Observations on My Lifetime of Work – And What’s My Next Move?

It’s been the better part of a year since I have contributed anything to OOYR. As the saying goes, “Life has a habit of getting in the way of your plans.” So I have not been as active on here as I would like. At the same time, this period has been a good opportunity for me to re-evaluate my life, think about my priorities, engage in productive dialogue with friends and colleagues, and observe others and learn about what’s going on in their lives. In other words, what’s my next move?

Observations on My Lifetime of Work – And What’s My Next Move?
Observations on My Lifetime of Work – And What’s My Next Move?

Is there an underlying theme to all of this? Maybe – but I think you, dear readers, might be able to figure it out better than I can . So, without further ado, here’s what’s been on my mind in recent months:

1. Making a living in the creative world can be tough.

“Writer’s block” is real. All too real, which makes me respect people like Kevin all the more for being able to make a living from his craft.

Writing is not a “one and done” kind of career. Sometimes I’m afraid that certain creative people have the belief that they can get out a best-selling novel and that they’ll be set for life. Yet even the most prolific novelists have to keep coming up with new ideas all the time and put out new work regularly in order to sustain their lifestyle.

By no means am I suggesting that people can’t make a living in the artistic/creative world. But the number of people who can make “big money” from writing, acting or art is incredibly small. If you aren’t constantly pushing yourself, it’s easy to fall into “starving artist” mode. I think it’s best for a lot of artistic people to be doing something else in addition to their art.

2. Many people prefer to remain stuck and unhappy than take a chance on something that might make them happier.

Over the years I’ve come across a fair number of people who have almost become “institutionalized” by their jobs. They don’t appear happy about coming to work. They don’t particularly enjoy what they’re doing. They’re not happy with their bosses or co-workers or clients or customers. And yet, when push comes to shove, they would rather stay in place and be miserable than go and see what else might be out there.

Many of them have remained that way for the past 20 or more years. I get it: change is hard, and doing something different around different people in a different environment can make us fearful and hesitant. Yet sometimes a big change in our lives is exactly what we need in order to find more fulfillment.

It reminds me of the saying: “Getting outside of your comfort zone is the best way to EXPAND your comfort zone.”

3. We don’t have a binary choice between being “well-off and caged” or “free and broke”.

For those of us who have been regular readers at Out Of Your Rut, Kevin’s story of transitioning from “corporate drone” to full-time entrepreneur serves as encouragement and inspiration. As Kevin points out, however, this process did not happen overnight, and it involves a lot of discipline, effort, planning, perseverance, and hard work.

Too often, many people leave their regular, hum-drum jobs behind, only to discover that the world of self-employment is much different than they fantasized about. They then return discouraged, to the path they were on before.

Another blogger that I read online regularly sums up this predicament: “Society makes it easy to either ‘toe the line’, or screw up entirely, and it’s really difficult not to do either one.”

A lot of times that might feel very true. But it CAN be overcome – just remember to do a lot of planning and homework beforehand.

Which leads to my next point…

4. Forget about the idea of “job security” and focus instead on “income security”.

This might not be as much of an issue if you’re a worker with skills that are rare, in high demand, require lots of education, experience, etc. For everyone else, however, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate your position and think about how vulnerable you might potentially be.

Self-help author Steve Pavlina frames the issue like this: how many people would it take to shut off all your income?

For many people, the answer is “one” – their boss. Some of us believe that if we show up to work on time every day, do what needs to be done, and do it well, that we’ll be totally immunized from any bad news from our employers. Yet this is simply not the case.

Whenever one source – be it an employer, corporation, or boss – controls your entire income stream, you are giving that source an enormous amount of control over your financial, and sometimes even your personal life. Diversify your income sources as much as possible!

5. Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us are doing what others expect of us.

Our families, friends, peers, teachers, and counselors hold a lot of sway over our career paths and what we should do with our lives. Many times, we do what we do in order to earn their approval, rather than what will make us happiest. Of course, money is important: we need to pay the bills and meet our living expenses. But we also need to be doing work that gives us a sense of meaning and purpose.

In our culture, we’re divided into two camps on this issue. One side says “follow your passion”; the other says “do what’s practical.”

Might I suggest another way? “Do work that you’re good at and enjoy doing AND will pay you.”

Sometimes we might have to engage in a lot of self-reflection and analysis to realize what that might be. Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, worked in unfulfilling jobs before he got a major break. He asks us to take the “long view” as we move through our working lives:

“I tell you all this because it’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.”

Which leads me to my last point, which is…

6. Look at your entire work history as a learning experience.

Even the detours can give us major insight into what we should be, or not be, doing with our lives. Whenever I’ve been in a job I didn’t like, it forced me to clarify why I had wanted the job in the first place. I also analyzed what specifically I didn’t like about it. Even more important, was deciding what corrective action I needed to take to avoid falling into the same trap in the future.

Being in a bad situation at work can really get you to open your eyes and recognize what it is you are able to put up with and what you can’t. From there, you need to allow yourself to make choices that are better for you in the future.

How about you, readers? What pearls of wisdom can you share with us?

( Photo by Free For Commercial Use (FFC) )

7 Responses to Observations on My Lifetime of Work – And What’s My Next Move?

  1. Following your passion has an incredibly low success rate because most people’s passion is not easily monetized. I think it is far better to obtain the rare skills or training required to have a career that is in demand. Then work hard at it to rise to the upper quartile of performance and you’ll never worry about getting fired because your phone will be ringing all the time with calls from recruiters trying to persuade you to move to your employer’s competition. If you develop mastery in your job then passion will follow automatically. Imagine a life where you looked forward to going in to work the next morning on Sunday evenings because you had exciting and fulfilling things to accomplish. Where you sometimes would look at your phone and realize you had worked through lunch or stayed an hour late without realizing it because you were absorbed in what you were doing. That was almost every day of my career. Save your other passions for your time off, you’ll need them when you retire early because you are almost certain to become wealthy much earlier in your career than someone who just tolerates their job. And creativity is no issue, virtually all jobs that require in demand rare skills are all about developing creative solutions to extremely difficult problems.

  2. Hi Steve – You’re absolutely right that not all passions are easily monetized. But at the same time there needs to be a balance. There has to be some measure of passion in whatever career you choose, otherwise you’re just working for money. I think that’s what drags on people at all income and career levels. It does little good to go into engineering or medicine if you have zero passion for either. On the other hand, you don’t want to paint portraits at the beach – because that’s what you love to do – then become a starving artist. Maybe meeting in the middle is becoming an art teacher or an art industry supply manager who paints portraits at the beach on weekends. Some sort of balance is the optimal arrangement.

    And even as far as money goes, you’re more likely to make more if you’re passionate about what you do. I’ve seen people in high paying careers just going through the motions, and it seems a waste of a life to be marking time until retirement, when you’ll finally be able to break free. It’s a tough balancing act, which is why I think more people don’t work in occupations that they both enjoy and that pay well.

  3. One thing I forgot to mention, in light of Steve’s comments, is that there’s another potential drawback to following your passion: sometimes people begin to resent working on their passion because it then becomes something they “have” to do all the time, and then stops being “fun” — so if you’re going to go that route, make sure it’s something that you are 100 percent committed to, even when things aren’t going well.

    I do like your point about creating “a life where you looked forward to going in to work the next morning on Sunday evenings because you had exciting and fulfilling things to accomplish.” That’s something we need to work on getting more people to experience!

  4. Steve – I have to agree with you that even if you follow your passion, it always has the potential to turn into a job. That’ll be the case with virtually any occupation. For example, as much as I enjoy writing, turning out even two fairly complicated articles a day can come to feel like a grind. I love writing, it’s the thing I should’ve been doing all my life. But when earning a living is attached to anything, the dynamic shifts.

    It would be one thing to paint portraits at the beach and maybe sell them to passersby, all while living on income from a trust fund. But if selling those paintings is necessary to pay for your housing, car, health insurance, groceries, etc., it becomes a job.

    But with all that said, I’d rather be doing work that I like, and doing it on my own terms, than working at a job or career I took primarily to pay the bills. I spent enough of my life doing that to appreciate the difference. Work is easier and more rewarding – including financially – when it’s something you like doing.

  5. I feel the same with my business. I originally liked the idea of being a boss, not answering to anybody. I spend more time now making sure the books are in order, paying taxes and making sure we are not losing money and complying with all the state regulations that we have to keep in order, just so we can have a business.
    My wife, a designer by trade, spends more time dealing with customers and being on the phone half the day. She does very little designing anymore.

    The administrative side of the business consumes the creative side.

    I still like what it brings financially and the freedom that comes with it as far as being able to leave or work when I say. It’s become a job now.
    I have capped off growth now. We are at our limit with being able to handle the workload.

  6. I get what you’re saying Tim. I’m still excited about what I do as well as the future potential. But having control of my time and the income factors are equally important. But like you, I find myself working on a lot of things that don’t contribute directly to the bottom line. It’s those urgent, but not important functions, and they seem to take up a disproportionate amount of my time. I often think about somehow off-loading those responsibilities to someone else, but they’re not that kind of assignments. On balance though I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing now for any other occupation.

  7. I agree. It’s important for me to be able to control my time better and at this point in my life, I don’t think I could tolerant a boss anymore.

    I’ve thought about the same but at the end of the day, I do not trust financial people to handle my business. If I fail I want it to be on me. Nobody else.

Leave a reply