Friday, February 5, 2010

Getting out of the box of your job (or joblessness)

I think that more and more of us will need to live without jobs. Lots of research & statistics tell us this. This could be a good thing. While there won't be as many jobs, we still need to work and take care of each other.

I left my full-time job a year and a half ago. Since then, I've been a lot happier, learned a lot, done some good work, and made enough money (though less money than before).

Without a full-time job, my work has often had a different relationship with money:
  • My family sometimes does work as a barter. Right now a friend is fixing our bathtub. As part of his payment, my wife will take photos of his family.
  • I sometimes do work as marketing. I make presentations about spirituality and leadership. I tell people they can hire me as a consultant for their organization.
  • I do work because I love what I'm doing and/or I love who I am doing the work with and for. I organized a forum about faith and organizations because I'm passionate about that topic.
  • I do work because someone around me needs something. I have the flexibility to take someone in my faith community to the hospital.
  • I do work that builds relationships and social capital. I help a friend make a web-site. That friend connects me to an organization that contracts with me for strategic planning.
  • I do work to learn. I co-facilitate a discernment group at a church, and I learn new ways groups can deepen personally and improve the church at the same time.
  • I do work because I think God is asking me to do it. I facilitate a spirituality group at a treatment center.
  • And, yes, I do work to earn money. I do some projects through paying contracts. Sometimes I might ask for donations to support projects I'm doing.
Of course, I can sometimes naively not pay enough attention to earning money. It is also possible to passively wait for just the right job before we use our talents and creativity to meet the needs around us. At this point in time the United States especially needs the talents and creativity of the millions of people who are unemployed and underemployed--both to meet the immediate needs around us and for the innovation needed to develop a sustainable, just society.

A range of groups are pioneering how to draw on this broader range of motivations for work. The free classes offered by Exco College are an example here in the Twin Cities. The millions of people who write for Wikipedia are an example on a larger scale. These groups are tapping into a growing group of freelance entrepreneurs who give for reasons other than money.

We all come at this dynamic with different kinds of privileges and challenges. I had the luxury of being able to choose to leave my job. On the other hand, I have learned the most about creatively and faithfully serving those around us from a friend of mine who was recently homeless and has been unable to find paying work for a long time.

How are you getting out of the box of your job (or out of your unemployment) to offer what is most needed around you?


Steve Davis said...

Great article Michael! This is such a great opportunity for all of us to re-examine our relationships to money, ourselves, and to each other...they are very much connecte!

Unknown said...

don't forget the work of caring for children. or that praying itself is another form of work. what does the word "work" really carry with it anyway?

Michael Bischoff said...

Oh yes! Caring for kids and prayer are the most important kinds of "work," I think. Both of those things seem like good examples of things most of us out of internal motivation, our relationships, and our identity.

What has been evolving in me lately is my understanding of the kind of work that I get paid for, that is often thought of as a job. We don't usually get paid for taking care of of our own kids or for praying, but...

For the first year of my son's life, there was this nifty state program that paid some parents to stay home and care for their kids. Not surprisingly, that program is no longer active.

Brian G. said...

Good thoughts, Michael. I left full-time employment nearly 2 years ago, and it seems like it was good timing. While I am in the "grad school bubble" for another two years at EMU in the seminary and CJP, I have been pondering the "what next" question long and hard. This kind of arrangement, which seems a bit more nomadic and postmodern, appeals to me.

One thing I suffer from now, though, is having "four lives," even in the university context, because I do work in addition to study. I find that switching roles often involves what I call "psychological overhead" that can be pretty stressful and exhausting.

So finding balance in a more piece-by-piece livelihood can be challenging...

Michael Bischoff said...

Brian, I also sometimes feel a lot of psychological overhead in juggling many different roles. I've also felt that a lot within one full-time job, seeking to find a center and balance within the many demands in one job. Given the direction of society, my impression is that most of us will need to live with more and more complexity and chaos in our outward lives.

Your comment reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books, A Testament of Devotio, by Thomas Kelly:

"We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us."

As some management authors say, we increasingly work in the context of "constant whitewater." How can we use that whitewater as a prompt to allow that "mastering Life within us" to integrate the many different demands?

Paul L said...

Thanks for pointing me to your post, Michael. I agree with you that the future will not have "jobs" as we now think, or not as many of them anyway. The transition is hard, though, both psychologically and economically. (This is one reason I'm so disappointed that health insurance reform is keeping to the employment-based model.) I admire your taking the risk when you were relatively young; it does seem harder to do when older.

And it is a privilege to be able to do so with some degree of intention; too many people have unemployment simply imposed on them under circumstances that make it a very unwelcome opportunity.

I found during my year that I welcomed the time more than I missed the money, though of course I had income for much of the year and it wasn't a fair test. But still. Even before, I loved the six years I worked part time (32 hrs).