Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May
30, 2001 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Finding Work Bliss Through the Anti-Career
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
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 "The Dharma of Work" on Friday, June 1, at
7 p.m. at the Vincentian Renewal Center, St. Joseph’s Hall, at 75
Mapleton Road. Cost: $20. Call 609-520-9626, ext. 4201.
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
he wanted no part of work, and at age 19 went to India to study
spirituality. While there he discovered that the East "indeed
is spiritual, but nothing works." He returned to study at
eventually becoming a Mellon Fellow in Humanities.
In addition to teaching at Vassar, Jarow does alternative career
and lectures extensively. Here are excerpts from his book:
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
oppressive structures for centuries.
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
— even the ability to play withers. We become a nation of fans
watching a few people play games for money while we keep track of
syndrome, out of being a nation of debt-ridden television addicts,
there has to be a recognition of core values, an expressed and
need to live for more than objects, a belief in the possibility
by life to become an integrated person, and a commitment to live out
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
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
pursued the ladder of corporate success only to find that the top,
as Steven Covey so aptly puts it, is leaning against the wrong
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
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
until the birth of their first child.
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
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
of earliest childhood. Many of us, as we work toward authentic career
manifestation, will discover the need to recover trust in ourselves
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
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.
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
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
most important to you in this life? Where is your sacred fire burning?
This is the primary question: Is it God? country? family? music?
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
— 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
fields, that awakens the heart center to attract support, and that
calls in allies from many unknown regions.
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
a number of services and expand his or her interests into
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.
— 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."
It’s just so damned easy. Type random thoughts into
a window during a brief work break, and press Send. E-mail has become
an effortless way to share news, plans, ruminations, and, yes, boasts.
Like office workers the world over, Paul Chung, a 24-year-old
University graduate, wanted to update friends on his life, and chose
to deliver the news via a company Internet connection. Chung had
to convey. He had arrived in Seoul just three days before to begin
a new job at an investment firm, the Carlyle Group. He wanted to let
his former colleagues at Merrill Lynch in New York know how well
Mixed in with details about his fabulous new apartment — 2,000
square feet, with a 200-foot terrace — was talk about the
of his new job and details of sexual opportunities available in Seoul.
Bankers were catering to his every whim, he wrote, and so active was
his sex life that he had turned one room of his apartment into a
Chung’s buddies, perhaps not true friends after all, sent the E-mail
on, effortlessly, of course, and possibly without much thought to
the consequences. Much faster than you can say "unemployment
the message made its way to the PCs of thousands of Wall Streeters,
at least one of whom forwarded it to Chung’s bosses at Carlyle.
According to published reports (the New York Times, of all places),
Chung was given a choice of resigning or being fired, and chose the
The lesson is a hard one for anyone who spends 8 or 10 or 14 hours
at the office with a PC for a companion, and silent, instant
communication always as close as the ubiquitous computer keypad.
Employers do not like embarrassment, worry about lawsuits, and stand
ready to fire anyone who uses the company computer to send messages
that could spark either.
As Chung learned the hard way, if you can’t say it to the boss, better
not put it in an E-mail either.
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