Jobs, Careers and Vocations


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay


I wrote earlier here about the gig economy and about unretirement and various other work-related topics. I just finished a one-year contract gig and assumed that would be it for me in the world of higher education and maybe in all of the work world.

But in those two weeks before my contract ran out and the one week since I have had 4 offers for new gigs. I had already decided to really stop working. Oh, I still have some clients for web services that I’ll continue working for, and I have my blogs, but no more contracts.

So why have I considered and even researched two of those offers? There must still be something that draws me – and maybe others – to the job-based life. That is a life that centers on having that one full-time job. It is what I spent most of my life doing.

I have been surfing some websites about “finding direction” and came upon a program offering at  1440 is 1440 Multiversity, which has a very new-age vibe and is self-described as “a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters to you, while surrounded by fresh air, delicious food, wellness classes, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others.”

I don’t think I’ll have the chance to visit 1440 but in their catalog, I found a course taught by Dr. Martha Beck, Ph.D. She is a writer which a number of books including Finding Your Own North Star, and Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. She is a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine, and a contributing editor for several popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook. She is a Harvard-trained sociologist and research associate at Harvard Business School.

Her course is Navigating the Storm: Finding Peace and Purpose in Uncertain Times. That title might not suggest a path after working a lifetime, but in an interview with Beck she was asked, “People often conflate finding their passion with finding a job. Are they the same thing?”

“The concept of the job does not lend itself to living your passion,” says Beck. “Jobs as we know them are part of a hierarchical society that has a pyramid-shaped economy. This industrialized setup is based on factory labor and is meant to keep people infantilized into thinking there’s somebody (a boss) who is going to come in and give me what I need (money). It assumes if I do my chores I’ll get my allowance and I won’t have to grapple with individual survival in its grittiest forms.

This is why we hate jobs and we hate our bosses—because it’s not supposed to be set up this way. This is a child’s experience. In nature, you would go out and encounter the world and make your way. And as you did, that would shape you.”

She says something about one of my favoritewriters, Henry David Thoreau. She believes that when he wrote that the majority of men “lead lives of quiet desperation,” he was talking about jobs, and not men in general, but men under the Industrial Revolution who were working factory jobs.

Beck has never really had a “job” in the traditional sense, or a job-based life. She has found ways to make money which she sees as “very much like living off the land except you’re dealing with an economic system.”

Is that an earlier version of the Gig Economy?

She says, “You figure out what is needed and you find a way to play in the fields that you like until you can add some value… Jobs are going away—it makes no sense to hold onto a job you hate as it goes down.”

Writing books about this is one way she has earned a living. Doing courses and workshops seems to be another. She also thinks the place to be is online.

“If you think of something that people want and that they can benefit from, you can offer it out there in the virtual space for a reasonable price. I just don’t see why anyone would do anything else, frankly, unless you love your job.”

What about college which was once the best path to a job and career? She thinks that path is not the best path for many young people.

She suggests that things that are “high-touch” (that actual humans have put their time into) will have a high value. Create something high-touch and deliver it or distribute it online.

That is not so easy for all of us to do, though people are selling physical things and also services online and making a living. I’ve sold virtual services and will probably continue to do so for a while.

You might argue that to run your own business online will become your job-based life – just not at a company workplace. I know someone who runs her own business selling handmade products online, but she also supplements that with pop-up sales at craft fairs, etc. She doesn’t work 9-5 in an office but many of her weeks are more than the traditional 40-hour ones. She works home creating her products, fulfills orders, does the shipping and gets out there to make direct sales. It is not an easier life, but she likes the freedom of being her own boss and deciding when to work and what to do.

A job website such as might recommend that you take a personality test to gain guidance on what type of job or career suits you best.

Another suggestion about the working life comes from an interview with author  Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for Eat, Pray, Love. Listen to her interview on the Hello Monday podcast where she talks about when to choose a job over a career and also about having a vocation. There are differences.

I really like what Gilbert says:

“So you have your job that you go to pay the bills. And then you have your life outside of your job, where you do your hobbies and your pursuits and your family. And it might not be the most interesting thing in your life, but whatever. You’ve got to pay the bills. A career is something that you should be passionate about. So a career is a job that you deeply care about. That’s the difference between a career and a job.

… if you think you’re in a career but you hate it and you’re bored and it’s killing you, quit it and just go get a job… It’s okay to just have a job. Not everybody needs to have a capital C career because you can have a whole life outside of that.

And then the other one is vocation, which is like a sacred calling of something that is very holy to you, that is the center of your life that you know can never be taken away from you no matter what.”

Do you have a job or a career? Do you have a vocation? Would you dare to have more than one of those things?

Learning to Unretire

connect2 sistine

I have been working on a conference presentation for the past two months that I have titled “The Disconnected.”  That is my name for a segment of the population that is not disconnected in a detached or unengaged sense but are instead disconnecting from traditional modes and sources of information and learning.

In doing my research, I found the organization that has a Higher Education Initiative which is looking at the impact of an aging population on higher education.

I also found a podcast that is called Unretirement.

I realized early on that I am becoming one of “the disconnected” but only recently did I know that I am also entering unretirement.

Chris Farrell, who wrote the book Unretirement and hosts the podcast, defines unretirement as a “grassroots movement rethinking and reimagining the second half of life.”

I believe (but I’m not certain) that I am done with my full-time work in education which has been my career for 40 years. Friends and colleagues tell me that they don’t believe it. “You’re too young to retire. You will go crazy with nothing to do.” I disagree. There is so much that I want to do. Some of that is typical of the age – travel, spend more time with loved ones – some of it includes the things that were often deferred because of work – writing and painting, for example. And some of it is unknown at this point.

Farrell’s book is subtitled “How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life” and in one podcast episode he talked with a woman, Sandra, who felt the need to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed up for a quilt making class. It lit up a passion in her. At age 58, she’s gone back to “school” to move into a new career and is getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. That may not sound like a typical “major” or even a viable unretirement career choice, but…

Quilting in America market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy. Sandra is not going to her local college to learn. She is not interested in credits or a degree. Quiltworx is the company from which she is getting her certification. The podcast covered why she decided to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. She has a business plan and expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months.

The “Baby Boomers” are just one age segment of those I am finding to be part of “The Disconnected.” The largest age group is much younger and includes the traditional potential students for undergraduate and graduate programs. And even younger people are being born into and growing up in a society where the disconnects will be so common that they will probably not be seen as disconnects.

Here is one example of that disconnect. I came of age in the 1960s and viewed television as a wireless (via antenna) service that was free if you owned a set and supported by advertising. If you grew up in the 1980s, you saw television as a service that came to your home via a cable service that you paid for (even paying for the formerly free networks that had advertising support) and could add additional premium services if you wanted them. You learned to supplement and control that content (starting to call it video rather than TV) using a VCR and videotapes and later DVDs and then a DVR. A child of today is likely to be using multiple networks via multiple devices and might be growing up in a household that has already cut the cord to those 1980s services and devices and hard media formats.

So, grandparents and their grandchildren may find some “connectiveness” in being disconnected in their media consumption and even in how they both are learning and preparing for working life.

Here are some resources about how older adults are connecting to learning and unretirement using both traditional schools and alternatives.

Improving Education and Training for Older Workers a survey from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

How many students graduate outside the normal age?” an international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development

The Plus 50 Initiative at community colleges for learners age 50+ and a Lumina Foundation report on Plus 50

A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

The 40-Year-Old Graduates

4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt

How to Make the Most of Longer Lives

Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy