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Posts Tagged ‘“Passion or paycheck”’

I quote Ron Livingston, in his iconic role as office cog-cum-construction-worker Peter Gibbons: “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way! Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” You know you’re in trouble when “Office Space” stops making you laugh and starts pissing you off. And, in his prestigious think tank job and despite the PhD in philosophy under his belt, Matthew Crawford, the author of a new book called “Shop Class as Soulcraft” was most definitely in trouble. So, after several months of doing suprisingly little thinking at said think tank, he left, and opened up a motorcycle repair shop. His book is about the satisfaction of an honest day’s work–and how our society places too little value on such work (witness the extinction of shop class). In a recent NPR interview, he said:

Anyone with halfway decent test scores is getting hustled into a certain track, where you work in an office.

He argues that we’ve created an “educational monoculture,” with “only one respectable course” (those words made me think of the creepy meat-grinder scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall–check the video at the end of this post), and goes on to say:

It takes a real contrarian streak to live more deliberately and make these calls for yourself…

That reminded me of this comment from Tamara, in response to my post about The Uniform Project, and whether less choice leads to more creativity: “I think it really comes down to an individual’s ingenuity and courage to be themselves.” And it does take courage–and a bit of a contrarian streak–to be yourself. Assuming we can find that courage and tap it, Crawford describes the point of work, as he sees it:

The point is to find some work where you can make yourself useful to people in a straightforward way that engages your own judgment and thinking so that your actions feel like they’re genuinely your own.

Seems like a lot to ask for from a job–and yet it also seems so profoundly simple, there’s no way it can’t be true. Leave it to a philosopher. But really. Do you feel like you were steered away from your passions, your soulcraft, in pursuit of…. a job? And, again back to the choices thing, I wonder if, as overwhelmingly inclusive as the whole “you can be whatever you want!” mantra is, it’s all too easy to just get on the conveyer belt, and hope to make some decent… hamburger? Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to be said for hamburger. Security. Benefits (dare to dream). But what about fulfillment? What about passion? Is it possible to have any pudding, if we don’t eat our meat?

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When it comes to your current job, you’ll probably stay — at least until the recession is over. But what you really want to do is go.

New numbers out of a Workplace Insights survey from Adecco, an international staffing company, show that when it comes to work, most of us are dreaming mightily of a new gig. The survey found that over half of all American workers (54 percent) say they’ll be hunting for a new job once the economy picks up.

That’s significant. But the real jolt comes here: Almost three-quarters (a whopping 71 percent!) of 18 – 29 year-olds say they’re off in search of greener pastures once the recession ends.

That’s one boatload of dissatisfaction, all around. You have to wonder why. Are we suffering from a terminal case of grass-is-greener syndrome? Did we choose wrong from the outset? Is it simply a case of growing pains, especially for women?

Another Addeco survey might suggest a remedy. The company asked former college grads what advice they would give to the class of 2009. Their answer: choose passion, not paycheck.

Over two-thirds (71%) of college-educated adults say that today’s graduates should stick to their goals and aim for career fulfillment, many more than those who say they should take any job available or follow the money. In fact, only 13% of previous adult grads advise students to choose a career based only on earning and salary potential.

The survey also found that less than half (48 percent) of all adults who’ve had a full-time job since graduation are still working in the same industry.

Digest the numbers soup, and you’ll see that for most of us, whatever it is we’re doing today is unlikely to be what we’re going to be doing tomorrow. The question is: what’s that gonna be? And how are we going to make that choice?

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Check what some of our readers have had to say this past week. To continue the conversations — or read the whole comments — click the links.

On quarterlife:

“…especially with all the recent layoffs, quarter-lifers like myself are stuck answering the age-old question: what should I do with my life? I have a full-time job I enjoy and am still struggling… The best thing about the mid-20s is that you can dress and act like a teenager (and get away with it) and dress and act like an upwardly mobile junior executive (and get away with it). The worst part about the mid-20s: trying to decide which of those images accurately reflects YOU.”          — Timithie

“I’m getting stressed out just reading those questions! I’ve been trying to decide on a car to purchase for five years. FIVE YEARS. I can make great decisions at the office – but when it comes to this… hybrid? 4-wheel drive? fun? practical? lease? buy? 2-door? navigation? red? leather? floormats? cupholders? aaargh. Hello, indecisions and paralysis. It’s embarrassing, frankly. Although, should I be embarassed, or embrace it? Share it, or hide it? Fake it, or own it? I digress.” — Page

“It’s so wonderful to have the plethora of options that we do…but I have no idea which way to go. Some of the stuff I have absolutely nailed down – I know what kind of clothes I like to wear; I know that I DON’T want to be a mathematician… As for the rest…I’m at a loss.” — Marjorie

About women and their choices:

“I am 65 years old and have had the option to work or not work throughout my marriage. …Up to about 35 I used to worry about why I liked to change and explore new things and what was wrong with me that I could not find one goal or profession and stick to it for life like Georgia O’ Keefe did with her passion for painting. But, at around 40, I decided to accept that this is just who I am… I have continued to and hope to never stop changing, learning and growing as the years go on and love it that way.” — Dottie

“I am mostly happy with my job — it’s challenging and well-paid and flexible — but at the same time I constantly feel like I’m just dancing around in circles on the fringes of “the dream job.” I also struggle with how big and important a role I want career to play in my life anyway. I came out of law school thinking I wanted career to be my entire life, and the older I get, the less important career seems and the more important the rest of life seems…” — Anne

“What a relief to find that I’m not the only one who has experienced this phenomenon! I keep reading everything, thinking, “Yes, yes, yes!” My sister used to tease me that I was on the semester system in life because I was always moving and changing jobs. But really I was just worried that I was missing my “true calling” or not doing enough to fulfill my parents’ expectations after all that schooling. .. Now I’m almost 40 and starting yet a new career… Looking back I can see how the choices and self-inflicted expectations led to a major paralysis in my mid-20’s…” — Marisa

“One of my favorite things about being a woman, and about women in general, is how they tend to be better at adapting to change than men. I feel this is a real benefit when you look at the number of choices before us these days…You have to bend and mold and be flexible to be successful in life and I see that women really tend to show this strength. No wonder we have so many choices before us…women rule. I say “Bring it ON”!! — Ani

“Yes, I swim in a sea of confusion over my options! Being a woman who feels she is unlimited, I’ve spent too much time debating my opportunities instead of picking one path and sticking with it. I can’t complain; life has been good. I do, however, feel concern that I might be overlooking the one thing that is my “calling.” From orchestra conductor to herpetologist to cartographer to photographer to writer, I’ve wanted to do it all. I also know that I can, we all can…”          — Lauren

On “Commencement”:

“…I’m curious to see how women (or men) from previous generations would relate to the characters. One interesting tidbit, I thought, was from one of the character’s mothers, who said — while cooking dinner and doing 90% of the housework — that women with careers and families makes life easier for one gender… men.” — Colleen

On the pressure of the passion versus paycheck dilemma:

“I feel like I have dealt with this issue my entire life, just on a slightly different level. What if you don’t have a passion? It always seems to come up: What would you do if time, money and experience didn’t matter, how would you spend your time? Honestly, I have no idea. … When I did my corporate job for 10 years, I did it well (I have the annual reviews to back that up), but it wasn’t what I lived for. I worked to live, not lived to work. My real life was always on the verge of something else. The verge of what? who knows. I was talking with a friend this weekend who basically thought it was pointless to work in a job that wasn’t emotionally, spiritually, and creatively fullfilling. I thought good for her, but what about everyone else? I kept thinking, this is a first-world problem and really doesn’t apply to much of the world.” — Joanna

On the happiness gap:

“… with so many choices and so many opportunities, it seems like women can now choose careers that they want to pursue rather than doing something they have to do. Unfortunately, our society seems to encourage us to seek out jobs that pay the most money rather than jobs that we enjoy. Finding a high-paying job you love isn’t easy. Of course we all need money to live, but is it worth doing something that causes so much stress just to have the money? Perhaps the women that are the most anxious, stressed and medicated are those that are pursuing high-paying, high-stress jobs that they hate – jobs that in the past may have been held primarily by men.”  — Jennifer

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But is that necessarily a bad thing? Not completely.

In a piece in last week’s New York Times, Alex Williams explored what college kids and newly minted graduates might be doing this recessionary summer. The answer? For a great many of them, moving back home with mom and pop. He writes:

The well-paying summer jobs that in previous years seemed like a birthright have grown scarce, and pre-professional internships are disappearing as companies cut back across the board. Recession-strapped parents don’t always have the means or will to bankroll starter apartments or art tours of Tuscany.

So many college students and recent graduates are heading to where they least expected: back home, and facing an unfamiliar prospect: downtime, maybe too much of it. To a high-achieving generation whose schedules were once crammed with extracurricular activities meant to propel them into college, it feels like an empty summer — eerie, and a bit scary.

And yet. For a generation that’s been pushed, prodded,”given trophies just for showing up” and told they could do anything so long as they worked hard enough, the staycation in their high school bedroom might in fact have an upside. For one thing, it’s a safe lesson that, no matter how hard you work, life sometimes intervenes. And, hidden at the end of Williams’ story, is another glimpse of a silver lining:

In the short term, the lost summer of 2009 might actually be a blessing, some psychologists said, especially because members of this generation have lived their lives like track stars trying to run a marathon at the pace of a 100-meter dash — their parents typically waiting at every turn with a stopwatch.

“Parents have really put a lot of pressure on the kids — everything has been organized, they’re all taking A.P. courses, then summer hits and they’re going to learning camps,” said Peter A. Spevak, a psychologist in Rockville, Md. Now, he said, with opportunities for achievement at a minimum this summer, “there is something to be said about sitting out on a warm evening and looking at the stars — they need more of this contemplation and self-evaluation.”

In other words, time off the treadmill. Where passions often have time to percolate, and looking at choices becomes less stressful, and more thoughtful.

One of my students recently told me he will be spending his post grad summer living in his parents’ basement — and, since the job prospects are slim and none, taking the time to do some serious work on his writing and his music.

He’s looking forward to it.

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Not to be all Pollyanna, but is it possible that the current economic reality might offer an escape from the whole passion-v-paycheck debate Barbara addressed in yesterday’s post? Or that maybe, just maybe, when it looks like your choices are diminished, in a strange way, they start to multiply? I came across this piece yesterday, which tells the tale of a Brit who lost his accountant job, a job he took because “I wanted stability and I saw it as a recession-proof job.” Said Brit approached the void left by his new, unemployed status as an opportunity–one he seized in pursuit of his longtime passion: stand-up comedy. It made me think of this quote Life Coach Martha Beck dropped in a recent interview:

I am not saying you have to realize all your dreams when your back is against the wall, but when you have nothing to lose, know that this is the best time for setting your sights toward genuine happiness. You may not travel the path you want to arrive at your ultimate goals, but you must, must, must have the direction clear and the destination pinpointed or you will simply wander in the direction that circumstances take you.

So. Whaddaya think? Is this kind of idea a lovely fantasy but (like oh so many lovely fantasies), far too dangerous to actually consider? Or does a part of you feel that, since the guaranteed paycheck jobs don’t really exist anymore–that, with a limit on what choices are currently available–you have a newfound freedom to pursue that pie-in-the-sky dream, the unrealistic one that gets your soul all a-flutter? Or maybe the current doom-and-gloom has helped you make a tentative peace with your job–the very same one you used to describe as soul-sucking. Maybe you’ve lost your job and decided now’s the time to go back to school, like you’ve kinda always wanted… Or maybe you’ve lost your job, and think I should take this post and shove it. Either way, I’m curious: what do you think?

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The ultimate choice, right? Passion or paycheck. But are the two always mutually exclusive? Can one, eventually, enable the other?

Is sub-par sometimes a means to an end?

I came across this interesting post by a twentysomething web designer from Portland, Ore., who laments her life in a corporate cubicle, doing a job she kinda hates. Sound familiar? But she lets herself off the hook for doing something she doesn’t love…while she paves the way for something she does.

She writes:

There are things about my job that I do care about. I care about performing well enough that I maintain the respect of my coworkers. I certainly care about performing well enough to keep my job. I care about the fact that this is the entry level experience I need to progress in my field. Do I care about the work that I do? Um…

But I do care about some parts of my work. I love coding. But I want more. I want to do more design, be more involved in the creative process, have greater control over the product I turn out. And there are other things I’m interested in, too. I’m interested in marketing and branding and social media. I’m interested in making things, doing things that help people on a very personal level, that helps to build community (local, global, whatever), that does something to add meaning or value to someone’s life. My job doesn’t and will never provide that, and that’s not to say there’s something wrong with my job, but rather, that because my job doesn’t really do what I’m interested in, it’s probably not the best fit for me.

Knowing this, I think it’s okay for me to stop beating myself up over the fact that I’m not feeling fulfilled by my job or satisfied by the kind of work I’m doing. It’s okay not to care. That doesn’t mean I get a license to blow off my work or be a slacker. What it does mean is that I can stop investing so much in my work emotionally, that I can stop being upset because I’m not a “perfect” employee. I’m not meant to be perfect in this position. It’s not what I’m cut out to do, and I can’t make myself better suited for the work any more than I can make my job what I want it to be.

Intriguing perspective. Whether or not it makes dealing with life decisions any easier — no clue. But realizing that you can learn from not-quite-perfect may give us the patience to make peace the buffet of choices out there. As Po Bronson writes in What Should I Do With My Life?:

Finding what we believe in and what we can do about it is one of life’s great dramas… Don’t cling to a single scenario, allow yourself many paths to the same destination. Give it a lifetime to pay off. Things you work hardest for are the things you will most treasure.”

Another way of looking at it, in the words of somebody’s mother: “Sometimes you have to kiss a bunch of frogs.”

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