Thursday, February 15, 2007

Job, Career, Vocation?

The impending end of articles and the subsequent looming of the big bad world has got many people I know fairly pre-occupied. I've realized that the stress, at least for some of us, comes partially from the tension between trying to figure out if we're looking for a job, a career, or a vocation - or wanting to find a vocation, but having the sneaking suspicion we are going to settle for a job.

So, this has made me wonder - are we asking for too much, hoping that we will find a vocation, that our days will be filled with something that we feel truly called to, and that will make a difference in the world? I know there are people who do what they do during the day, but find their passion elsewhere - but few people I know would be happy with that. Is this a natural product of being over-educated? - it's hard after 8 years of university to get out of a mindset of having meaningful work, and in professional training, such as law school, there's the added element that you learn to see your identity as being associated with your profession.

Or, is that voice telling me I am looking for too much the same voice that generally sucks the passion of youth out of people, and convinces them that all they want is a mortgage and an SUV, when they never remember dreaming of those things before? And thus the tension again - I don't want to settle, but I don't want to be foolish - I don't want to hold onto this romantic dream of doing something "adventurous" if it's out of habit - it can become as much a societal expectation (just a different society) as the settling down urge, if you aren't careful.

And then back to the question - am I making too big of a deal out of this anyway, because it doesn't really matter what I do with my days, as long as I do it with integrity and to the best of my ability? Or, am I expecting too much, and we all have to make choices, and deal with the choices that are handed to us - am I expecting I'll have it all?

A year ago, Sulini sent around an article about how our generation is paralyzed by having too many choices, and maybe that's what this is all about - and I just have to move forward in some direction, keep my eyes open, and continue to evaluate where I'm at, and figure out if it's good for me. Generally, I don't believe in fatalism, and that there's only one right path for a person, but it's easy to forget that and get bogged down in this feeling that what I choose now will shape my life forever. I think that I really do want a vocation, but it probably won't happen tomorrow, and I have to stay true to what I believe (man, this sounds cheesy) and use whatever job comes my way to learn and grow.


Heather said...

I am constantly struggling with many of these same questions, like "what do I really want to do with my life?", but the real question is, "who do I want to be?" Or, even more to the point, "who am I?"

A recent family tragedy has had me asking these questions even more than usual. I find the weight of the world a bit much to take at the best of times, but particularly now that the people close to me need me, and I need to take care of them and myself.

My thoughts keep finding my way into the yoga classes I teach. This is the intro to my most recent class:

We may feel that what we do is insignificant or unimportant: looking after family, doing mundane administrative tasks, doing the laundry, cooking, etc., but a recent event helped to shift my perspective a bit. I was at a yoga ashram this weekend and the program required a half hour of "karma yoga" or service. We often think of service as something grand, but all I was asked to do was wipe down a plant's leaves with a bit of water and olive oil. If this were something I had to do at home, I would probably be mentally grumbling about having to do housework, but in this environment, when I had nothing else to do and my mind was relatively quiet, I was able to do this one job with full focus (and yes, I daresay, love). It was a wonderful activity, and I felt very satisfied with my efforts. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna, “It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief”. What this is saying that we should find out what our work is, which we can only come to know by truly knowing ourselves, and then do it to the best our of ability. And we should not get too upset when things go wrong: “No one should abandon duties because he sees defects in them. Every action, every activity, is surrounded by defects as a fire is surrounded by smoke." It is a cliche that we are not perfect and will make mistakes, but it is so hard to actually forgive ourselves and feel all right about our mistakes.

We then went on to do a series of balancing postures in which I urged students to do the best they could and then not be attached to the result. Make your leg as straight as possible, focus your mind as much as possible and then let go of expectations. If you fall, you fall. Enjoy a laugh and then come right back into the posture.

These ideas bring in some key yogic principles:
Tapas: bringing enthusiasm to everything we do
Ahimsa: being kind in our expectations of ourselves and in our feelings toward and reactions to ourselves
Aprigraha: non-grasping; while it is good to apply tapas to activities, we cannot expect everything to come out exactly as we want it

I definitely think there is a time to focus on our "bigger" goals, or at least those goals that are going to take longer than our immediate jobs like doing the laundry. However, when things get overwhelming, bringing ourselves back to the basics can be comforting, accepting that where we are right now is all right and what we are doing is important. Like Mother Theresa said, "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." Now, there is someone who did a lot of small things with great love who ended up making a big difference.

I know this doesn't really address the job, career, vocation issue. Just some thoughts...

Riaz said...

Wise women.

If all of us could incorporate the perspectives that both Carolyn and Heather have outlined for our paths foward, we'd be doing alright.

Not at all cheesy to me:
"stay true to what I believe and use whatever job comes my way to learn and grow"

Along with the idea of approaching our days and moments with loving kindness and awareness.

If we could truly absorb the concepts you two have outlined, a lot of the struggle regarding "the job search" would take care of itself.

Simone said...

I also hear what you are saying and have wondered the same things in the past. I don't totally know the answer, but for me it's a bit of both. I like the job I have now, but I certainly "fell" into it and initially took it just because it was "a job". I think you'll always learn something and at some point maybe you'll realize it's time to move on if you aren’t learning. At this stage in your career you’ll learn no matter where you are so I don’t think you need to stress about finding the perfect job. To me, I think that life is so much what you put into it and what you make of it. If you think a job is going to be stupid, then likely it will. It's very daunting to think about taking any job after working so hard and so long on school. It's like every other choice that you make in life, and it seems that it's going to change your life forever. But you don't have to stay anywhere forever, and if something turns out to be the wrong choice, for whatever reason, you can leave but will have gained valuable experience along the way. Even though it took me a long time to find a job, I was a bit panicked when I finally got mine at the thought of not looking any more and not looking for something better. And also the thought that the “perfect” job would get posted the week after I took the first job. I think in a way taking any job will always feel like settling except in very rare circumstances. As humans we have a bit of tendency to think the grass is greener elsewhere. We have been taught to want a lot. I think Heather makes a good point, or at least her post leads me to make a point - that we should just do the best we can in whatever we're doing and hopefully get satisfaction with a job well done.

So ya, I’d go for the “learn and grow” approach. I’ve found that there’s lots of different things that I can believe in, and I’m certainly not in the field or type of job that I imagined that I would be in, however, I think that what I’m doing is an important part of a larger picture and I’m happy to be a part of that.

I think that you need to get a certain satisfaction and challenge from your work, but also have to think about what else you need to be happy. For me, I need to be able to leave work behind, have a life and spend time with friends. Sometimes I think my job isn’t as glamorous or as exciting as some other friends but I also never work evenings and weekends, and for me that’s a trade-off worth making. So as long as you can work on something interesting and feel like you are contributing in some small way to making things better (rather than worse!) then you should be happy to do that. If you end up somewhere that’s not a good fit, you can move on, but you may end up going a direction that’s entirely new and unexpected but just as rewarding as the direction you thought you wanted to go in the first place.

- another long comment! clearly this is a topic that hits close to home for all of us!

el Maggie said...

Wow, yes, lots of thoughts out there. I am glad to know I'm not the only one who's turning my job search into a great existential dilemma. . . I sometimes feel at peace with the fact that i will learn and grow, whatever, happens, but at other times, I really do feel like it's the choice that is going to affect my whole life. Thanks for the perspective, all.