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!