Thursday, December 14, 2017

Passion and Work: A Dialogue

A couple of months ago, Doug Pointer, from The School of Success, posted this on his Facebook page: “He said to me “You want me to tell you what my passion is and go work in it? How am I supposed to do that? I just do what they tell me and earn the money.“ How sad is that?” In reading this, I had a very strong and visceral response, “Is it sad?” Could it be enough that this person has a job, it pays him an adequate salary, and his soul is not being crushed or devoured, is it ok to just “have a job” or does it have to be your passion for one to truly be happy and fulfilled?"

Doug and I know each other through Career Prospectors. He and I have had a few conversations about the role of passion in work and career, so this was my response:
OK diving into the rapids here! Do you like what you do? Are you skilled and experienced such that you have options and choices about your career? Is the work sucking your soul out of you? If it is, then what are your options? What skills do you possess that solve employers' problems? How important is it to you that you love your job and find meaning in it? Do you want a job that demands less ie go to work and do what I am told but pays the bills, provides enough, hence leaving you with energy and time to put into other priorities? Where does work fall in the midst of your priorities? How much of your energy and time are you willing to commit to having a career, not just a job, a calling, your passion? What may have to be sacrificed in service to that career?
Doug’s Response: “What are the answers to your own questions?" 

Writing the answers to these questions was a great exercise! So I am sharing my answers and I invite others to share their own. How important is passion in your work? 

1. Do you like what you do? 

Yes! I love both of my part-time jobs. I do love teaching and I have the variety of teaching junior high and college students. 

2) Are you skilled and experienced such that you have options and choices about your career?

Yes, to a certain degree. My skills in teaching, public speaking, facilitation, event planning, community outreach along with some tech skills like website design and maintenance, social media are very transferable. The challenge is that because I gained my experience in places not expected by most employers (ie congregations) and my expertise is religion and ethics which are not as common outside the nonprofit sector where I have spent my career. This means I have to do more work to demonstrate those transferable skills to an employer and it also means I have to learn the language I need to communicate that. 

3) Is the work sucking your soul out of you? If it is, then what are your options?

The work is not but the lack of consistent work and income is. The financial anxiety caused by lack of income, no credit, no savings, is the equivalent of a daily encounter with a hungry wooly mammoth. Options: secure the illusive job that pays enough with health benefits; my spouse gets granted her Social Security disability, we get the back payments and a regular monthly disability check; winning the lottery; death of a long lost relative who leaves one of us a fortune (ok the last two are highly unlikely).

4) What skills do you possess that solve employers' problems?

  • Training - every organization needs training for people - whether it is skills training, diversity training, professional development. I have experience in all kinds of training/teaching from traditional higher education to a variety of software and application classes professionally and as a volunteer to leadership development with youth, young adults and adults in academia and congregations.
  • Public Speaking and Community Engagement - while many dread the thought of public speaking I love it so I would be an excellent spokesperson, community liaison because my public speaking with my love of networking would make me an exceptional person to take the message or the organization into the larger community.
  • Ethics - really every organization needs to be thinking and cultivating a culture of ethics that moves beyond what is legal, especially in today's world where much of our current public discourse is ultimately about ethics. Ethics are not just intuited out of the ether - to have an ethical organization, there needs to be an ethical culture at every level of an organization. I can speak both to high level ethics - ie human rights, common good - I can also speak to specifics. Ethics can be taught, an ethical imagination can be cultivated. People can be led through a process of ethical dilemmas and decision making. So even what may seem the most irrelevant to a secular organization - my Masters in Theological Studies - gives me expertise in ethics and social theory which brings knowledge of a range of topics needed by every organization.

5) How important is it to you that you love your job and find meaning in it? 

This used to be top of my list, particularly in terms of the kinds of jobs and industries. Now ethics and integrity are important and using my skills, putting my gifts to work brings joy even if the particularly organization or topic is not my passion. I learned I love teaching Google Docs just like I love teaching ethics. 

Now I want to use my skills (because what else do I have to offer) in an ethical organization (ie not willing to sell my soul to a defense contractor) that will pay me enough to support myself and my family. Supporting my family, having health insurance and financial stability - and maybe if I am lucky, a chance to retire is a more urgent priority than the job/organization match my greatest passion and quest for meaning. I would rather have a well paying job in an ethical corporation then a poor paying job in a non-profit committed to multifaith engagement and dialogue.

6) Do you want a job that demands less, ie go to work and do what I am told but pays the bills, provides sufficient income and benefits, but not your passion, does not necessarily invoke “I love my job” but you the time and energy to put into other priorities? 

I would say “yes,” since I have realized that what I want is a complete life - not just a job or a career. My father used to say “you work so you can live; you don’t live so you can work.” I see more truth in this now then I did before. Time is precious and I have spent a great deal of it working for organizations, doing work that I love, being underpaid, under appreciated, and left me at the end with nothing financially. My career is one part of and critical to support a complete life.

7) Where does work fall in the midst of your priorities? How much of your energy and time are you willing to commit to having a career, not just a job, a calling, your passion? What may have to be sacrificed in service to that career?

Work for survival reasons is a top priority for me since the lack of enough work puts me and those I love in constant jeopardy. I am more willing than other times to put time into a career as my daughter is about to turn 18. I would be willing to give more to building a career as long as that did not become unbalanced with other important things like family, cooking, reading, Shabbat and Jewish practice and a Jewish home, time for myself, rest, and my cats.

I will close this with some words from a blog post I wrote as we were getting ready to move to Richmond: We Are Called Unto Life:
What I have learned is that I want a life, a full life, a complete life. I want it filled with people and community. I feel like over time I made myself smaller, shrank my world down and now I want to burst forth and explore the world. I think this year of struggle and tears helped me to see what the holy has been trying to say all along. One of my favorite quotes about vocation is from Herbert Alphonso, SJ and he writes, "Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about---quite apart from what I would like it to be about---or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.... Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear." It is about my whole life, not my job, but my life.
So what does it mean to you to have a full, complete life? 
Where does work fit into that?