I’m tired and I want out.
Until recently, I was pretty sure I was in my choice of career, acquiring the knowledge and skills that would allow me to be a purposeful part of society. But perhaps the traditional career is not my cup of tea after all. Instead, perhaps I need to reexamine what set me on this path in the first place, and redirect my efforts into work that is more personally rewarding.
When I lost my job in 2009, I basically panicked. I have a wife, two kids, and a mortgage. I had to do something. Unfortunately, this obscured my ability to see any alternative opportunity. Like a drowning man, I lost hold of any rational view of the best course of action. I ended up being re-hired by the same company, doing work related to my former position.
As the panic has subsided, I am able to look at my assumptions. One is that I wanted a traditional career, the conventional man-as-breadwinner model. It seemed a reasonable assumption, being the best way to make my mark in life and provide for myself and my family. However, I’ve realized that when my job was eliminated, the idea of my career had been eliminated too.
This has not been an easy realization for me. I wrote an essay that was published elsewhere about my conflicted feelings concerning my career, or lack thereof. (I was given a pseudonym by the publisher as protection from potential career damage.) I said there that for many people, and men especially, the career goes to define the adult self. Without the recognition that a career brings—amongst peers, colleagues, and maybe also the public—life lacks direction.
Now I’m seeing that I committed career suicide a long time ago–I just didn’t know it.
Honestly, though, I’ve never had a clear vision of my course in life. I’ve flip-flopped many times, with few consistent threads to hold it together. But I had a dream, an ephemeral idea of who I saw myself as. Essentially, it involved being an effective part of finding a solution to what I saw as the critical issue of my generation—the environment. And it involved doing so in a creative fashion, most likely writing.
But my dream had some flaws. Specifically, my pursuit of a career has been misguided in regard to corporate life generally and specifically work on environmental issues. Neither has been as satisfying or successful as I had hoped. I thought that, given enough time, the personal rewards would come, but it just hasn’t happened.
Time to set a new course.
A writer friend of mine once pointed out that the word “revision” actually is “re-vision”, as in “to see again.” Recently, I’ve come to see that my life, post lay-off, will require a revision.
But long-standing points of view do not change overnight. And I see, with the help of some time and distance, that my insistence on sticking to the corporate comforts and the environmental path was blinding me to other possibilities.
This means that I need to stop clinging to what I think I ought to be doing. Says writer Amy Gutman, “The more wedded we are to a specific outcome—the more we narrow our sights—the harder it may be to craft a fulfilling life with the materials at hand.”
Changing entrenched habits requires new methods. To borrow from the “tactical urbanism” lexicon, I need to take a deliberate, but phased, approach to change, making short-term commitments and keeping my expectations realistic. In other words, I need to make a choice, set small goals, stick to it, and take baby steps.
Furthermore, I need to see the problem in its component parts. Only then can I eliminate what is unnecessary and cast off the extraneous. What remains is what I need to live.
Thoreau wrote “I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.”
A vision is forming, and I think I see a way. I’m letting go of the dream…to find a new one.
Note: See also the addendum to this post.