feel whole. The pandemic has truly been a personal wake-up call, and I’m excited to eventually find a career path, lifestyle, and work structure that works best for me.
Maybe I’ll end up being a lecturer, screenplay writer, or author someday like I dreamed when I was little. Whatever my path turns out to be, all I know is that I’m not going to spend my days being anxious about what will happen in five years’ time or pressuring myself to fit into the 9 to 5 structure just because that’s the way American society has always done it. As long as I stick to my values and stay authentic, I’m confident that everything will work out in the end; and trust me, they will for you, too.
Abramson, A. (2022). Burnout and stress are everywhere. APA 2022 Trend Report, 53(1).
American Psychological Association (2021). Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Encyclopedia of Psychology.
Sibley, M. H., Ortiz, M., Gaias, L. M., Reyes, R., Joshi, M., Alexander, D., & Graziano, P. (2021). Top problems of adolescents and young adults with ADHD during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of psychiatric research, 136, 190-197.