Archive for the ‘Passion versus paycheck’ Category

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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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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