This Is Not Your Father’s Job
Since the time my father sat me down to give the birds and bees talk about jobs and responsibilities, the world has changed. Following his sage advice 30 years ago, each of my jobs brought a regular paycheck, retirement benefits, a supervisor and years of loyalty, usually 12 years of that loyalty in any one organization.
And then the earthquake. Life on earth as I had known it no longer existed. The searched for a Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Work Galaxy began with a crisis. Although each of our searches uniquely follows our diverse his and herstories, a common thread weaves through many of our stories. I have outlined for you some of the crucial steps often taken in our search of meaning in work.
Stage 1. The Crisis
What we had thought as a soundly founded career transforms to a fragile world with a seminal event. For me, the death of my father marked the crisis in work identity. My own mortality came into unbearably clear focus. My job that caused such anxiety as to land me in the hospital, remodeled my Sundays into a day of dreading Monday and extracted such emotional energy that by evening I sat dysfunctional in front of television action movies.
With death facing me straight in the eye, the future of failing health and brain dead activities seemed spiritually and morally degrading of the precious life I had once honored. Salvation could only come with a significant change in my working environment, psychological perspective and commitment to living a passionate and full life.
But what else could I do? Banking on college educational, advanced training and years of experience in my field, my skills seemed confided to a finite universe of minimal choice. After years of inculcation that my efforts were insufficient, multiple job interview rejections and flagging support from a diminishing number of colleagues who were being laid off, passion for anything was lost in a bay fog enveloping hills and canyons.
Stage 2. The Lighthouse
Sitting in the job coach’s office, the passions of the past leaked through the fog fresh for the taking. My ideal day actually seemed plausible. The next weeks saw development of transition plans and the office work atmosphere actually was not so menacing and seemed less intimidating. My husband supported moving on to changes that would improve my health, even if it meant selling the house.
Planning continued and continued and continued. Money was saved. Lists were made. Outlines of job opportunities with organizations and self employment filled the formerly dead time in front of Jackie Chan movies. But fear of lost income, security of a schedule and the unknown territory of self employment kept the planning mill grinding away. A bad experience with a former partner in the self employment area haunted my adventurous spirit sucking me into inaction. The comfort of planning became a warm glass of milk soothing each evening. I needed more training, more skills, and more background information for any step beyond the current job.
I needed a new earthquake.
Stage 3. Getting Off the Dime
The next shake-up was not as dramatic as my father’s death. A volunteer position opening was delivered to my home in the Regional in Nature flier announcing the new outdoor programs in the San Francisco East Bay. “Docents needed. Open to those who enjoy the out of doors and wish to share experiences with children. Ten-week training available. Begins January 20.”
The job resignation appeared on my supervisor’s desk the next day. Answers to crucial questions became clear.
- Relationships: My husband supported the move and was relieved to finally have the changes begin.
- Money: Hours of spreadsheets resulted in
- Reduced spending in less crucial areas
- Refinancing the house for a lower interest rate and reduced payments
- More self improvement maintenance and cleaning work around the house
- A realistic budget identifying the funding gap between expenses and income
- Development of contract work to fill the gap.
The docent course started, the old job ended and I was euphoric.
Stage 4. Euphoria, But Not Heaven Yet
For the next two months learning life and earth sciences, anthropology and teaching methods, accompanied walks in nature, companionship with like-minded souls. All contributed to a sense of being alive again. I made dinner for my husband every night and greeted him with sincere cheer.
Yet even heaven has its tremors. Why was I so surprised that my expectations of living my passion would not include the realities of human nature? Why in the world would I have not thought that people in idyllic settings would not have office politics, require diplomatic maneuvers, gossip and seething competition? But yes, and yet the passion for the work, persistence and healthy skills in dodging the hard balls worked effectively.
Encouraged by the naturalist in charge of the docent program, I applied for a position as an interpretive student aide and low and behold was hired. What joy to look back just eight months previously living in dread of the next day to living each day with excitement of the hike or campfire. I began to conquer the fear that I know too little about biology, botany, hydrology and geology. My colleague Terri who began her student aide work with me remarked how much I had learned in just two months. Appreciating her acumen in the sciences, the comment boosted my confidence while maintaining my realistic view of what I still needed to learn.
Stage 5. The Best Laid Plans
More tremors shook my world when my colleague broke her ankle at work. She and I shared the visitor’s center shift for a beautiful picnic and camping lake. We had great plans for new hikes, featured animals each month and nature craft programs. I accepted her shifts and began a weekend marathon of work, never seeing my husband. I forgot to revisit my goals from the coaching experience and affirm my values about relationships. I knew if I worked hard, I would “catch-up” with the more knowledgeable student aides and naturalists. Again I marvel at the silly logic. These naturalists had worked in the field 15 to 25 years, the other student aides had been working in natural science before their tenure at the parks and had 3 to 4 years of previous experience as student aides and the culture of the parks.
Stage 6. Readjust
The new schedule has gradually transformed to more relationship time as I learn the new word “no” to requests.
Just follow your passion…and live happily ever after can be a seductive trap. A little pain, wake-up calls, and a touch of fear guide an honest path. As human being our minds often introduce mischief and tangents. Returning to the root passions and purposes remind us of the balancing dance we play with life. As passion is lived, more people will ask for service, more offers become tempting, more learning seems essential. It’s our joy and challenge.
What can we learn from Nancy’s story?
Discovering and living’s one’s passion takes a period of exploration and risk. The rewards are lifelong!