By Gary M Jordan, Ph.D.
Whenever I tell people that I own my own business, work out of my home, and set my own hours, I inevitably get some variation of “Must be nice!” as a response.Actually, it is, but I don’t think what I find “nice” about my situation is what they mean when they say it.
This response comes from a mindset that is all too prevalent that work and jobs are drudgery and toil – something we have to do – not something we choose to do that is a part of who we are – an expression of our natural strengths and talents.
I feel sure that they see me sitting around drinking coffee with my feet up generally taking it easy. After all, the exclamation implies, that is what they would be doing if they were in my place.
The all to frequent “Must be nice!” response reflects the mentality of people who yearn for freedom and meaning but feel trapped in jobs they hate because they provide no sense of significance and do not serve them as individuals. They feel like cogs and gears in a machine that uses them as a resource and then replaces them when they wear out. No wonder 80% of people hate what they do!
When I use the phrase “cogs and gears in a machine” I do not mean to conjure up images of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or even the impersonal world of Orwell’s 1984. I am not being apocalyptic or promoting conspiracy theories! What I do want to do is challenge a viewpoint that I rarely hear questioned.
Part of what led me to what I currently do was rebellion against the lockstep journey I was set on by my parents, and that I see so many in our culture caught up in unknowingly and unquestioningly. It is a journey designed to raise, educate, train, and focus us on earning a living rather than discovering how to live.
It ends with a job that earns a paycheck rather than a career that provides meaning and purpose, and puts them in a place where they spend a significant amount of time while they wish they were somewhere else doing something different.
I have a long time mentor who once told me, “The function of organizations is to serve people not the other way around, but that is not how they work today.” For me, this epitomizes the problem. We are caught up serving a boss, an organization, the economy, doing things in which we have no interest or natural talent.
People choose employment based on labor statistics and future job market projections rather than on their own interests, skills, or innate giftedness. They complain about the work week, say TGIF, and look forward to retirement and their “Golden Years” when they will be “released” from their employment obligations and “allowed” to pursue what they want to.
While I know that I will slow down as I grow older, I don’t think I will ever “retire” in the meaning of the word most people have. What I do is so much a part of who I am that I cannot imagine not continuing to do it until the end of my life.
I sadly realize that my constant chorus of “discover your natural talents and pursue something that allows you to use them and do more of what you do best” often falls on not deaf, but uncomprehending ears. It is as though I have said “jump 20 feet in the air”. It is something that sounds impossible to those who hear me.
I know that it is not. Not only have I striven to build my life and work time on what I am naturally good at, I have helped many other people do the same. I know it can be done, but it takes commitment and courage and a refusal to accept setbacks as failure.
In an anthology of his speeches, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, John Taylor Gatto claims that following a lockstep path to “making a living” distracts you from building a life around the important things – family, community, and meaningful work. Building a life and career that is focused on Gatto’s “important things” is full of trials, self-discipline, and self-discovery.
For me, the rewards of such a life and career far outweigh the difficulties involved in getting it. How about you?
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