Oct 12 2010

Seeking Your Bliss (and Sometimes, Finding It)

There’s a large amount of screwed up social programming floating around out there, and few people escape its tangles entirely no matter how enlightened you attempt to be.  A good upbringing helps, and a strong self of self does as well, but you can’t avoid every message that gets repeated at you from the surrounding world.  The best you can do is learn to analyze your own behavior to identify when certain thinking patterns have been heavily influenced from outside sources.  Even then, that doesn’t mean you automatically jettison it; quite a few social structures exist because they really do make getting along with your fellow monkeys easier.

One area I’ve managed to avoid (for the most part) myself, is heavy neurosis surrounding what I do for a living.  All of my blended family of origin has a strong and principled work ethic, so I was certainly influenced by that while growing up.  What I remember more, though, is the sacrifice they and so many of my parent’s generation made:  several of my parents ended up in middle-level corporate-style jobs because that was the easiest way to stability for a family, not because they were passionate about what they did.  (At least one was doing what they liked by the time I knew them and that was a good perspective to see.)  I don’t remember them complaining about that choice, and as the years progressed I got to see them successfully change where they started from into something they DID like more, through excellent work and additional education.  But from my child mind’s perspective, one of the largest messages I took away from observing this is that I absolutely did not want to stay long in any job where I wasn’t being challenged, or didn’t care about what I was doing.  Thankfully, I also had the sort of family where making my own way was encouraged, even though my early career goals were certainly an attempt to balance doing my own thing with the concept of job security (like choosing veterinary science over acting).

My first job was a crap McD job to learn what the working thing was all about, and I still managed to learn how to do every non-management job including the grill.  My next job I decided to do something closer to what I liked, and worked at a local pet supplies store.  The next two jobs after that were at veterinary clinics, since that’s what I wanted to be when I entered college.  Unfortunately, working at vet clinics helped me realize I didn’t really want to deal with pet owners for the rest of my life, so I had to do a quick life goal readjustment.

In the meantime, delivery driver seemed like fun, and it was!  Minus the fact that what I earned during those several months just about covered the car repairs necessary due to the wear from delivery driving.  The next couple were crap jobs again, due to the fact that my ex wouldn’t hold a job himself and my scholarships and loans didn’t quite cover the room and board for two people alone.  But I fairly quickly during that time realized that even as a scantily-skilled college student, I could still choose to go for the “crap jobs” that were more intellectually or socially interesting, or that actually contributed in some way toward learning new skills, over mindless drudgery.

During this time I also embraced the “jill of all trades” philosophy, a bit of an iconoclastic departure from the “pick a job and do it unto death or retirement” programming so prevalent at the time.  I figured since I was smart and quick to learn in so many different areas, it would be pretty limiting to narrow down to just ONE area of focus for my entire working life.  I was still in school then, and still in an animal-intensive major (Animal Science), and switched to a crazy-intense summer job working with horses that probably merits its own post one of these days.

The three years as a Biology Dept inventory clerk probably sound tedious to some, but getting to organize data and inventory and go into cool science labs to find mad-scientist equipment with a barcode scanner at night when no one was around were definitely fun.  And my first major trained-skill career, body piercer, was absolutely something I wanted, sought out, trained hard for, and did for years.

Even my Freebirds time was useful.  After a particularly rough and desolate patch job-wise (third-shift custodian — definitely a crap job, but I learned a ton about classist assumptions among other things), during which I was also isolated from family and friends geographically, I thought I’d try the siren call of the steady paycheck and benefits, but went with a small corporation instead of a big megacorp, thinking it would better suit my inclinations. (I also moved closer to friends.) I was the fastest promoted female from crew to general manager in the company, and in case I ever need it I have restaurant managing skills to fall back on.  (Sadly, if I want to manage my health to live some semblance of a normal lifespan with my new health condition, I probably can’t realistically do that again because of the body energy load.)

Owning a small business is a leap I definitely wanted and worked my butt of to achieve, though health issues have absolutely made it much harder to maintain than it would have been otherwise.  I likely won’t own this shop forever, as I hope to be able to someday sell it to the employees who have been so awesome working for me, but I might own a business again in the future.  I have confidence if I do I’ll be much more versed in the common mistakes and able to avoid them.

Now I’m a home-based mom, and anyone who doesn’t know THAT’S a full-time job obviously grew up under a rock with no parents.  I also manage the flow of the household (with lots of help!), making sure chores and food and re-supply and all that good stuff happens when it needs to.  Additionally, I’m working on a full-time fiction writing career, and while the full-time part has definitely suffered while I adjust to the other new jobs, I still do something writing-related every day, even if it’s just some research.  (And with my projects, it’s never “just” research.)  I don’t have time or energy for creative hobbies at the moment with all the other work-load, but even that I expect to change with time.

It was evident even while I was still a kid that the world was changing, and it wasn’t going to be as easy to stay with just one career for an entire working lifetime.  As an adult, I’ve previously considered returning to school for something like nursing (job security anywhere you go!  high demand!  flexible hours! good pay!) but no matter how shiny all those other bits sound, I strongly suspect I wouldn’t have any more fun dealing with sick patients and their families than I would the pet owners as a veterinarian, especially those many many conditions where people willingly keep engaging in the behaviors that keep making them sick and don’t follow health advice.  I’m not sure I want that sort of extra stress, and I don’t really think the job security and benefits outweigh the impact, especially long-term, of such chronic stress.  I’d say that as a cancer survivor I have to be concerned about the impact of stress more than most people, but that’s a lie.  Stress damages or kills anyone given enough time and presence, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to not take on avoidable stress, since life gives us so much of the unavoidable kind.

These days, if I go back to school, it’ll likely be for a psychology-related degree, since one thing I never get tired of is the workings of the human mind.  I think that fascination would definitely sustain me through the stressful parts of that career.  Plus, it’s a job I can largely do sitting on my ass and thinking, and I’m now of the opinion that the break-your-back on-your-feet go-go-go jobs are for the teens and twenties time whenever possible.  I’d like to actually live a long time in reasonably good health, and I don’t think it requires a round of cancer to teach one about the importance of energy management.  Unfortunately, too many people (far too many) wait until such a health crisis (and possibly some measure of irreversible damage) to make those life changes.  If they do even then.

It is not easy.  It’s not easy to work against classist disadvantages, and might not even be available for everyone given our current societal structure.  But it IS possible.  It’s hard to work against the “shoulds”, like “I should stay with this soul-sucking job because my family needs a paycheck” — and that, too, might not be avoidable if you don’t have a partner or support network willing to help you through such a transition.  But it IS possible.  And for those of you that DO have the education or latent brainpower to learn what you want to learn, and have a family that is willing to work with you to make sure everyone’s goals can be achieved…

Well, where are the remaining stasis holds?  (Not a rhetorical question)

If my Fearless Readers like this and want more in the same vein, I can easily go on.  Ask questions, discuss your own perspectives in comments, share!

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Seeking Your Bliss (and Sometimes, Finding It)”

  1. Allysonon 12 Oct 2010 at 3:30 pm

    So right before I read this entry, I read an LJ of my college friend, who found her PhD program was really not for her, dropped out, and is now struggling to find a job. She realized that she’s been half-assing her job search and mostly just fooling around on the computer, and wondering what happened to her high school overachiever self. I left a comment about how I was wondering what happened to high school me as well, and wondered whether or not us overachievers weren’t suffering some degree of burnout.

    And then I read your entry. And then I got to thinking.

    I realized that used “burnout” in a negative context, but I shouldn’t have to look at it that way. Yes. I burned out at 24. But what did I burn out on? I burned out on the idea that you should pick a stable job with good benefits and have disposable income to buy shit you don’t need, and be able to afford expensive versions of the stuff you *do* need. That works for some people, but I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t making me happy. And so I “burned out” on the idea, and I’m chasing what makes me happy. I spent 24 years of my life working towards this vision of middle class-ness that I had been taught, and found it didn’t work for me. Yes! I am a burnout! And I am happy to be one!

    Now, what complicates the issue is that J currently works full-time at a job that he doesn’t really love (though it doesn’t make him depressed), and if he weren’t doing this, I wouldn’t be able to afford to focus so much time on writing. I have to figure out how to reconcile this, that I get to do what I love because he isn’t. Though there’s the idea that it’s kind of “his turn” right now, because I was the one who kept our shit together when we were first married and he had no income of any kind. And eventually the tables might turn again, like when he decides he’s ready to start his own business (and I need to make the two of you sit down and have a long talk when that day comes so he can get practical advice from someone who has experience with that), and I’ll need to do something stable while he gets that off the ground. Ideally, it balances out. And even if life doesn’t work out ideally, we reach a compromise.

  2. Reesaon 12 Oct 2010 at 6:17 pm

    @Allyson — That’s exactly what I mean about a stable partnership allowing people to reach their goals. You were the breadwinner at first, now J is, and presumably you’ll work together so that when he needs to follow his bliss, you’ll be ready to take the more stable income role again (hopefully in something you like much better). And you may be burnt out on middle-class bliss, but you’re still working steadily towards writing goals. A nice thing about healthy partnerships is those roles aren’t set in stone, but are fluid to the needs of the people involved, and those needs might change over time.

    And of course, we’re always willing to impart whatever remaining shreds of wisdom we retain to those who want to listen, heh, so feel free to consult us when the time comes.

    Nathan and I aren’t done discussing it by a long shot yet, but we both now have a chance to not only look at but PLAN longer-term goals now that the heaping mounds of current crises are mostly past. And this sort of thing is definitely at the top of our planning structure, making sure each of our goals gets addressed and that the family as a whole doesn’t suffer, in either short or longer-term measurements. And no one should be trapped long-term in a job that will bring resentment and bitterness, which is what often happens if one side shoulders the burden for too long without the other participants giving back.

  3. Mary Basson 15 Oct 2010 at 4:02 pm

    At the risk of sounding pollyannaish which is totally unlike me but due to what I’m about to say could be relegated as such (even though I hope not), the primary direction of discussion and resulting comments on “Seeking Your Bliss (and sometimes finding it)” herein are concerned with jobs and I have never considered what one does for a living to be any type of essential source of bliss. To further paint myself in bright shades of the sort of idealist that I’m not with the choice of verbiage I’m using, I find that true bliss has nothing to do with one’s job no matter what one does to earn a living unless that job is of the quality of one residing in some form of dream world that has come to life. There are very few people in this world who are lucky enough to have such jobs. No job I’ve ever had has been really worth doing nor has been under the heading of enjoyable unless it has been in the periods of time when I’ve been my own boss. There was one that came second to being my own boss when I literally ran the company and reported directly to the President of said company. But nothing I’ve ever done that qualifies as work has brought anything close to what I consider to be bliss. Rather, bliss to me is a collection of things in a much higher order. Overall bliss to is comprised of the gifts I have received from God: the many blessings including the ability to go on when I’ve had so many physical and emotional challenges in my life. Foremost for me, too, in the bliss department is the love I share with my wonderful husband. After those categories it is the relationships I have with other loved ones. I find it also within my freedoms; the freedoms of the choices that I am able to make in my life. And, it is within anything I’m able to do to help others. There are many other types of bliss that I revere and am thankful to have in my life but I don’t want to write a book on the subject here. Suffice it to say, my sights being set on bliss do not include forms of employment for monetary gain.

  4. Cheryl McLayon 18 Oct 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Interestingly, I was just thinking along these lines today-

    As a pediatrician, I love my job most days. It’s what I’ve done most of my adult life. But it doesn’t define who I am. I am so much more than my work. I was married for a long time to someone who didn’t love who I was. When I finally decided that I loved who I was and I got a divorce, I went wild for a while. I had a great time, trying on different kinds of men (in an ethical way), different types of relationships, to see what I really wanted. My whole life changed in many ways (except my work, which was my stability). When I met my SO, a little over a year ago, I realized that I had met “the love of my life”. I’d never known anyone who loved me unconditionally, honestly, openly, and who would accept my love in kind. I can’t say he was the “man of my dreams”, because I had never dreamed that such a thing existed. Neither of us are monogamous (another new thing for me), but he is in my heart and I am in his and that is a constant that we can hold, no matter what. One of his favourite statements is “We don’t make plans; we have intentions.” So that’s what we do. I intend to love him as best as I can, for as long as I can. I think that’s all that we can do.

  5. Reesaon 18 Oct 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I think that this post wasn’t about finding overall life happiness, I specifically narrowed the scope down to discussing the concept of work and the attitudes people bring to that — because of course, if you try to define yourself solely through your work you’ll likely end up dissatisfied no matter how much you love your job. We aren’t ants!

    However, several friends are going through crises of conscience surrounding the seeking of gainful employment, and the focus of this post was definitely meant to address the idea that actually, picking a job you hate just for the security aspects isn’t really a healthy option for the long term. You can quite often find a meaningful balance that gives aspects of both.

    Thanks for all the great and thoughtful comments so far!

  6. Mary Basson 20 Oct 2010 at 6:40 pm

    While the original post focused on jobs, Cheryl and I discussed jobs and other things, more important things, in our replies. As I said before, I feel that there are very few people who are made happy by their jobs, especially made happy to a high degree, in my experience and opinion. Your use of the word “bliss” drew me in a further direction as there’s no way I’d ever feel that a job caused bliss no matter what. I believe that bliss is in the category of the ultimate in life.

    Many (or most) people have to accept that their jobs are a means to an end. This can be stepping stones to higher level jobs, the monetary factors, or having something to do to keep them from getting bored. “Dream jobs” don’t come along very often it seems.

    Crises of conscience in seeking gainful employment are of the “age old” variety of trying to balance our wants and needs and desires as best we can. Taking a job that one hates, as you noted, is not the thing to do. If one finds themselves in that situation then I believe it best to hang on to that job only as long as it takes to find a better one.

    Best wishes to your friends as they are deciding what to do about jobs and personal happiness within them or in spite of them.

  7. Reesaon 20 Oct 2010 at 7:11 pm

    @Mary — Agreed. I sometimes play with layers in titles, and I think that “seeking one’s bliss” can’t be found solely through work, nor do I claim in my list above that I’ve found my own bliss through the jobs and careers I’ve done. However, I DO think that finding a healthy balance with one’s mode of income is one of the steps to “bliss” in the overall life sense. Our lives aren’t as easily compartmentalized as we humans sometimes like to think, and satisfaction or dissatisfaction in one’s work life can easily spill over into affecting other areas, even ones tat are otherwise positive. It’s a piece of the whole, and worth looking at because there are so many people still buying into the less healthy societal programming about work that is still prevalent.

    It’s also why I thanked you and Cheryl and the rest for the comments thus far. In a good blog, the posts take on fuller dimension and meaning with participatory comments. A concept as complex as “seeking one’s bliss” can’t be fit into one topic or post, but comments can help delineate ideas for future discussion angles!

  8. Mary Basson 21 Oct 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Yes. Topics and comments can be like pebbles in a brook (or creek) leading to exact, parallel, and divergent items for discussion. Sometimes these items circle within themselves and widen which adds texture and can cause further participation than might otherwise occur. We are so fortunate to be able to have blogs and other methods of communication like we do today via our computer use. Thanks for your blog that contains many interesting subjects and matters of diversity.