Sunday, May 23, 2010

vocation continued

I have a friend who is really struggling to find and hold an acceptably engaging job. In "this economy" she is not by any means alone, of course, though her pattern of disenchantment/discouragement goes back a little further than the housing bust. She's intelligent, educated, and can really achieve when properly motivated. But in her mid-thirties she has hit a sort of "senior slide," wherein her most passionate interests don't seem to match up with any particular job market and she is unwilling to live the dual life of holding one job that pays the bills while spending the rest of the time pursuing what one loves. "Follow your bliss" is great advice but it doesn't pay the bills; it's a worthy pursuit, but you need a practical plan for keeping a roof over your head. Particularly if you are single, as she is. She is also averse to change, so there have been several instances where she has not proactively sought a job shift even when she knows she is underperforming due to lack of inspiration, and consequently she has been fired or "asked to resign" a few times. There is a larger backdrop, not surprisingly -- some depression (being treated) and a real lack of self-confidence that gets worse as the rut deepens. But the big hurdle in finding real job satisfaction -- a sense of vocation -- is the reality that her most passionate interests -- animal rescue, feeding the hungry, and reading mystery novels -- don't easily translate into solid careers. At least, not without some creative persistence.

"Creative persistence" requires a sense of self, a belief in one's ideals, certainly. Also, a cushion of security -- namely, a "day job" that keeps you fed while you're pursuing your dream of satisifying full-time engagement. You have to be willing to work hard with your eyes on a distant goal. And, less tangibly, it requires a certain amount of "good fortune" -- which is I think a combination of opportunism, and a feel for the Spirit, and the presence of friends and helpers ("angels") along the way. For me, as an artist, it's easy to look at nation and society as context for why "doing good" doesn't translate into a job for many people. But the history of literature shows us that anything worth doing tends to require some faith, and some push, and some time.

Personally, I've been blessed, maybe guided, in this regard most of my adult life. And perhaps it should be noted that I am not the long-term-planning sort. I had a vision for my life when I was eighteen, sure -- and it was vague, and I adjusted it many times along the way to account for the fact that a) I am not extroverted enough to deal comfortably with the social necessities in pursuit of fame, b) I am not very comfortable with competition (which is to say, I don't like behaving in a cutthroat manner and I hate to lose), and c) some of the things I wanted didn't turn out to be all that great when I got there.

Long-term planners are the folks I admire. People with a vision. But I married one of these, and my unemployed friend is also one of these, and I see the drawbacks -- changing course is more difficult when you want a solid five-year path and you've worked hard to stay on track. Losing your way seems to take longer to recover from. I know "vision people" who don't have these challenges, because they are not long-term planners in the most concrete sense. Rather, they have a flexible sense of pursuit, and multiple goals. They don't get as discouraged when things don't work out because they have back-up interests, works in progress, to occupy them. Depending on their native career fields, my really successful friends may or may not have money in any quantity. But their overall job satisfaction tends to be high.

I feel quite lost, at times, in part because of my lack of long-term goals (really specific goals anyway); in part because I am and always will be an artist and therefore a dual-career person; and in part because being "led" means not always knowing where you're headed.

I also lack confidence from time to time, like most people, and it's because I don't have a job I can easily explain. It's a BIG job. And a mostly non-sexy job. It's incredibly worthwhile, and I love it, but it's not remotely glamorous.

Meanwhile, I worry and feel very frustrated on behalf of my friend. She did go back to school recently, to seminary, a change I really encouraged. But being an adult learner is a dual-career position, which is challenging at the best of times. If you're like my friend, there are limited financial aid options (can't seem to get a loan, would have to work hard to find enough assistance to pay for seminary.) You really do need to work. It's hard. I want her to stay in school, but she will need more gumption if she's going to stick with it. Her seminary track would very possibly open some doors to satisfying employment, plus just finishing school would boost her confidence. So I encourage, cajole, nag, assist. But I can't find her the perfect job, right now.

If she gets through school, she will have some advantages. She may well find a vocation, with pay. Meanwhile, I don't have to worry as much about keeping a roof over my head, and can focus on niggling little questions like What am I doing here and Is there really a future in this work?


WendyB said...

"Follow your bliss" is great advice but it doesn't pay the bills; it's a worthy pursuit, but you need a practical plan for keeping a roof over your head. --- well put....I'm always having to explain this to people.

Jennifer S. said...

Yes. My big gripe with art school (in the late 80s) was that it turned out legions of talented young people unable and unwilling to get a dang job.