The Job Problem: Stop Worrying and Start Doing (You Only Need to do 2 Things)!

Quick update: Thanks to everyone who voted in the last survey! The results are in, and it looks like the books I'll be reviewing are Chris Guillebeau's $100 StartUp and Jonah Lehrer's Imagine; I'm also primed to focus on my next new project--the Do Something book (part of the Start Something Project, coming soon). If you're curious about either of those, I'll have more updates very soon--and you can sign up here to be the first to know about each of these projects as they get off the ground). But more on that later... right now, let's talk about the two things you've gotta do in life. Only two, I promise.

Second update: Apparently those of you on the email list weren't getting any of the posts from the month of May. Hope you enjoyed the vacation! The bug should be fixed by now, and you may get a bonus email or two all in a hurry--let me know if there are other problems and I'll fix 'em up.

The job problem.

A lot of people are out of work today, particularly at both ends of the age spectrum. Young people, disenchanted with the broken promise of education, are finding that a college or master's degree doesn't promise a paycheck or a life path. Instead, folks with advanced degrees are bagging groceries and queuing up coffee drinks.

At the other end of the spectrum, especially for people in their late 40's and 50's --  finding a new job is challenging, particularly after dedicating one or more decades building skill sets that may or may not be transferable to the type of work available today.

We've heard of the split economy -- 90% of people are in a recession while 10% are experiencing a huge boom (predominantly in the tech industry). I live in San Francisco, where we're pretending the recession never happened and where start-ups and businesses are booming. Travel to anywhere else in the world, and you'll see panoramas of unemployment, students buried by debt, living at home, and of 30-somethings moving in with mom and dad. Both the American Dream and the American Education system are broken.

This blog post won't fix either of those, not today at least. (I'm working on it...) 

But I do want to debunk one myth.

The myth that one job, one career, one thing is solely responsible for your happiness, welfare, productivity, and life's earnings.

For fresh college grads and more senior employees alike, lets deconstruct the framework of "work." We want to have work that is meaningful and valuable, right? But no one will hire us, right? Let's re-frame this:

I think you really only have to do 2 things.

First, you have to make some money. Life ain't free and it costs money to live each day, even if you minimize this as much as possible. Food and shelter require some financing.

Second, you need to do something you enjoy.

Stop.

Hammertime. Wait ... I mean--Nevermind.

Here's the thing. One thing, job, or entity doesn't have to satisfy both objectives.

In fact: it's probably highly unlikely (and not very smart) to put all of your eggs in one basket. Don't search for the one job that will make you shit tons of money and also make you unbelievably happy. That's also a lot of pressure. And I'm not sure that's very wise. You wouldn't invest all of your savings in one stock, would you?

I'm not saying that amazing jobs don't exist. I'm just offering an alternative: why invest your life in one job? Instead of fretting over the right opportunity, the perfect job, the ideal scenario (and since when have we ever been right about our life path looking forward?)--go out, make money somewhere, and do something you love somewhere--possibly somewhere else.

Find something to do.

If you're a young college grad, go ahead and wait some tables. Bag some groceries. Make some coffee. Walk a bunch of dogs. Clean cars. Paint houses. Mow lawns. Yes, your shiny diploma and superb linguistic skills from the Ivy League Institution you attended make you overqualified at the task.

Got that? Find something that makes you money.

Next, you need to find something you love.

So what?

Starbucks offers great health insurance, 32-hour work weeks, and you can get all of your shifts done in the morning from 5am until noon and have the rest of the day to do something you love.

Then, go find, build, and do something you love. Start a crochet website. Publish your essays for free, because the first two years of a writers' life is generally slow, painful, and unpaid. Remember: Mark Twain was an insurance salesman--yes, he worked as an insurance salesman. He also wrote a bunch of books people today still remember. Which do you think he loved more?

Let's say you're a bit older. If you're 55+ and want to postpone a sudden or unexpected early retirement, I am sympathetic to how difficult it is. The older generations are the most challenged age group to get rehired. At the end of your career, searching for a new job is frustrating.

The advent of "not knowing" what the future holds can be paralyzing, suffocating, miserable. Those without jobs often spiral into depression and helplessness because of the loss of control about their future and outcome. Because you don't know when a job lead or prospect will turn into paid work, you can't estimate with any certainty the outcome of your present work efforts. The longer you're unemployed, the harder it is to motivate yourself out of unemployment.Being unemployed is one of the worst things you can do to your career, and the longer you're unemployed, the more unmotivated you become, as you habituate and adapt to the lifestyle that soon becomes insidiously "normal." 

I think there needs to be a pattern-disrupt. Face the facts. It might be the case that you aren't ever going to get another "real" job. Yet I think that there are always options, if you re-conceptualize what it means to work.

Find some way to get paid. Your job is to get some money in your pocket. Hook yourself up with some benefits. Tutor high school students. File papers as a desk clerk. Go the old Starbucks route.

Get strategic about how to generate other income, too. For example, what ways can your current assets or spaces be used to earn money? Rent a room (or two) in your house to a grad student or professional who needs a co-working space. Sign up for AirBNB. Or make part of your space a vacation rental. Got a car? Put your car on one of the local owner car sharing services like Get Around or Relay Rides. Do daily task services like Task Rabbit or Zaarly, fill needs on Craigstlist, become a personal assistant on Exec or Zirtual, or give away a bunch of your stuff in an old-fashioned garage sale.

And at the same time you're finding ways to make some money, make sure that you're also feeding your soul. Find something you love. Carve out an hour or two a day to dance, read, laugh, play, or explore. Start a garden. Write the book that you want to write. Start a blog. Take a class in computer programming. Become an entrepreneur. Teach courses at the local university.

A good rule of thumb? Maybe spend about half your time doing the work, and half the time playing. Can't afford it? Make the weekends for play and the week for fun. Hustling like crazy (and I've been there, so I get it) -- set aside one night a week, minimum, for you time. I take dance lessons on Wednesday, and it helps me skip through Thursdays and Fridays.

Open your mind. Try new options .There's a lot of way to get what you want (money and happiness) -- and it doesn't have to come from one place.

Sometimes I bemoan the tedium of parts of my job. I'll be honest--image editing for thousands of pictures and minor tweaks to web frame corrections or endless hours of copy editing--these aren't exactly the most titillating tasks. As my friend Alex reminds me about those tasks that sometimes get tedious:

"Sometimes you have to feed your soul, and sometimes you have to feed your cat."

Perhaps you have to find a couple of places to figure out how to make that happen, and in the future, it might not look like what you think a traditional job looks like.

That's okay.

If you're waiting for perfect, remember--all you're doing is waiting.

Go feed your cat.

And never forget: you must also feed your soul.

 

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