Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's Next? Inklings

Following up on yesterday's post: the "big yes" tends to come after I do my homework. What do I want? What don't I want? What must I have, and what can I trade away for something I want more? Here is what I have so far (at least the bit I'm willing to share):
1. Work that serves a meaningful purpose. Writing/editing reports that hardly anyone reads doesn't cut it for me any more. Cranking out proposals that generate business for the sake of enriching the guys at the top doesn't cut it either. Am I doing something that provides goods, services, knowledge, or understanding that makes peoples' lives better? Does my writing help someone look at an issue in a new way, explain a complicated concept in terms they can understand, organize a tangle of ideas onto a framework where you can see how things fit together? That's a must-have.

2. Work that pays the bills, with something left over for fun. Face it, big cities tend to be expensive places to live. But the energy, creativity, diversity, and opportunities of a big city feed me in ways that small towns somehow don't. Also, when I'm not earning enough money, I tend to think about money much more than when I'm earning enough. I have a very real sense of what "enough" entails for me, and it's not unrealistic. I've been at that level before, and I can get there again. (The American myth that more is always better is simply not true. There is such a thing as "enough".)

3. Work that engages my attention, curiosity, and imagination. I've had that kind of work before, and I found myself working really hard and putting in long hours, but not minding it. There's a whole different feeling after a long day doing something you love, compared with even a relatively short day doing something that drains your soul. Show me something new, let me research an interesting idea. Show me the story-behind-the-story. Let me tell the whole story, warts and all. Let me get you interested in something you hadn't paid attention to before.

4. Work that I can do for as long as my mind and my body will let me. The idea of enduring years of drudgery so that I can spend my declining years playing golf holds no appeal for me. I may slow the pace down as I age, but let my work be so fulfilling that I can do it the rest of my life and not regret it.

5. Work in pleasant surroundings, with pleasant people, and with the occasional change of scenery. No more gray cubicles, please. My little office corner at home has a window with a big oak tree outside. Mourning doves and squirrels come to visit. I can go wireless and sit out on the balcony, weather permitting. I have time for discussion groups, lunch with friends, and trips downtown (where something new is always happening).

As you can see, I'm not quite to the point where I type a few terms into an online search and find my bliss. I probably won't ever be at that point. However, I have a good idea of where to go looking and who to talk to to bring my picture into sharper focus. The outlines are a bit blurry now, but I can make out some general shapes.


  1. Super, Nancy. Your first three criteria are identical, IIRC, to Ellen's career advice to our kids, and then you went on to two more important facets. And you're in luck if you like the idea of "going out feet first" -- that way you're not necessarily locked into building up a big retirement nest egg.

  2. Great list, Nancy. It's exciting to see you so clear in your goals. Again, best wishes and you continue moving toward them!

    I confess that I'm a little surprised by #4, though. If an otherwise great job was available that involved working for someone who will be retiring in 5 years, would you indeed reject it for that reason? Maybe I'm misinterpreting by applying your criteria for the "work" you want to do to a specific job...

  3. I'm making a very definite distinction between "work" and "job". Work is what you do over a course of a lifetime. Jobs are just specific income streams. I think that's a very important distinction to make, especially now that so many jobs are "at will". Your employer can let you go for no reason at all, so your identity should not be defined only (or even mostly) by the job you hold. Losing a job may put a dent in your income stream, but it doesn't have to keep you from doing your work. If more people stopped waiting for The Man give them a job and started looking for their own ways to make it in the world, it would go a long way toward restoring the balance between the 1% and the 99%.


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