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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 29, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Career You Love: Rewarding, Liberating

We are the people who can not leave the manor because

we will lose our health insurance." So writes Rick Jarow

in his book Creating the Work You Love: Courage, Commitment, and Career.

Jarow, a visiting professor of the history of religion at Vassar College,

has written extensively on what he sees as career dysfunction in the

United States — and what to do about it. We 21st century workers,

often laboring in climate-controlled office campuses, think we are

far removed from the serfdom of the Middle Ages or the slavery of

the plantation, Jarow says, but most of us are bound just as surely.

Jarow speaks on "Creativity, Calling, and Freedom: Is This Our

Moment in History" on Friday, May 31, at 7 p.m. at the Vincentian

Renewal Center, St. Joseph’s Hall, at 75 Mapleton Road. Cost: $15.

Then, on Saturday, June 1, at the same location, he conducts a workshop

on "Creating the Work You Love." Cost: $100, and reservations

for the workshop are required. Call 609-520-9626.

Jarow began to learn about the effects of career satisfaction when

he was a child. His father hated his job, but changed to another when

Jarow was 15. The young man noticed an immediate difference in the

entire household as his father became involved in work he enjoyed.

"The atmosphere lightened up," he writes. Jarow himself decided

he wanted no part of work, and at age 19 went to India to study Eastern

spirituality. While there he discovered that the East "indeed

is spiritual, but nothing works." He returned to study at Columbia,

eventually becoming a Mellon Fellow in Humanities.

In addition to teaching at Vassar, from which he is now on sabbatical,

Jarow does alternative career counseling and lectures extensively.

Here are excerpts from his book:

Work as a Curse. The myth of Eden in the Book of Genesis

depicts the unfallen condition as one of idyllic play, whereas the

fallen human condition is one of hard work. "By the sweat of your

brow you will draw bread from the earth." Here God curses man

to much work and little play, and this is seen as the result of sin.

Work is part of our daily prison sentence, and its purpose is bread,

i.e. survival. The only reason you have to work is because you are

exiled from your original state, and the harder you work — the

more rotten a deal you accept for yourself — the more you can

expunge your inherent sinfulness. Such guilt-ridden thinking has supported

oppressive structures for centuries.

Seeking Validation Through Work. As Alice Miller discusses

in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child, from early childhood on

we are encouraged to sell our enthusiasm for validation and approval.

This training is reinforced in school systems that stifle spontaneity.

Except for a rare few people, play increasingly disappears with age.

We become a nation of fans watching a few people play games for money

while we keep track of the score.

Toward an Anti-Career. To move out of the productive/consumptive

syndrome, out of being a nation of debt-ridden television addicts,

there has to be a recognition of core values, an expressed and understood

need to live for more than objects, a belief in the possibility offered

by life to become an integrated person, and a commitment to live out

one’s beliefs.

The serious issue of finding one’s vocation will not therefore be

solved by aptitude tests that help gear one to become a well-adjusted

producer/consumer. What is needed is an anti-career — a throwing

off of the shackles of obligation, approval, and mindless activity

in order to enter deeply into the dynamics of co-creation. To make

your work sacred is to believe in what you do, to do a good job as

its own reward, and to feel proud of your work not by comparing it

to the work of others but by feeling good inside, filled with integrity,

neither fatigued nor drained of energy.

It is work that does not destroy life, that honors pleasure, that

promotes full presence and involvement, and reflects your deepest

sense of being.

Some Common Career Glitches. There are those who have

pursued the ladder of corporate success only to find that the top,

as Steven Covey so aptly puts it, is leaning against the wrong building.

Then there are the burned-out health-care professionals, those who

have exhausted themselves trying to help others. Another prototype

is the person who has pursued a very particular interest through academic

paths, and now finds no marketable place for him or herself in the

world. And then there are those who never took the job market seriously

until the birth of their first child.

Trust as a Career Foundation. To trust is the basic energy

of anti-career work. At its deepest level, an active trust indicates

a confidence in the life process, a willingness to let things be as

they are. Many of us who have received mixed messages from our parents,

from the government, and from advertising campaigns have grown cynical

and have consequently closed down our trusting faculties. We have

become intimidated and thus hesitate to articulate the first flash

that comes into our minds.

Erik Erikson spoke of trust versus mistrust as the fundamental challenge

of earliest childhood. Many of us, as we work toward authentic career

manifestation, will discover the need to recover trust in ourselves

and others.

Pervasive Denial. As in the first and single most important

step in Alcoholics Anonymous, the denial must cease and the admission

must be made: Our working lives have become unmanageable. Whether

on the janitor’s stool or in the executive’s chair, there is a feeling

that forces out of our control are creating uncertainty, dispirited

fatigue, and a muffled frustration that makes it seem normal to dread

Monday mornings.

The Courage to Invest in Self. What empowers your work

is the courage to choose to be what you really are and the commitment

to follow through on your principles. This combination of courage

and commitment is investment. More than a mere funding of money into

a project with the hope of a good return, investment involves risk

and thus embodies the courage of directing your energy toward what

you believe in. What makes a job search successful is the movement

from idealism to actually investing your life in your ideals. Therefore,

the first step in creating a work situation that will nourish your

soul is the willingness to take the risk of making an investment in

yourself and in your truth.

"Investment," then, can be defined as what is meaningful or

precious to us. It is what we keep close to the vest, the secret that

we share only with those who we deeply trust. The word "interest,"

defined as the measurement of return on your investment, can be read

as "in trust." The return we receive on our career investment

will be proportional to the trust we place in ourselves and our commitment.

Defining an Ideal. What, then, is your ideal? What is

most important to you in this life? Where is your sacred fire burning?

This is the primary question: Is it God? country? family? music? nature?

wealth? athletics? justice? awareness? power? healing? glory? poetry?

creativity? high-speed excitement? sex? humor? high culture? Which

"god" are you ready to devote yourself to? If you invest in

a place where your sacred fire is not burning, you will spend the

rest of your life playing charades and trying to make up for it on

the side.

Reaping the Benefits. True mastery in a particular field

— mastery that is not a compensation for some form of perceived

inadequacy — will extend its beneficence to other areas of our

lives. Life itself will become the work of art, with a particular

field of endeavor but one manifestation of that art. The cultivation

of such mastery involves craftsmanship and patience resulting from

the love of what we do. When we love something or someone, they become

a source of endless fascination. Every detail is a new discovery,

as with the guitar maker who is aware of every subtle nuance in the

quality of the wood he uses.

The genuine pursuit of knowledge is also a craft in this regard, one

that springs from eros, the fascination and desire to know. It is

this spirit of caring skillfulness that allows us to develop our chosen

fields, that awakens the heart center to attract support, and that

calls in allies from many unknown regions.

Becoming a Career Tapestry. Instead of melting into a

job, or career, or firm for one’s entire life, the anti-career person

of the future will be a living tapestry, someone who is able to perform

a number of services and expand his or her interests into complementary

and simultaneous directions. The one-job-for-life ideal is as dead

as the transcontinental railroad. Some people still travel this way

for leisure, but essentially it is a relic from another age. Even

retirement is no longer a sought after option. Most of us would rather

retire at age 29 and spend the rest of our lives working productively

at what we truly love to do.

Jarow ends his book by admitting that finding passion in work

— let alone passion combined with health insurance — is no

easy task. He urges those who want to try to "start with an hour.

Move to a day. Go for a lifetime."

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